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The Philadelphia-Ankara connection

I own scarves representing two pro soccer teams.

One is Philadelphia Union.

The other is Turkish club MKE Ankaragücü.

Do you know what else they have in common? They’re the only two teams in the beating the Union on Saturday.

I picked up the Ankaragücü scarf in a shop in Ankara, Turkey in March. I had just watched them lose a close match with Turkish league giants Fenerbahce the night before. They were clearly outmatched, but they played hard and showed spirit. I like that. I’ve never been a front runner, and it struck me as a nice souvenir.

At the time, I didn’t know Ankaragücü was in absolute management shambles and in the process of losing 15 straight matches, likely the world’s longest losing streak among top tier soccer clubs.

After the Union’s loss to Toronto, the juxtaposition of my two scarves on my coat rack seems sadly appropriate. Welcome to rock bottom.

Here are a few more thoughts on the week that was.

Dissect the goal: Center back, “the easiest position”

After Danny Califf’s trade to Chivas USA, Union manager Peter Nowak justified Sheanon Williams’ move to center back by describing the position as “the easiest position to play.”

On one hand, he had a point. It demands less on-the-ball technical skill than any outfield position.

On the other hand, you can’t teach height. You can’t instantly download to memory the instincts and judgment learned by experienced center backs, unless you can jack into The Matrix. As for vision and positioning, the ability to keep both the ball and your man within your peripheral view? That’s another issue altogether.

Let’s dissect Danny Koevermans’ game-winning goal against the Union.

  • The play started with Toronto’s Jeremy Hall blowing down the right side past Michael Farfan and in toward the center near the 18.
  • Brian Carroll closed from the center, while a clearly fatigued Gabriel Farfan stepped in from the left flank.
  • Hall passed for Koevermans as the latter cuts toward the goal, but Williams stepped in and intercepted the pass at the center half circle.

That’s when things fell apart.

With three Toronto players within a five-yard radius, Williams should have cleared the ball anywhere he could.

One problem: Carlos Valdes and Gabriel Farfan were standing in the way. As Williams looked to clear, each walked, rather than ran, out of Williams’ way. That left Williams with a very narrow lane through which he could clear a ball. If he cleared, he would have to do it on the ground.

So Williams did what any attacking right back would do, and that was his undoing.

  • Williams juked and tried to dribble out of traffic to his right.
  • Hall stole the ball.
  • The ball bounced to Nick Soolsma on the left, after a swing-and-miss clearance attempt by Michael Lahoud, the latest midfielder shoehorned in at fullback.
  • After a collision with Lahoud that dropped them both, Soolsma beat Lahoud off the dribble.
  • Williams had marked Koevermans briefly but then stepped forward into more of a help defense role to cut a passing lane toward the penalty spot. Valdes failed to mark Koevermans. Both Union center backs got caught ball-watching.
  • Koevermans drifted open to the near post.
  • Soolsma passed to Koeverman.
  • Koevermans shot, Konopka saved, and Koevermans buried the rebound.

All four Union defenders indirectly had a hand in giving up that goal. Lahoud’s display stood out most, but Williams was equally at the center of it.

It’s hard not to feel bad for Williams (and Lahoud). The best right back in the U.S. youth international pool has been misused by the last two Olympic coaches all year. One buried Williams behind two players he coached at Akron. The other wants him to play center back.

An idea for U.S. Open Cup scheduling

The Union host the USL’s Rochester Rhinos tonight in a U.S. Open Cup match, and attendance will likely be scarce. It’s a midweek game against a lower division team in a potentially great tournament that some MLS clubs don’t take seriously enough. And that’s not even going into the current state of the Union, which has crashed worse than the economy.

But if a U.S. Open Cup ticket was part of your season ticket package, wouldn’t you be more likely to go? You’d already have the ticket in hand.

For all the scheduling changes in play this year, one that we haven’t seen is a means for MLS clubs to better plan in advance for a potential home match. Many fans would likely pay extra on season tickets for a built-in U.S. Open match. True, there’s no guarantee the Union would have been scheduled for a home match, but if that happened, refunds have proved to not be too much trouble in the past.

If U.S. soccer officials want better attendance at cup matches, they and MLS should find a way to build as many matches as possible into season ticket packages.

NBC Sports soccer coverage is terrific

Two months into its first season covering soccer, NBC Sports’ coverage is as good as it gets in North America.

Their twist on the three-man broadcast team is near-perfect, with one man in the booth, an analyst on the sideline, and a pregame and halftime show host on site. Arlo White’s play by play is terrific, and that’s coming from someone who would prefer an American accent on the mic. The camera angles and sound are good, and so is the choice of games.

This weekend, I watched the Houston-Los Angeles match, the U.S. national team’s 5-1 blowout of Scotland, and a little of the Kansas City-San Jose match (though I’d have liked to have seen more of it). That’s three good matches in 30 hours.

NBC Sports has made a smart play in its launch. It’s taken undervalued assets in the NHL and MLS and provided top flight coverage of them. Some still can’t find the channel on their dials, but that will change over time.

OMG Landon Donovan is awesome, please let him go to Everton!

Sorry, just had to say it. (At least I’m consistent!) A motivated Donovan succeeding abroad is better for MLS and American soccer than an unmotivated Donovan underperforming for a last place Galaxy team. He’s done all he can in MLS. It’s time to go.

The Union salary scale

Check back later for a post on this one.

5 Comments

  1. Andy Muenz says:

    On a topic not covered in today’s update but I wanted to get on here. I was at Sunday’s WNT game at PPL Park. While it was strange not to hear the constant chanting from the SOB’s and nobody wanting to Doop after a goal, I did overhear several people comment on what a great facility PPL is. Now, if only we could put together a team that matches that facility…

  2. “So Williams did what any attacking right back would do, and that was his undoing.”

    Exactly. Perhaps I’m beating a dead horse, but perhaps pieces of it need to be chopped up and left in Nowak’s bed (okay, not the best metaphor, but I’m feeling a bit desperate at this point)…but this is exactly what you should anticipate when playing otherwise good players out of position. It would appear as if Williams sealed his own fate with his comments. You just don’t go throwing adjectives like “easy” around when you’re at the bottom of the table. But anyone who has ever participated in ANY competitive sport knows that when your body and mind are tired, instinct takes over. As is pointed out by Dan, Williams’ instincts did just that in the final moments of the match.

    It seems so painfully obvious that this is the consequence of dismantling your defense on a whim, that I feel I must be missing something. I’m a passionate supporter, but a n00b frowned upon by snobs of all sizes. I shouldn’t be in a position where I feel like I know what I’m talking about. Not yet, anyway.

    So is there any merit whatsoever in this whole master plan/looking towards the future narrative? Or am I justified in feeling insulted every time Nowak places the blame on anyone but himself? Should I feel as exhausted as I do, emotionally and physically, after each match? Or is that just my liver failing?

    Sorry for turning a single point about the match into a diatribe about management and the season, but I think it perfectly captures just what’s been going wrong. It’s also probably not the only moment I could have picked, which only makes me a sadder panda.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      One thing to add about Williams’ comments: Williams said the transition from fullback to center back is one of the easier transitions, as opposed to Nowak saying CB was the easiest position. I think Williams was right. It is easier than most position transitions. Of course, everything else still speaks for itself.

  3. I suppose I’d rather have him sounding a tad bit overconfident in press quotes than mysteriously ending up on the injury list.

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