Featured / Union

That sucked

There are certain basic adages that should be considered general knowledge…

Don’t mess with success.

Unfortunately, Peter Nowak doesn’t know that one.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Nope. Not that one either.

In the three games since the exciting 6-2 drubbing of Toronto in which the Union offense ran riot, the lineup has been altered every time.

First, the ax fell on Danny Mwanga, who was benched against Colorado following a two goal, one assist performance. Mwanga came on to rescue a point in that one.

Three changes followed that match (two of them injury-forced) and the Union again looked dominant against Real Salt Lake save for some misfortune in the form of untimely interventions by the woodwork and poor finishing. They would need to be better when it came to bulging the old onion bag, but, given the dramatic step down in quality between RSL and Vancouver, it didn’t seem a stretch that the same Union side could go to Rain City (awful nickname) and rack up another impressive result against Canadian opposition.

Inexplicably however, Nowak pressed the panic button. Following excellent 90 minute performances against RSL, Keon Daniel (the goal scorer) and Michael Farfan (creator of the goal) were sacrificed,—again along with Mwanga—as Nowak moved once again towards a pathetically defensive-minded configuration.

Even more confusing than the three players dropped were the three added. Justin Mapp returned to the starting lineup for Daniel (relatively unfair given Daniel’s excellence a week prior) while Stefani Miglioranzi and newly signed octogenarian Veljko Paunovic replaced the high flying Farfan and Mwanga.

Why were we playing for a draw?

First the formation. Road teams play for a draw when they know that they are visiting a superior opponent. Acknowledging their inferiority, they attempt to STEAL a point. That’s what Wigan does when they visit Chelsea. That’s what Bari does when they visit Inter Milan. That’s what Monchengladbach does when they visit Bayern Munich.

The Philadelphia Union are no Wigan and Vancouver is CERTAINLY no Chelsea. Last I checked the MLS table, the Union are sitting damn well near the top and Vancouver are about the worst you’re going to find other than the Union’s next opponent from Kansas City.

If Arsenal went to West Bromwich Albion and played for a draw, Arsene Wenger would be laughed out of London.

If Real Madrid traveled to Getafe and spent 90 minutes hiding from the game, a mob of 1,000,000 would demand Jose Mourinho’s head on a spike.

This bullshit notion that you play for a draw on the road HAS TO STOP. New York doesn’t play that way. Neither do the Galaxy or Real Salt Lake. If we want to be one of the elite programs in MLS, it’s high time we started acting like it, grew a pair and put out a team of players that can get us a result.

The Vancouver game is our USA-Panama: A complacent team coming out like a bunch of chumps and getting beat.

And deserving it.

To see the Union adopt such a defensive stance from the get-go on Saturday, conceding possession and territory like it was going out of fashion, was embarrassing to watch and the entirety of the blame falls on the manager.

And his selections…

In real life, slow and steady gets destroyed

Paunovic and Miglioranzi replaced Mwanga and Marfan.

How did that work out?

Veljko Paunovic – Inspiration to the slow and average

The only way Paunovic could have been more anonymous was if he quit his job, threw away his cell phone, cut up his credit cards and moved to Idaho to live off the grid. It was about as unimpressive a debut as he could have had, with the speed of the game passing him by at every occasion.

True, he made one good pass to release Mapp early in the match.

Nowak commented on it in his press conference.

One good pass? In 60 minutes of play. That’s good enough for old Nowak.

Yet for those of us who watched more objectively, we saw a player who could not maintain a position on the park, let alone possession of the ball. At times he dropped too deep in midfield, throwing off Carroll and Migs, at times he wandered right, forcing Nakazawa into the middle. Other times, he just seemed to follow Justin Mapp around, getting in his way, clogging up his running and passing lanes and generally ruining any opportunity the Union had for attack.

Nowak was quick to point out that Paunovic is still working his way back to full match fitness.

I am quick to point out that maybe he should have spent more than one subpar game in the reserves before being thrust into the starting lineup.

Paunovic shouldn’t be playing at all. Yet, if he MUST play, doesn’t logic dictate that you give him 20 minutes in the second half to evaluate his performance  level and to see if he has anything left with which to provide a spark? Then again, this is clearly not a team based on logic. If it was, I wouldn’t even know who Paunovic was.

Man, I wish I didn’t know who Paunovic was. Talk about blissful ignorance. If I didn’t know the name Paunovic, I’d probably be writing about a Union victory and the buzzsaw that Sporting Kansas City was about to walk into. Instead, I’m sitting here writing about this crap.

I am on record saying that if Paunovic gets minutes ahead of either Danny Mwanga or Jack McInerney then the Union are in big trouble. I stand by that and say again, The Union are now in big trouble. When Carlos Ruiz arrived in Philadelphia he at least had a strong pedigree for scoring goals in MLS and, while the Greek league is not considered amongst Europe’s elite, it is still a strong league, one in which he was earning valuable minutes.

Paunovic has not played since ’08. He has not played in MLS. Nothing in the build up to this match suggested that he had anything left in the tank. To be blunt, his inclusion in the starting XI against Vancouver spits in the face of player development and the future of the Union. A franchise allegedly built on a foundation of nurturing and improving its young stars is now actively stunting the growth of those same young men. What’s even more mystifying is the reasoning behind this move.

You think Paunovic is a better striker than Mwanga? In 2011?

You’re nuts. No way, no how.

Its not even a stretch to think that, given equal minutes, McInerney would outscore the Old Serb. So if it is not a “win-now” mentality and it is taking valuable experience away from the future stars of the team, then what the hell is the WHY? At this point, you might as well dust off the old dartboard, tie your blindfold tight and just start throwing.

Stefani Miglioranzi – The bottom of the barrel

Seriously, who knew that a rotting pile of garbage could develop rust? Most trash mounds are just decaying organic material. It takes iron and steel for rust to form and anyone who has seen Stefani Miglioranzi play soccer this season knows that there is none of that in his game, not even in trace amounts.

Following a hellaciously poor early season, Migs sustained an injury that appeared to be his ticket out of here. A chance to fade quietly into obscurity and/or retirement. Amobi Okugo impressed in his absence but when he went down, Brian Carroll turned the holding midfield into a one man show. Does anyone think that Carroll looked as if he was tiring and needed some help?

Quite the contrary, Carroll took his game to another level and his secure, tidy play allowed Kyle Nakazawa to create higher up the field. The Union midfield subsequently played its best soccer of the season with higher pressure, more possession and greater chances created.

Back to the panic button. Prior to starting in Vancouver, Migs had only played 11 minutes over the previous seven matches.

Speed kills and with a Vancouver team set on using its speed through the midfield to attack the Union, the inclusion of an unfit, out of form Miglioranzi could not have made any less sense.

If the need for two holding midfielders was SO great, drop Nakazawa deeper and bring on the strength and size of Daniel or the speed and technique of Michael Farfan on the right wing. Especially considering that Paunovic was playing as a withdrawn striker, falling deep into the midfield to look for possession, this would have more than adequately covered the need. But that would have been logical and therefore not the preference of the Union coaching staff.

And for his obvious inability to keep up with the speed of play and win the ball, Migs worst characteristic has yet to be exposed: His passing. I know its juvenile and corny but when it comes to passing a soccer ball, Migs couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.

Bottom line, Migs put in the single worst performance by any Union player ever to wear a Union shirt (I still blame Toni Stahl’s horror show on Nowak’s rash decision to play the rookie out of position in the franchise’s first ever match).

So naturally, I expect him to start tomorrow night against KC. TAKE THAT LOGIC!!!!

Terrible tactics… just terrible.

The blob is back!!! Did you miss it? Of course not!!!

By blob, I am, of course, referring to three strikers drifting around the soccer field looking for a little action. With no specific aim or agenda, it might as well be called the anti-formation. It simply doesn’t work.

But if you thought that was a dumb idea, grab a hold of your hat because this weekend, the Union debuted Blob Dos, the midfield edition. Perhaps it was intentional, perhaps it was necessitated by Paunovic’s aimless wanderings. Regardless, Nakazawa, Paunovic, Mapp and even Miglioranzi rotated through the midfield like a roulette wheel on pay day.

While strikers can pop up in different locations, surprising a defense and needing only the smallest crack to slip through for a decisive goal, it doesn’t work that way in midfield. Structure and organization are crucial, not just in the attack, but in maintaining defensive shape. Rewatch the match and see how many times Jordan Harvey is forced to contend with a two-on-one because there is no midfield player within 30 yards to help out.

This development is made even more painful given the tightly-organized, well-built attacks the Union treated their fans too over the past few weeks. Were it not for the beautiful, sunny weather outside, you would be forgiven for mistaking Saturday’s match for the ugly PPL Park home opener against those same Whitecaps.

Just awful.

Food for thought… and then immediate, uncontrollable purging

A random and mortifying sidebar.

When discussing Paunovic and possible striking duos, Nowak had this to say:

“Either it’s going to be him with Carlos, maybe Carlos and Danny Mwanga or Carlos with Sebastien Le Toux. There are a lot of options, and it’s good to have those options.”

Great. Paunovic and Ruiz. Together up top. Remember that scene in the Wizard of Oz when the Tinman grinds to a rigid, pathetic halt? YOUR 2011 PHILADELPHIA UNION!!!!!

I’ll be staying home that day.

I might even offer Danny Mwanga a ride to the airport so he can go find a club who appreciates his immense talents and would treat him with the dignity and class he has shown the Union, despite the horrible treatment he has received.


I’m at a loss. I’ve got nothing.

Actually, correction.

I have lots of things. Reasonable assumptions I have made from closely studying the team’s on-field play and extrapolating trends that should play out based on the quality of both individual and team performances. Sadly however, the understanding I have developed from that research is rooted entirely in….

You guessed it.


I’m going to find my dart board.


  1. preach on eli

  2. I applaud your rant, sir. Well done.

  3. Mike Servedio says:


  4. Were sitting next to me while watching the whitecap’s match? Everything you said about Migs and the old Serbian I was yelling at the TV during the match.

  5. if danny mwanga doesn’t start tonight, they should fire nowak. its that simple. and please start daniel and farfan too. they are good.

  6. I’ll see your Toni Stahl and raise you a David Myrie. At least the former played for the Union in more than one game – albeit a friendly – last season. The latter was just laughable, and not just because of his lazy eye. I’ll just chalk up Migz’s inclusion in the starting XI to be a (re)evaluation of his fitness and skill-set coming off an injury … he obviously isn’t up to snuff, so perhaps it’s all the technical staff needed to decide to part ways sooner than later.

  7. Amen! The thing that Pete had gotten going for him was, on the whole, a satisfying record and the Union’s comfortable reign as King of the East. But with a dispiriting loss to the Whitecaps and the subsequent slide from the Eastern conference throne, not to mention every MLS power ranking ever, his erratic management style needs to be called into question.

    Last year, we didn’t perform well but we were 1) an expansion side and 2) eschewed high-profile players for a youth-oriented player development model. Sensible. But all of that has been tossed in the trash this season, and while we have been riding high on the fruits of last year’s patience, it’s almost as though Nowak has had a complete change of heart and is seeking to undermine his own system through the introduction of half-hearts like Carlos Ruiz, wtfettes like Paunovic, and — worse — doing so at the expense of some serious firepower our team has cultivated.

    If we continue on this direction — and we will unless Nowak rediscovers the art of not being crazy — we will have given up a tremendous opportunity this season. At that point, I can’t see how ownership could do anything but show Nowak the door.

    Great piece, Eli.

  8. In support of Eli: http://www.brotherlygame.com/2011/6/22/2233875/piotr-nowak-veljko-paunovic-philadelphia-union-questions-answers

    Started writing it last night, but this article gave me the needed jump start today.

  9. Matt Kirk says:

    Eli, if you don’t take Mwanga to the airport, I will out of respect for him, he deserves a team that will use his talents. I think we are lucky that he is such a mature player at such a young age and just plays his heart out whenever he gets the few and far between chances. If Paunovic is not dropped by the end of the summer transfer window or if Mwanga does not start tonights game, I think it would be very appropriate to call for Nowak’s head. he is absolutely running this team into the ground and I am sick of watching OUR team under perform.

  10. Andrew Desiderio says:

    Dead on…I’m just scared Mwanga is going to leave for another club when his contract is up. Also how long is Jack Mac going to be happy playing behind Paunovic. I simply don’t understand what a player on the Union must do to earn a starting spot. Mwanga and McInerney have both proven themselves this season.

    I also can’t figure out why everytime the Union goes down and needs a goal Novak thinks it’s a good idea to start taking out the whole midfield and replacing them with forwards. On more than once occasion this year the Union were running a 4-2-4. Sticking forwards up top with no midfield is one of the dumbest tactical decisions I have seen, and usually when the 4-3-3 gets rolled out the Union have 3 forwards standing up top contributing nothing to the game. How many times must Nakazawa be played at RM and be ineffective, be played at CM and be effective, and then be pushed out wide again? Honestly I don’t think Novak really has any idea what he is doing. Why must the lineup change every single week, especially when the offense was finally turning the corner. Mwanga has been absolute class this season when asked to come off the bench, play out of position, and various other issues and still proved he is our best forward by a long shot. I have news for you Novak, 20 year old forwards who are in form don’t need rest every game. If the Union’s defense wasn’t so good they would be in serious trouble

  11. Dan Walsh says:

    I think you’re too tough on Migs and Paunovic as individuals but spot on regarding Nowak.

  12. Mick Dungan says:

    Is Paunovic this years version of “Chacho” Coudet? I think I heard someone say that in my section last night…

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