Posts for union

Glass Half Full? Some Early Union Observations

Kevin Kinkead - March 21, 2018

It’s been a really sleepy start to the Union season.

Three games in five weeks makes it hard to generate any kind of continuity or buzz, especially during a combination Sixers and Flyers playoff push. It also doesn’t exactly help when the first two matches feature an early sending off and a snoozer of a scoreless draw.

The glass half full approach would center on the idea that the Union haven’t allowed a goal through 180 minutes, about 120 of which were played at full strength. The glass half empty bemoans the fact that the team hasn’t scored an even-strength goal in 2018.

But if you know anything about Jim Curtin, he’ll take a nil-nil over a 3-3 any day of the week, and starting the season with four points out of six is a lot better than starting with four points out of 24, which is what the Union mustered last year en route to a diabolical 0-4-4 start. It took them two whole months to get to 7 points last year.

I don’t put much value in the season opener, simply for the fact that New England took a horrendous red card in the first half and spent the rest of the game defending a Union onslaught. Philly won 2-0 in comfortable fashion, a nice game to ease in a young defense and a couple of homegrown players making their first MLS starts. There are worse ways to get Auston Trusty and Anthony Fontana acclimated to the senior team.

The second game gives us more to work with, a matchup against a well-coached and organized Columbus team. Philly only generated 3 on-target shots from 9 total looks, but generally limited Columbus while keeping a decent defensive shape at home. I thought Gyasi Zardes should have buried one of his chances, but he didn’t.

The Union handed Borek Dockal his MLS debut, and he just wasn’t clicking with his teammates out there, putting up these numbers:

  • 2 off-target shots
  • 0 key passes
  • 31/38 passing overall (81.5%)
  • 1 unsuccessful cross
  • 1 time dispossessed

His passing numbers look okay, but there wasn’t much incisive distribution. He completed 7 of 8 inside the final third, but most were right on the edge of the area with Columbus sitting in their blocks and staying compact. I did, however, appreciate his active body language and post game press conference. Guy seems like a winner, like someone who actually cares, which is more than you can say about some of the duds who have played for past Union squads.

The one thing that jumped out at me was that Dockal tended to pop up on the right side of the field in the same area that Alejandro Bedoya likes to operate from. When you look at each team’s 8/10 heatmap combination, Columbus was a little more balanced, spacing a bit better and getting almost 40 more touches on the ball:

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The Union Finally Filled their Biggest Roster Hole

Kevin Kinkead - February 28, 2018

If this were Jeopardy, we’d frame the issue like this:

Alex Trebek: Production at this position has eluded the Philadelphia Union since the departure of Tranquillo Barnetta in 2016. 

Contestant: What is attacking midfielder?

Alex Trebek: Please be more specific.

Contestant: Uh.. what is the #10 position in a 4-2-3-1 formation?

Alex Trebek: That’s correct!

Contestant: Ok. I’ll take Major League Soccer for $800, thank you. 

It took awhile, but it looks like the Union finally have an experienced and legitimate #10 heading into Saturday’s season opener.

29-year-old Bořek Dočkal was officially added as a designated player this morning, on loan from Henan Jianye in the Chinese league. He’s a Czech Republic international with a ton of experience playing European football, as I wrote about awhile back.

The simplest of takes is that this guy theoretically fills a void that could not be covered by:

  1. Alejandro Bedoya, who simply is not a #10. He said so himself after the Union tried using him in that spot to begin the 2017 campaign
  2. Roland Alberg, who was a volume goal scorer and more of a withdrawn/second striker, a guy whose desire and attitude did not seem to match his high level of natural talent and skill
  3. Ilsinho, who was a a lifelong winger and lacked the finishing touch to be more than a serviceable CAM
  4. Fabian Herbers, who I kind of liked as a #10 in a few games back in 2016… before he went back to the wing, then got hurt
  5. Adam Najem, who will get some minutes there this year but isn’t ready quite yet. He’ll continue to learn the position and grow into a legit MLS player alongside fellow homegrown Anthony Fontana

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The Union Made a Blockbuster Trade

Kevin Kinkead - January 19, 2018

Look at the Philadelphia Union sneaking into the spotlight.

The MLS Draft took place today in Center City, but with a total of zero early round picks, the Union instead pulled off a huge trade, acquiring 27-year-old winger David Accam from the Chicago Fire for $1.2 million in allocation money.

I’ll explain “allocation money” in a minute.

Accam is a speedy attacker who put up a career-high 14 goals and 8 assists last year. He’s played three MLS seasons and was heading into the final year of his Chicago contract. I’d assume, hopefully, that the Union wouldn’t spend $1.2 mill on a guy who might not re-sign. Accam had recently been going back and forth with the Fire front office over his contract situation, which might have precipitated their decision to move him. He’s a designated player who made a $750,000 base salary last season.

He’s worth that salary because he can do stuff like this:

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The Philadelphia Union are Getting in on the ESports Thing

Kevin Kinkead - January 12, 2018

The “four for four” Philadelphia sports fan might find both soccer and video games to be incredibly dorky.

And the only thing dorkier is when you combine the two in some way, shape, or form, which is exactly what’s happening in 2018.

Major League Soccer is partnering with EA Sports to create “eMLS,” a competitive FIFA 18 league. This is basically the exact same thing that the NBA is doing with the NBA 2k League, where most of the franchises, Sixers included, will feature a competitive gaming counterpart.

The Union are one of 19 MLS teams involved in the inaugural FIFA league, where hopefully they’ll win a playoff game for the first time ever. According to the press release, “each club will pursue its own process to select a player from its region to represent it in eMLS competitive play.”

I guess that it’s just one player per franchise, so you’d better be damn good if you’re going to represent our hard working, blue collar, lunch pail type of city.

More from the release:

eMLS will feature eMLS Cup, MLS’s elite competitive gaming event, where each club’s pro will vie for an automatic berth in the EA SPORTS FIFA 18 Global Series Playoffs and a chance to be crowned the undisputed FIFA 18 World Champion at the FIFA eWorld Cup 2018 taking place in August this year. eMLS Cup will debut this April at PAX East, the enormously popular gaming culture festival in Boston that takes place this year from April 5-8 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

I haven’t played FIFA since 2010 or 2011, when I’d regularly get smoked by 14-year-olds rolling out Barcelona and Chelsea. I tried to compete with random underdog teams, but didn’t do so hot with the likes of Fenerbahce and Atalanta. At least I didn’t pick a cheesy five-star club.

Anyway, the real takeaway here is that another pro league is getting in on the eSports wave. Just this week, the Comcast-owned Philadelphia Fusion began play in the national Overwatch League, and they fucking killed the Houston Outlaws, 3-2.

They even had a bunch of people show up to watch:

Let’s go Fusion! clap clap, clapclapclap

Let’s go Fusion! clap clap, clapclapclap

Sure, Brian Dawkins is one of the toughest Philly athletes of all time, but I wouldn’t want to fuck with these guys:

A Pro/Rel Column – Why American Soccer Can Exist Without It

Kevin Kinkead - December 30, 2017

I’ll start by saying that I don’t hate promotion and relegation. I can’t dislike a system that rewards success, punishes failure, and provides opportunity. Stripped down to the simplest of explanations, it sounds very American.

My stance has always been that domestic soccer has unique challenges and considerations that aren’t necessarily fixed by structural changes to the pyramid. There’s no magic bullet here, as some would have you think.

What we get is a noxious clash of ideas with a lot of shouting and idiocy on both sides. Pro/rel advocates froth and whine on social media while those of us on the other end of the spectrum, or somewhere in the middle, are guilty of engaging in the pissing contest instead of ignoring the trolls and seeking out rational thought instead. Just like Capitol Hill, moderate voices and measured takes are often drowned out.

So I think the premise of the column is this –

American soccer doesn’t necessarily need promotion and relegation. I think we can be successful in our current setup, with a closed league, steady growth, and a soft salary cap that promotes pseudo-parity in lieu of top-heavy foreign-framed systems. Let’s fix MLS before tearing the whole thing down and starting over.

The main pro/rel argument basically suggests that opening the pyramid will provide opportunities for smaller teams and result in widespread investment at lower levels due to the removal of the ceiling that limits those clubs. Would-be owners who can’t buy in to Major League Soccer can start a lower division team that has unlimited potential for upward growth. Lesser division one teams, like your Philadelphia Union, can’t be cheap and lazy, or else they go down.

Sounds good in theory, right? Fresh blood and motivation. Jay Sugarman, one of the worst sports owners on this side of the Atlantic, would be punished for his thriftiness with D2 relegation, which would have happened in 2015 after the Union finished with 37 points and a 10-17-7 record. Down goes boring Philly, up comes the exciting New York Cosmos. We punish the underachiever and reward success.

Nothing wrong with that on paper. My stance has always been predicated on four things:

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Stay or Go? The Philadelphia Union and the Road to Relevance

Kevin Kinkead - October 23, 2017

The 2016 Philadelphia Union finished with 11 wins, 14 losses, 9 draws, a -3 goal differential, and a playoff appearance.

The 2017 Philadelphia Union finished with 11 wins, 14 losses, 9 draws, a +3 goal differential, and no playoff appearance.

So.. they improved? Or they didn’t..

Wait, what?

Jim Curtin’s team clobbered Orlando 6-1 on Sunday evening, a visiting team that phoned it in so badly that I could have sworn they were match fixing. It was the Union’s biggest margin of victory in franchise history and only the second time the team had ever scored six or more. C.J. Sapong set the record for most goals in a single Union season and the retiring Brian Carroll was sent out in winning fashion.

In a way, that performance was the perfect end to another bland campaign, meaning that they played well when it didn’t matter. The Union needed results from March through September and didn’t get it done, beginning the season with zero wins through eight games and slumping to a miserable 1-10-6 road record. Questions of Jim Curtin’s job security were casually brushed off even as teams with similar records were axing their managers.

It was business as usual in Chester, where the season’s inevitable outcome was determined less than halfway through. Young players were benched, others regressed, and the team played the same damn formation before finally getting experimental when the season was lost. One step forward, one step back for a franchise that can’t seem to get out of its own way.

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A Discussion with NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz on His Union Past and Lacrosse Future

Kevin Kinkead - September 19, 2017

Nick Sakiewicz never left town, he just changed jobs.

The former Philadelphia Union executive resurfaced as National Lacrosse League Commissioner last January following 21 seasons in Major League Soccer.

That was three months after his split with Union majority owner and principal investor Jay Sugarman. The pair brought soccer to Philadelphia in 2008, but parted ways at the end of 2015 when their relationship became strained following years of on-field struggles and disagreement on how to move the franchise forward.

For some of that time, Sakiewicz was seen as public enemy number one in Chester, a CEO and Operating Partner who became the face of an underachieving club. In fairness, that was something he never really disputed.

“Someone has to answer and take the heat, I guess,” he told the Delco Times a few months back.

To that point, I viewed Nick as a person who covered for Sugarman’s shortcomings by repeatedly falling on the sword. There was never a doubt that Sakiewicz was a smart businessman, but a lack of resources stunted early Union gains and quickly brought an end to the club’s honeymoon period. Whether he helped his cause or not, most people realized that this was a thrifty franchise with a young coach, no scouting department, and no general manager.

But those days are long gone, and Sakiewicz is now building a new foundation for the NLL.

Attendance is up and expansion is underway. There seems to be stability and foresight for a league that has existed for quite a while now, but for most of that time just spinning its wheels. In many ways, Sakiewicz’s experiences with a rapidly growing MLS made him an ideal candidate to oversee the growth of another niche sport with similar upside.

I ran into Sakiewicz for the first time in two years at last Thursday’s NLL Philadelphia expansion announcement. He agreed to speak further about his lacrosse gig and Union departure, and we followed up on the phone this week. Continue Reading

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More People May Have Watched The US Men’s Soccer Match Than Hockey Last Night

Kyle Scott - June 12, 2017

On Friday, I was on 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City and asked if soccer would become a major sport in the US on par with the four others. I said it would first topple hockey (obviously) but that it would take a truly remarkable run by the US Men’s team or legitimate stars in their prime playing in the MLS.

Or just a random World Cup qualifier against Mexico.

These are just preliminary numbers, but according to these two Tweets, the US-Mexico match last night may have outdrawn Game 6 of the Stanley Cup:

I’m not good at math, but 4.5 + 2.3 comes out to… carry the 2… 6.8. The estimated range for Game 6 was 6.7-7.3. That’s not great considering the Penguins were playing in a tied, tight and controversial clinching game on NBC proper while the soccer game featured a rather uninspiring effort on a network no one watches (FS1).

The fact that a non-World Cup, non-championship soccer match went toe-to-toe with the best hockey has to offer is more indicative of soccer’s rise rather than hockey’s decline– Game 6’s 4.8 rating was up from 3.7 last year. But still, while the MLS may have a ways to go, soccer, as a sport, is big-time.