Preseason

Stock rising/falling: Union 6-0 London United

Photo: Courtesy of Philadelphia Union

That was easy. Possibly too easy.

Philadelphia Union started scoring in the 10th minute, and kept scoring until the 85th. There were a few early chances for London United, but in truth Philadelphia was rarely troubled.

The players who need to shine brightest are those who can most easily imagine the path — should a few unlucky breaks fall their way — that leads to London United, the slide from a MLS preseason cut to a hastily assembled pinata.

And one player who is fighting to join the defensive rotation made sure he grabbed the spotlight in a game that otherwise asked very little of the Union defense.

Rising – first half

Richie Marquez

Clinging to hopes of a regular spot on the bench this season, Marquez was paired with surefire starter Steven Vitoria to start the match. Aside from a few early forays up the left side that resulted in half-chances, it was a match full of watching and waiting for Philly’s central defenders. But Marquez was determined to make his mark. And he curled in front of his defender to open the scoring by redirecting a Zach Pfeffer free kick inside the near post. It was a gorgeous free kick, but Marquez still needed to be professional about the finish.

Zach Pfeffer

Pfeffer’s dead ball delivery was top notch all evening, and he served both corners and free kicks with pace and accuracy. In a midfield that dropped Fred and Pfeffer in front of Eric Ayuk and Michael Lahoud, Pfeffer exerted the strongest gravity, pulling play into the middle and spreading it back to the wings. Given time, he was perfectly comfortable driving forward or aiming through-balls through small windows. At times, the windows were far too small, but the intent remained encouraging. When Danny Cruz was pulled after picking up an early caution, Pfeffer linked well with Cruz’s replacement, Jimmy McLaughlin.

Fred

It is borderline ridiculous that Fred is taking minutes away from the players that are fighting for roster spots, but who can argue with the old man’s skills. There is a doggone good reason Fred was once a very dangerous playmaker in MLS, and his 29th minute volley was a firm reminder that the Brazilian still has a little something left in the tank. Fred also chased well defensively, but it was more of the reactive-type chasing that looks aggressive but is often just a player trying desperately to recover the position they should have had five seconds earlier.

Rising – second half

Maurice Edu

Mo Edu is never going to be the marquee, Hollywood signing the Union wanted him to be. But man, that doesn’t mean he can’t show off from time to time. Playing 30 minutes, Edu he only needed five to show just how much better he was than anybody else in the midfield Saturday night. He took Jim Curtin’s pregame talk to heart, coming out of the blocks with cylinders kicking and moving easily through the gears. He showed good positioning, read the game quickly, sucked in the defense before pushing the ball out to Andrew Wenger, and did as much as anyone to take the remaining fight out of London United by locking them into their own half. It wasn’t flashy and it won’t go on his highlight reel, but it was a subtle reminder that Maurice Edu is very, very good.

Andrew Wenger

He really was too dominant in college to not have some sort of future in MLS. So after the engine stalled in Montreal and he foreshadowed Mario Balotelli’s Liverpool career as a striker for the Union, it was really a question of whether Wenger would revert back to defense or find a new home in the front line. Luckily for the former number one pick, Jim Curtin found a simplified winger role that puts Wenger in an almost perpetual state of one-on-one. The decision-making is still too raw — it took some lucky bounces to get him on the scoresheet — but Wenger showed the same immediate attacking intent that got him back in the starting eleven late last summer.

Fernando Aristeguieta

Almost too easy for the Venezuelan, as he scored soon after coming on then pounced on an error to slot home his second five minutes from time. Both were simple goals, but the efficient, no-nonsense way Aristeguieta went about them suggested a finishing confidence that was sorely lacking from the Philly front line last season. Union fans who demand more than simple goalscoring had their hearts set aflutter by Aristeguieta’s movement between the lines, which created the kind of havoc in the back that had been absent prior to the final thirty minutes. Opportunities followed in a seemingly endless procession with Aristeguieta at the tip of the spear, and all eyes will be peeled on the big center forward when the Union face Columbus midweek.

Falling

It was hard for even the most out of form player to look bad against such an opponent that hardly needed a push to topple over (though Danny Cruz was happy to give one 21 minutes in!) That said, let’s skip Falling and go straight to…

Well, that was something

Steven Vitoria

The Union’s other big loanee played on the left center back side and spent most of his night hanging around behind Fabinho, snuffing out the occasional scampering attacker that rounded the Brazilian left back. He was never challenged for speed or height, so… no new information.

Cristian Maidana

A sweet, curling free kick goal from the top of the D was the big moment of Maidana’s night. He was his usual sneaky self, finding pockets of space in the channels and connecting with the unpressured fullbacks to start attacks. But he could seem superfluous with Edu steaming forward so relentlessly. In the end, not enough of a test to bring out the best or worst in the Argentine.

Dzenan Catic

The Union offense was oddly shaped in the first half as a narrow midfield encouraging Fabinho and Lee forward. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough vertical movement to poke regular holes in the London United back line, and Catic often cut a lone figure making horizontal runs across the defense. With Ayuk, Fred, and Pfeffer all lurking like middle school boys at a dance around the space just in front of the London back four, Catic found his own space compressed to the point of becoming two dimensional. That can only be a partial excuse, however, as the rookie did spurn his best chance of the game, failing to knock a wide open header into the net. Philly rarely forced London’s defenders to play on their back foot in the first half, and as a result, Catic looked either frustrated or invisible before giving way to Aristeguieta.

Overall

Jim Curtin let the guys fighting for spots deliver body blows for an hour before powering up the Mo-comotive and his merry band of starters to throw haymakers. London United never gave up, but they eventually drowned under wave after wave of Union attacks.

This was probably a good confidence builder and a nice chance to get Vitoria longer minutes and Aristeguieta a light-hearted debut, but it told us little about the squad and who is in form.

Saturday night was a walkthrough. The bigger test comes Wednesday at 5 pm against a Columbus Crew team that is dreaming big in 2015.

35 Comments

  1. From what I hear of the game Cruz needs to be placed under falling…

    • Hard to judge from 21 minutes. Especially since the Union as a whole didn’t look too impressive for the first half hour.

    • I know I’m in a minority, but I’m still OK with Danny Cruz having a position on this team. He needs to not be the first option off the bench every game – that’s on the coaching staff, not him. But as long as he’s not the go-to first guy week after week, I think there’s a role for Cruz on this team.
      .
      I sometimes don’t get the Danny Cruz hate, to be honest. He’s the sort of player that’s usually loved in this city – minimal talent but busts his ass to get the most out of it, nice guy with the fans, not afraid to rough it up, never backs down from a challenge. Hopefully Curtin finds Cruz’s niche this year. I think he can be effective in the right situations.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I’m with you John. Cruz has value to the club. It would be interesting to see the club’s numbers with/without Danny Cruz. I’d be willing to bet that they will surprise you. He’s not the most skilled, but he does bring something to the table…now, I’m not entirely sure what that “something”is exactly…but he brings it!
        .
        Cruz is a solid bench option. Not a starting player.

      • Somehow Danny Cruz became the poster boy for everything that is wrong with the Union. Probably because while he was playing, fan favorite Roger Torrez was wallowing on the bench. The vitriol directed at Cruz by some is maddening.

        All he does is work hard with what he has. There is certainly a roster spot for him and he will make contributions this year. But his role will likely be limited and we will see less of him, which speaks to the improvement of the roster.

      • The Black Hand says:

        There’s always one. Gaddis, Wenger, Fabinho, Carroll (I agree with that one), Adu…and many more have all spent some time being THE reason that we suck so much.
        .
        Cruz isn’t a great player. (Hell, the kid started playing the game at14.). He might be the hardest working player on the club. He makes the wrong call, at times, but he makes some right ones too. He is not our weakest link. He is a decent depth player, that can cause fits to opposing defenders, when he is brought of in the 75th minute…we could do much worse!!

      • I would agree that most people’s problems with Cruz aren’t actually with Cruz, but rather with the coaching staff that sometimes places too high a value on him.
        .
        Problem is that he’s paid too much, and we also still have his french speaking clone on the roster for some reason. We need to get rid of one of them, and if it’s Cruz that remains, his salary needs to be decreased from its current six figures.

      • It’s hard to ignore his constant flopping/diving and rolling around until he ultimately begins with his two fisted grimacing push-ups. It happens at least three times every game. EVERY GAME!
        Call me a purist, call me what you will but I despise it from oppostion players and even more so from my own players. It’s like he went to the Clint Dempsey school of football acting.
        Just GTFU and play. Only Benny Feilhaber and his constant whining to the refs annoys me more. His play neither agitates or excites me, but this part of his game just puts him in a bad light in my book. His foul the other day was typical as well. Get beat, try to get back into defensive position and when that fails take overly aggressive cheap shot on the other player. I like football players, Danny Cruz is just a guy who runs fast and pinballs around people for as long as the refs allow him.

      • As Adam says he gets the most out of the skill he has and I agree wholeheartedly, but in my estimation his skills are not MLS worthy.
        .
        His touch is poor. Is finishing is poor. His technique is one move only, the inside chop. His motor is full throttle at all times.
        .
        I have nothing against Danny. Just don’t think his game translates to this level. If it were not for his work rate, energy and speed, there is no way he would be on an MLS roster. Just no way
        .

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Work rate, energy and speed have value in an athletic situation. Some don’t have them, and cannot find a role. Someone needed to invent a process that grafted Cruz’s wrk rate, energy and speed onto Roger Torres’s soccer brain, vision and feet. A manager in the EPL or La Ligament would’ve said that you very much here’s several million pounds or Euros.

      • +1
        .
        No business playing in MLS!

      • I totally agree with Joel on Danny. He works hard. As a philadelphian I love him for this. But I also love the ‘beautiful game’. And Danny has no place in that. Yes he makes great runs and scares defenders with his speed. But that only lasts a moment till they realize he has cinder blocks for feet. He can’t pass. The decisions he makes are questionable. It reminds me of US soccer in the 90’s. Awe they had great effort! They really tried out there. Yes hard work and effort are great. But it will only go so far without skill and quality. If we want our team to grow, if we want the league to grow, if we want US soccer to grow, Danny Cruz can’t be a part of that future. We need better. We should expect more. If we do not, we will always finish behind.

      • To be fair to Danny, he was pulled because he had only been scheduled to play 20 mins max, not, as some have said, because he took a yellow card…Although that was yet ANOTHER stupid yellow card in long history of stupid Cruz related yellow cards.
        .
        John, I get where you want to go with the idea that an underdog, big hearted, always hustling player is usually beloved in this area. The problem is, Cruz’s hustle leads to nothing no matter where he directs it. He can’t run past anyone; can’t overpower them, and he can’t out maneuver them because he has NO ball skills whatsoever (Unless you count the countless ways he has found to turn the ball over “creative”.) He is FOREVER taking stupid yellow cards that hurt the team, and then wasting time ARGUING about them.
        .
        If Vince Papale has simply run really fast (for him) and never scored a touchdown, never made a tackle, never thrown a meaningful block…Just banged into people and fallen (and stayed) down a lot, HE would have gotten the same assessment Cruz is getting.
        .
        From the standpoint of simply assessing how ONE player either adds or subtracts to the success of the overall eleven when he is on the field, there is simply no argument that can be made that Cruz is more deserving of his minutes or bench spot than someone like Catic, Pheffer, or especially McLaughlin. (To me, McLaughlin IS Cruz…with skills. Lot’s of ’em.)
        .
        That having been said: I’ve seen Danny around the fans at different events and after many games, he’s as a nice and approachable a guy as you’ll ever see in a professional athlete. Truly a terrific representative of the team and it’s VERY nice to see. Unfortunately, this qualifies him as a marketing or ticket rep, not as an on field asset.

      • Even though I am the president of “Get Cruz off of this team”, it is not personal. I agree he is a very nice guy off the field.

  2. I’m sorry but we know what we are going to get from Cruz and in my opinion it’s not professional quality skill. 21 minutes served as a reminder of that fact and how much more McLaughlin and others waiting for a fair shot can bring. Skill on the ball, change of pace and passing and receiving ability is what the Union need. Those players with skill bust their asses to but also make plays. The Union are in a position to move beyond the pin balling.

    • The Black Hand says:

      Rather than getting rid of Cruz, let’s teach him to shoot. If he could finish, dude would have like 25 goals with the Union…instead of the 7g/5a (not awful) that he has. Like him or not, he gets himself a decent sniff of the goal…a lot.

      • Wow. Pay him 125k and teach him to shoot.Wow. I’ve seen enough after the first 3 games under Hack. time for jimmy.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Blasted money!!!! I have no defense for him getting 125k.

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        He came with that general salary level, if I recall correctly.

      • The Black Hand says:

        The money definitely threw a fork in my argument.

      • How long has he been in this league? It’s ludicrous to try and make excuses and dream scenarios that justify his taking up a roster spot. Why not show the same compassion for players who have put in the time,effort have just as much heart and dedication not to mention superiors skills. Its not as if he hasn’t been given chances. This is professional soccer not choosing up sides for a game of pick up.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I don’t know if I’m showing more compassion to Cruz. I am stating that he is not completely without value.

      • 6 Years! He has been given every opportunity with Houston, DC United and The Union. The value and skill he brings is nominal and the drop off is glaring as a sub. If the Union are serious about upgrading the skill and depth of this team and compete for a playoff position, Cruz’s roster spot would be better served by McLaughlin or someone else.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I would prefer to drop Carroll, in order to make space for new blood.

      • Spot on LC. Imo he wasn’t good enough 3 yrs ago, and the overall quality of the league just keeps getting better. I’m sure they can find a replacement union player rep On the team. LeToux?

      • You’re right,Carroll is another player like Cruz whom the growth in talent and skill in MLS has passed by. Another roster spot and salary that could be used to add skill and depth.

      • TBH,
        .
        The difference between Carroll and Cruz is that Cruz can be dropped without having to find a replacement, because we have plenty of depth at the RW position. In fact, I think RW is our deepest position (Le Toux, Sapong, McLaughlin, Cruz, Hoppenot). If we drop Carroll, we have to find someone to fill that depth CDM spot.

  3. I’m not sure if it was fitness related, but I felt that Catic’s work rate really fell off in the 2nd half. Hoppenot sent a great cross in that Catic really should have gotten on the end of and without the benefit of a good replay, it looked like he didn’t make that much of an effort to get there.

    I also thought that McLaughlin put in a good shift. Moved well and helped keep possession a few times against multiple defenders.

    I don’t get the Balotelli reference…was that simply done for search engine optimization purposes 😉

    • What is this SEO you speak of?? Re: Balo – No, just trying to find a salient analogue for a striker who struggled to find the net after moving clubs.

      Re: Catic – I remember that Hoppenot cross. It looked a lot more to me like indecision rather than an effort issue. Catic started to go behind his defender, then realized that was the wrong move and got stuck in two minds. Rookie mistake from a rookie.

  4. OneManWolfpack says:

    Only Danny Cruz would get yanked against that poop team for picking up a card, and generally being worthless. Typical. And I’ve been a Cruz “supporter” over the last year plus, but enough is enough. And of course by “supporter” I mean: “Well, he runs hard… and gives a lot of effort”.
    .
    Mo-comotive. I love it and hate it at the same time. Haha

  5. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Many thanks for the updates on Andre Blake’s status. Appreciate it.

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