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The Union, Jorge Gonzalez and Jean Alexandre…

Photos: Paul Rudderow

King Keon? or Daniel-Man? I'm torn.

June 14th and all is well

Seriously. Let’s maintain perspective here. We have the luxury of complaining about only drawing with Real Salt Lake. In the world of MLS soccer, that is a first-world problem.

Yes, finishing remains an issue, but name me a team on this planet who doesn’t lament the inefficiency of their attack. Sure, a post, a crossbar, a curious offside call and a couple of excellent saves from Nick Rimando kept the Union from tallying the elusive second goal, but this is a team that has grown in leaps and bounds from the early season. Back then, one goal came from two, maybe three, shots and despite claiming all three points, speculation about the quality of the side was rampant. Back then, the connection between the midfield and the attacking third was non-existent.

Another complete performance.

This is not that team. The Union have accepted their role as a front-runner in the Eastern Conference with the swagger and aggression to back it up. Where concern lingered about attacking midfield play, Justin Mapp, Keon Daniel, Michael and Gabriel Farfan, Kyle Nakazawa and Roger Torres have all put their hand up to shoulder the responsibility.

Following Saturday’s 1-1 stalemate, RSL coach Jason Kreis was forced to concede that the Union, “probably should have been up two or three.” Damn right they should have been, but teams will have games like this one and if you were to offer me a performance replete with 14 shots, 7 on target and 8 corner kicks, I’d take it every week.

After all, this is a second year team relying heavily on first and second year professionals to get the job done.

As recently as March, the question was whether the Union were a playoff team. Three months later, all eyes are looking to the Eastern Conference crown. With no new signings in that period, the plaudits need to fall to the players who have made the results stand up on the pitch. But seeing as this is a rant, let’s leave the Union players to conserve their strength for the energy-sapping, trans-continental flight to Vancouver and focus on some players who aren’t doing things the right way.

Real Salt Lake are similar to a European Club

And I don’t mean that in a good way. It didn’t take long after opening kickoff for a wave of guilt to wash over me. I didn’t root for these dirtbags in the CONCACAF Champions League Final, did I? No way did I tell others they should support them as MLS’ representative in our region’s premier tournament?

"Foul on Califf." -Jorge Gonzalez

YOU SUCK ESPINDOLA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I cannot stand this guy. Maybe its the taunting (someone should probably look into that, perhaps even someone official, like a referee?), or the cheap shots, or the diving, or the fact that his hair somehow looks more unruly than his dreadlocked captain’s.

The anguish I feel that he ended up getting the better of Carlos Valdes is almost equal to the frustration of dropping the two points at home (though Mondragon should have definitely covered that shot).

For all of you reading this at home, I have a suggestion as to how MLS can take a major leap towards eliminating diving in its league. Every time a ref takes time away from the game to tell a player that he needs to stop diving, he should give that player a yellow card. No warnings. Diving is cheating and with a little enforcement, you never know. And I’m not just saying this because that’s already how the game is supposed to refereed, though that alone is a compelling argument.

In an accurately officiated soccer match Jean Alexandre is a reserve player… At best.

"I see nothing. Seriously. Call a doctor. It's all darkness." - Jorge Gonzalez

We have seen this type of garbage before. Last week in fact.

Jean Alexandre is nothing more than a poor man’s Conor Casey (and if this were a truly just and virtuous world, Casey would be a poor man as well). In a league where the referee gets more than 50% of the decisions correct there is simply no place for a vicious bruiser like Alexandre. But in MLS where grabbing, kicking and plain trampling people is an excepted norm, Alexandre is having himself quite a nice season.

As for the Farfan incident that led up to the goal, it’s a foul. Ten out of ten times. Don’t even need to think, just blow the whistle.

Certain critics seem to forget that fouls aren’t always intentional. There are plenty of times when a player is just late arriving, no malice, just a step slow. Or they are overly ambitious leaping for a header—again no intent to injure—just an overzealous attempt by a player fixated on winning the ball. The same goes for this Saturday. When a player is running with the ball and a player comes from behind and their feet get tangled, that’s a foul. Ten out of ten times. Add to that the hands tugging on the player’s shoulder and again, it’s a foul. Ten out of ten times.

Now when Alexandre went after Danny Califf, THAT WAS MALICE.

As we saw from Colorado’s great dufus, Alexandre came flying in with a late sliding tackle, hobbling the Union strongman for the rest of the game. A clearer red card challenge you are (hopefully) unlikely to see for a while.

But this is MLS, a league that encourages attacking play by allowing its strikers to run riot like spoiled children, stampeding around, injuring their opponents and using blunt force rather than speed, technique or guile to crudely, bundle balls over the goal line. It’s like performing heart surgery with the 8-bit mallet from Donkey Kong. It is a true indictment of the quality of MLS that the likes of Conor Casey, Jean Alexandre, Steven Lenhart, Luke Rodgers and Eric Hassli are enjoying consistent success leading their attacking lines.

"Ha. Can't blame that on me." - Jorge Gonzalez

Et tu, Beckerman?

You had me fooled Kyle, what with your crazy hair and your hard-working attitude. When you were given an opportunity to play for the National Team, I was happy for you. I thought you were different.

I thought you were one of the good ones.

Boy, was I wrong.

Teams follow the example set by their captain and to see Beckerman chase after the ref on Saturday, consistently arguing and petulantly throwing his hands in the air, it was not hard to understand the origin of the awful sportmanship that exuded through the pores of his teammates on Saturday.

Good on ya, Pete

"Why are you yelling at me?" - Jorge Gonzalez

You’re reading that correctly.

While plenty of people will have harsh words for Nowak’s decision not to embrace Jason Kreis post-match, I am not one of them.

RSL knows better than most how cynical play is tainting MLS’ reputation and the level of play on the field: a senseless tackle from Chivas USA striker Marcos Mondaini has deprived Salt Lake of their playmaker, Javier Morales, for the entire season.

But rather than fight the good fight, RSL has sunk to the level of the foes they despise. MLS has an epidemic on its hands, make no mistake. The nonsensical refereeing has led to a “shoot ’em all, let God sort em out” approach to tackling and as skill players continue to get hurt—and the league does not take sufficient action—it falls to the coaches and players themselves to bring about a better brand of soccer. That is why we can proud of the Union.  Their toughness and strength does not spill over into the dirty or malicious and for that Peter Nowak deserves accolades. But not to get too mushy with the head coach…

"Who the hell is that guy?" - Jorge Gonzalez

Paunovic? Really? You’re serious?

I TOTALLY didn’t see this one coming. After all, there was nothing in the press or from the player’s own twitter feed to suggest he had signed a deal with the Union. Oh wait. There was a TON of that. As early as mid-May, rumors DID circulate that the Union had signed the Serbian trialist. The player himself later confirmed the rumors on Twitter on May 23.

Twenty-eight days later, the Philadelphia Union finally got around to confirming the signing to the awe-inspiring roar of about six crickets chirping. Is this really a professional sports team? Yet again, the Union’s terrible handling of a player transfer has reared its ugly head in the form of their 100% silence rule being compromised 100%. It’s as if Peter Nowak wrote a 200 page manifesto on the virtues of secrecy and then only distributed it John Hackworth. Cause you know, if there were TWO copies, one could be stolen by the media. That’s secrecy 101, people.

But back to the real matter. Where does Veljko Paunovic, the almost 34 year old, former Serbian international fit with the Union?

While everyone has their opinion on the order, no one can argue against Danny Mwanga, Sebastien Le Toux and Carlos Ruiz occupying the top three spots on the striking depth chart with Jack McInerney as a solid contributor from the number four slot.

So where does Paunovic fit? Number five? Really?

Maybe it is good that they waited to announce the signing because marching out the pomp and circumstance for striker number five doesn’t really seem necessary.

Some reports have suggested Paunovic can occupy the attacking midfield role that, despite Kyle Nakazawa’s recent run of good form, has still been lacking in the creative spark department.

That idea is half crazy and the other half, well, that’s crazy, too.

For starters the man hasn’t played professional soccer in three years. For a bit of context, the last time he scored a professional goal, Zach Pfeffer’s mother still had to cut his meat into bite-sized morsels. The last time he scored 10 goals in a season? That was in 2005-2006 and it took him 44 appearances to do so. These are not good signs for a player some expect to come in and contribute.

As I have said before, Paunovic’s European experience with clubs like Atletico Madrid, Getafe and Tenerife in Spain’s La Liga do make him a prime candidate to mentor the Union’s herd of young attacking talent, even if Tenerife is in the Spain’s second division. Provided that is his role, and the Union haven’t spent any significant money in the acquisition, all is well.  However, if at any point this season Paunovic gets within spitting distance of the turf at PPL, the Union have a problem.

Canadian dominance will continue

First Toronto, now Vancouver. I know it’s a tremendous distance to travel, but the Union are showing their quality in spades of late. Vancouver simply isn’t good enough to keep up. Another game in Canada, another multi-goal Union victory.

Union 3–1 Whitecaps

Oh and Carlos Ruiz scored for Guatemala last night

It was their third in a 4-0 rout of CONCACAF superpower Grenada. The result puts Guatemala into the Quarterfinal round of the Gold Cup.

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