Union City Blue

A Philadelphia Union Blog

And Thats All They Wrote, Folks

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The Philadelphia Union fell to the Columbus Crew Wednesday night 2-1. The loss effectively marks the end of the Union’s playoff hopes for this season even though they may still be mathematically alive. It is unlikely this situation will turn around given the personnel available. I will spare you the gruesome details; suffice to say that the Union managed to lose a “six point” game at home against another mediocre Eastern conference team fighting for a playoff spot while being up a man.

The Union’s problems this season have been well-documented here and on the Union blogs and media. Although I feel like a broken record, let’s recap:

1. They can’t score. Or finish. Against the Crew many chances were simply missed or were off target. The forwards and attacking midfielders can’t hit the broad side of a barn. There is no coordination in midfield. After an initial increase in scoring with John Hackworth in charge, the scoring drought has returned. Fortunately, the Union have center backs that can score.

2. They can not compete for balls in the air. I have been complaining about this for the past two and half seasons. The problem is more acute now that the team is even shorter and younger than before.

3. They are ineffective on corners and other dead ball situations. This is partly an extension of the ineffectiveness in the air. However, the taking of corners and free kicks has been truly terrible. Rarely do you see a ball even remotely on target where another Union player can do anything with it. The balls are either short or go careening way off to the side or over the top of where they should be.

4. You can complain all you want about Hackworth’s lineups or substitution choices. The fact is there really isn’t much on the bench that he can do anything with. The players might be hard working, but they lack sufficient skill to be effective. I think the Union will give Hackworth a chance at a full season as it will save the expense of another coaching change. He will have to find a way to revamp the squad with the time he has.

5.  The Union spend money on players. They just need to find a way to spend it more effectively. Too much money has been going to players who have had little or no impact. In particular, Freddy Adu needs to start producing or he needs to be moved on.

There are maybe six players that are clearly worth retaining – Carlos Valdes, Brian Carroll, Amobi Okugo, Zac MacMath, Sheannon Williams, and Raymon Gaddis. The rest are questionable. Of course, this off season there will be no expansion draft to take dead weight off our hands. Prior to this season, I was hoping for minimal changes and felt that the team could benefit from continuity. That did not happen. Now it appears major changes are in order.

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Union and Perlaza Go Separate Ways

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The Philadelphia Union have announced that they have agreed to a mutual contract termination with forward Jorge Perlaza. Perlaza joined the Union this season in a trade which sent MLS Superdraft first overall pick Danny Mwanga to Portland.  This move should come as a surprise to no one. Perlaza had not played or been available as a sub for the last ten Union games.

Perlaza had been sought by the Union prior to the 2011 season but signed with Portland. Perlaza, a Colombian forward, played regularly while at Portland. However, he failed to excel in the primary role of a forward in MLS, that of scoring, having scored only six goals in more than a season and half. His departure leaves the Union even thinner in what has been their problem position this season.

The Union appear stuck in a process of trying to undo the damage of the end of Peter Nowak’s term as coach and Diego Gutierrez’s term as sporting director. This termination follows the trade of forward Lionard Pajoy to D.C. United for midfielder Canny Cruz. With questionable contributions from Porfirio Lopez, Josue Martinez, and Gabriel Gomez, it would not be surprising if the remainder of the pair’s recent significant acquisitions depart the Union in the off season. This would free a substantial amount of salary cap room. Bakary Soumare, while he arrived at the Union shortly after Nowak left, still has to be considered a Nowak acquisition. He has played little for the Union since being acquired in June, leaving one to wonder if he came to the team with lingering injury or fitness problems.

The Union are currently 15 points out of fifth place and a playoff spot with eleven games yet to play. The good news is that they have games in hand on the teams above them in the standings. The bad news is that making up this point spread in the time remaining would seem unlikely given the team’s current offensive struggles. The Union will need some well though out acquisitions in the summer to turn this situation around.

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What a Difference a Game Makes

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Many of us are still recovering from the excitement of the Union’s 4-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City. Some of the hoped for positive developments of the Hackworth era were on display Saturday night at PPL Park- first and foremost, a win.

The Union continued with the4-3-3 formation trotted out in the game against D.C. United. The team looked more confident going forward, and the forwards appeared to have freer reign to play their own style of soccer. The two goals scored by Jack McInerney epitomize his opportunistic, scrappy style of play. His place in the starting lineup should be secure for a while longer.

The Union continued their good defensive showing this season by keeping a clean sheet against a strong Kansas City team. As of Saturday’s games, the Union were tied for the second best record for goals against for the season with fifteen. The emergence of Amobi Okugo as a viable center back option is a great positive for the team. It should allow him to get more playing time while plugging a hole along the back line. A good deal of credit goes to Carlos Valdes and Brian Carroll for maintaining a strong central spine for the team and preventing the results in the first half of the season from being even worse than they were.

Goalkeeping also continues to be a positive for the Union. Although not mistake free, few goals have been given up that can be attributed to the keepers. This is remarkable given the relative lack of MLS experience of the Union keepers.

There are obviously a lot of positives here that can be built on for the future. The Union just have to keep scoring. They should be able to take away some increased confidence from this game to continue to do so.

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Nowak Out as Manager

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In a move that should have surprised no one and may have answered the fervent prayers of some Union fans, the team announced today that Peter Nowak has stepped down as manager. Coach John Hackworth will take over as interim team manager.

After a leading the Union to the playoffs in their second season in 2011, everything seemed to unravel quickly for Nowak in 2012. With poor results and a series of unpopular player transfers, many fans were hoping that Nowak would go.  The failings of the Nowak era have been well documented here. The Union suffer from a lack of offensive production and neither personnel changes, coaching, nor line up changes seem to have made much difference. After a relatively successful season in 2011, the Union went on again to make major personnel changes prior to the start of the season, rather then leave the core of last year’s playoff team alone.  Coupled with constant lineup and formation changes, it has been very difficult for players to adapt and play together as a cohesive unit. Although Nowak talked a lot about developing young players, these players got very few minutes of actual playing time.

Nowak has been linked in the Scottish media with the manger’s job at Hearts. Although he may not be the front runner, he was rumored to have applied. Speculation will now run rampant as to who the new manager might be. I would not rule Hackworth out of the permanent job, if he can produce improved results in the second half of the season.

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The Union Off Loads Mwanga

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It goes to show that if you are off Twitter for a few days, all hell breaks loose. The Union are good at lulling you into a fall sense of security that nothing is happening, then executing a sneak attack.

The Union traded under-performing forward Danny Mwanga for under-performing forward Jorge Perlaza of the Portland Timbers on Wednesday. As you may recall, the Union were linked with a move for Perlaza prior to the 2011 season in the foreign media. My post on some of the strange goings on with Perlaza’s contract can be found here.

The upside for the Union comes in salary. Mwanga has a $250,000 base salary with $356,250 guaranteed. Perlaza has a $100,000 base salary with $115,000 guaranteed. Perlaza will take up an international roster spot. As I expressed in a recent post, Mwanga was a player that was not providing the Union will good value for money. He hasn’t scored a goal in over a year and has been injury plagued. Mwanga, a former number one overall draft pick, was in his third season in MLS. I think a fair period of time has passed for the Union to evaluate what he was going to do with the team. It was time for the Union to cut their losses here. With a change of scenery, both Mwanga and Perlaza may make a change for the better.

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Poll Feedback – The Union Backline

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I realized that I may have goofed in writing the poll. I failed to include Amobi Okugo as an option at center back. I notice some poll respondents have indicated “other” for the backline configuration they would like to see for the Union. If you have other ideas for a defensive configuration, please leave them in the comments of this post.

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Rock Bottom

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The Philadelphia Union fell 1-0 to lowly, winless Toronto FC. Even salvaging a tie in this game would have been an embarrassment.

The Union’s inability to score continues, with no end in sight. The offensive statistics make for pretty grim reading. The Union are at the bottom of the table in shots and shots on goal.  Second from the bottom in offsides. Fourth from the bottom in corner kicks – not that they can score from a corner kick anyhow. The offsides and corner kick stats indicate that the they are not creating any offensive pressure. Not only do the Union not take enough shots, they either can’t or won’t get forward to be able to get shots.

The Goalkeeper blog posted a very detailed piece on the Union’s 2012 salaries. Given the current state of affairs, fans should be taking a hard look at these numbers. Although  I wouldn’t argue professional soccer players are overpaid, salaries do have to be examined in terms of value for dollar as they relate to MLS’s low salary cap and overall team revenue.

The Union ranks number eight in overall team payroll. Once you get past New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto at the top of this list, there is a little over a million dollars difference between number 4 and number 19. The Union are not under-spending on salary but have not been getting good value for their dollar. Particularly when you consider Sporting KC sit at number 17 in total salary but third in the Eastern Conference standings. Could the Union put up another half a million in salary and would it make a difference? It would probably have to go to a designated player to get it to work under the salary cap.

Two areas of concern jump out at me when looking at specific salary figures. Firstly, the Union is spending a lot of money on offensive players who aren’t producing, particularly Freddy Adu, Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney, Lionard Pajoy and Gabriel Gomez. Adu was the only Union player to get a salary cut going into this season, but he’s still the 17th highest paid player in the league and overpaid. Secondly, the money spent on some the Latin American additions (Pajoy, Gomez, Lopez) in the offseason hasn’t paid off. It’s questionable if the Union needed to off load Sebastien LeToux and Danny Califf when you look at the money they are spending on these guys. They are a bigger salary cap hit, take up international roster spots, and the money saved may have also made up for most of the allocation money received.

The Union also claims that they are concentrating on the development of younger players and building a team for the future. I just don’t see this group of younger players getting much better. I am not hopeful that the Unions’s 2010 first round draft picks are going to have a big impact in MLS. At the end of this season, it will have been three years and you have to question if this is going to happen. Most MLS fans know that if younger players actually have potential, they aren’t in MLS and that by age 20-23 many players are already playing at the highest level.

The Union is now facing a “must win” game against the Rochester Rhinos. Now would be a good time for them to win their first U.S. Open Cup game. Maybe the Union haven’t hit rock bottom, but losing to the Rhinos surely would be it.

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The Three Ringed Circus – Manager, Ownership, Sporting Director


In the wake of the bizarre circumstances surrounding the Danny Califf trade, it is clear that the Unionare a team in crisis. I was previously willing to make excuses for a slow start that could be turned around in the latter half of the season. Given the lack of transparency with both the MLS and the Union, it’s unclear where the source of the problems lies. Like many things in life, it is probably a combination of factors.

Most fans seem to be focused on Peter Nowak. The manager is usually the go-to scapegoat when a team fails to perform. Certainly on-field decisions concerning lineups and substitutions can be traced back to him. The steady stream of departures would indicate that there are fundamental problems in the relationship between Nowak and his players. When multiple players who seem to be good, upstanding individuals leave suddenly under suspicious circumstances, obliquely accusing the manager of lying, and vowing never to play for the man again, there is a problem. Nowak’s confrontational and controlling communication style doesn’t help matters either.

The Union went through another set of wholesale personnel changes before the start of the season. I was expecting that the playoff team of last season would receive tweaks rather than a major overhaul. Not only Nowak, but also Sporting Director Diego Gutierrez, and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz, presumably have input into personnel decisions. Many of theUnion’s on field problems ultimately seem to track back to players who are unfamiliar with each other and have difficulty communicating with each other. This may resolve itself with time, but the team may be running out of time this season.

Although some moves may be justified on financial grounds, there is limit on how much turnover a team can withstand without it being destabilizing, especially when you’re unsure of the players brought in to plug the holes. Management certainly deserves some criticism for the negative perception of how player transfers have been handled and perhaps for misplaced financial pressure on personnel decisions. Gutierrez bears some responsibility for bad judgment with respect for the additions to the roster this season that have been less than stellar and also some of the player relations issues. While this circus runs its course, fans are left wondering if allocation money can win championships.

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See You in March – Philadelphia Union Reveals Schedule for 2012

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The Philadelphia Union has released its schedule for 2012. A downloadable file containing the entire schedule can be found here. With the addition of the Montreal Impact to the Eastern Conference this year, MLS has moved to a conference based schedule. Each team will play 34 games, but instead of the balance schedule we enjoyed last year, we will be seeing the following:

Due to the higher number of clubs in the Eastern Conference, each club will play a total of 25 conference matches. Each club will play seven of their conference opponents three times each (21 total games) and the remaining two conference opponents twice each (4 games). East teams will then play the nine West teams once each. Those nine games will be split either five at home and four away or vice versa. The locations will be reversed in 2013.

Western Conference clubs will play each other three times, totaling 24 matches. They will play four conference opponents twice at home and once away, and play the other four conference opponents twice away and once at home. The location arrangement will be reversed in 2013. West clubs will complete their schedule by playing each of the 10 Eastern Conference clubs once. Five of matches will be at home and five will be on the road. Again, the arrangement will be reversed in 2013.

The Philadelphia Union is also scheduled for pre-season activity including training in Orlando, Florida from February 15-19 and a February 18 match against the Orlando City Lions.

The Union will play the Colorado Rapids, Vancouver Whitecaps, San Jose Earthquakes and Real Salt Lake at home in 2012. The Los Angeles Galaxy and other West teams will be faced on the road only. The Union will see East rivals New York Red Bulls and DC United three times – twice at home and once on the road. The Sons of Ben will have twice the fun this year tormenting Pink Cow and Eagles supporters.

The schedule also thankfully keeps weeknight home games to a minimum. We will be at PPL on the following nights: Friday, August 24 versus Real Salt Lake (this barely counts as a weeknight), Wednesday, August 29 versus Columbus Crew, and Thursday, September 20 versus DC. The Union will contend with the Texas heat and humidity with away games at FC Dallas on May, 19 and Houston Dynamo on Jun 30 and October 20. Extreme heat hopefully will only be a factor at the June 30 game.

The Union faces a challenging start to the season with an opener in Portland versus the Timbers on Monday, March 12. The team will have its home opener Sunday, March 18 versus the Colorado Rapids. They follow-up with an away game at the Chicago Fire on March 24 and a home game with the Vancouver Whitecaps on March 31. The Union also have a difficult run into the playoffs in October with late season matchups against the New England Revolution (home), Sporting Kansas City (away) and New York (home). The game against the Pink Cows on Saturday, October 27, will be the last of the regular season.

Although I would prefer a balanced schedule, the conference based schedule is inevitable if MLS has designs on expanding past twenty teams. A balance schedule is difficult to maintain with a large number of teams, and therefore, games. A conference based schedule also helps control travel costs and player fatigue and helps foster regional rivalries. Although no twentieth team has yet been announced, the league was again talking about a second team in New York (because one team isn’t bad enough) around the time of MLS Cup. MLS Cup in 2012 will be hosted by the finalist with the most points during the regular season. This should be a big improvement over the neutral site concept the league has been using. At least the Cup final will be hosted in a city where the fans have a vested interest in the outcome. Changes are also in store for the playoff format, but that will be the subject of another post.

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Signalling a Foul – The Union’s New Kits

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The  Philadelphia Union unveiled new 2012 kits. It’s not a pretty picture, folks. The story on the new kits can be found here.  On the positive side, the dreaded C3PU kit is now a bad memory. However, we are faced with overly fussy versions of the original primary and secondary kits. They each contain one color too many as well as unnecessary and visually distracting embellishments.  They are one step short of bedazzled.

I will venture an unpopular opinion here. I am not a fan of signal blue.  I think it is effective en masse on TV on the Sons of Ben. It makes the SOBs easy to see in a crowd, especially at an away game. Its positive attributes end there. It’s not an effective or marketable uniform color. Like other shades of light blue, it is a weak color. Think baby blue, powder blue, signal blue, pink, peach, daffodil yellow. It’s an unflattering shade on most people and is garish for daily wear. I think it’s a hard sell to the majority of men who prefer darker neutrals. Coupled with primary yellow, it isn’t a good look. I was relieved when the Union unveiled navy blue and antique gold as their principal colors. Remember the locally and nationally maligned Eagles blue and yellow throwback jerseys of a few years ago? The SOBs and the Union  have inexplicably decided to revive this look. Just because theses are the colors on the Philadelphia city flag doesn’t mean you need to go there. The signal blue should be limited to use as a trim color on Union kits.

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