A View from Afar

Five thoughts on the Union and MLS

Photo: Earl Gardner

Five thoughts on Philadelphia Union, MLS, soccer, and the universe. Ready? Go.

Zach Pfeffer should skip his youth national team call-up

Union fans have spent five years waiting on Pfeffer to make good on his potential. The team’s first homegrown signing joined the club when he was just 15 years old, and since then, it’s been a patient wait. Peter Nowak threw him into the lineup too early back in 2010, but last year, it looked like Pfeffer was ready to make the leap into the starting lineup when he earned a start after good play off the bench. Unfortunately, he didn’t impress, and that was all we saw of him for the season.

With Cristian Maidana injured, Pfeffer has another crack at it.

He can’t miss the opportunity by going on youth national team duty. Yes, the call-up is an honor, but it’s one he has had before and will probably have again.

Now is his opportunity to stake a claim to regular time after a good preseason. Now.

What if he leaves and Fred starts in his place and plays well? Then Fred stays in the lineup until Maidana returns, that’s what. And nothing against Fred — I thought he was pretty good last year — but he’s a part-time assistant coach now, winding down a good career. Pfeffer is on the other end of things. But sooner or later, if he can’t break through, it’s time to move on.

So stick around, Zach. Grab that brass ring. You have 2-4 weeks to show what you got.

Cruz on loan?

Danny Cruz’s move to go on loan to Norwegian club FK Bodø/Glimt is surprising but admirable by Cruz. It shows the competitive spirit every Union fan has gotten used to.

What he needs to come back or progress with is the continued improvement in his touch and ball skills. Even though he played less last year, he improved noticeably as a player.

It will be interesting to see what a brand new set of eyes in Europe will project upon Cruz. Will they look at him and say, “This hard-nosed guy with the high motor needs to be a defender”? Could he become a right back? Will they say he should be a striker, because a guy who runs that hard can’t really maintain the full-on sprint for 90 minutes? Or maybe he’ll just hit his stride as a winger. Who knows? Good move for him though.

Where is the depth on the wings?

Absent Cruz, the Union look thin on the wings. Le Toux and Wenger are rightly locked in as starters, but who are the backups?

As Curtin suggested in Wednesday’s press conference, C.J. Sapong will probably spend some time on the wing upon his return to health, Pfeffer is an option, and new signing Eric Ayuk has been impressing in training. Room could open up for Jimmy McLaughlin as well.

For the Union, it’s a good move regardless to loan out Cruz, because it frees up some salary space on someone who is paid more than most reserves make. Yes, he would help on depth, and he’s good for running at tired defenses as a late game sub. But he’s too similar to Le Toux in how he pushes upfield to offer a different look as a spot starter, and he’s not a good late game sub when you’re trying to kill off a game. Plus, he’s making over $100,000, which is a high rate in MLS for a sub.

Another move could be in the works for the Union, because …

Union center backs look very weak

A five-year-old team won’t have a lot of traditions, but this team has at least one: Good center backs.

From Danny Califf and Michael Orozco on to Califf-Carlos Valdes, Valdes-Amobi Okugo, Okugo-Jeff Parke, and last year’s great performance by Maurice Edu, center back has long been a position of strength for the Union.

Not anymore. It’s now a weakness.

Look at the Union center backs on this goal.

There is Steven Vitoria with his arms wrapped around an RSL player before he goes tumbling to the ground in a heap with Ethan White. Yes, both Union center backs ended up on the ground.

Or perhaps you noticed the first goal, the Javier Morales free kick? Check out the foul before it by Sheanon Williams. Why is Williams the guy making that play so centrally? Because both center backs were pushed upfield either on an intentionally high line or out of position.

The Union have played just two games, and we should remember that it took Okugo and Parke a few games to gel before they produced a solid 2013 run. So the new pair could still mesh well and improve over time.

But after Saturday’s RSL game, the signs are not too good.

Le Toux’s slow start

Sebastien Le Toux’s touch has been way off so far this season. He has missed some good looks on goal, and it has cost the Union goals. Some fans are predictably ripping into him as a result, hitting the old standby critiques that he isn’t a great ballhandler and can’t create off the dribble.

Fair enough.

But he’ll come around. He always does with the Union.

Through 125 regular season games, he has 40 goals and 39 assists for the Union. And it’s not like he was ever a great ballhandler in all that time either.

What he does — and what he has still done during these first two games — is put himself in good positions to score or find others who will. Even so far, his misses have been notable because he put himself in good spots to score and then didn’t.

It’s just a matter of him finding his footing this season. Give it time. When Le Toux gets hot, he gets really hot.

Wait — Montreal??? In the CONCACAF Champions League final???

The Montreal Impact will head to Costa Rica sitting on a 2-0 lead in their two-legged match against Alajuelense in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals.

Could we really be looking at the premise of last year’s worst club in MLS making it to the final? Yes, yes we can.

Montreal has definitely improved over last season, beginning with their back line and attacker Ignacio Piatti. Justin Mapp’s injury will hurt them if they make it to the final, but it didn’t hurt last night when they knocked off Alajuelense.

Stranger things have happened, but this is definitely strange — and awesome.


  1. Agree on Pfeffer. I want him here, not in a USMNT friendly.

    • As much as I agree, isn’t he currently on the bubble for USMNT? If he declines a call up, it could be an uphill battle for him. Tough call.

  2. This is a conundrum. I tend to agree regarding Zach. Context is everything and in this instance, I think club before country. No No wait, I change my mind- go play with NT.
    What I hope is he is set in his decision whatever it may be…. can’t be caught between two minds on this one- too important.

  3. Regarding depth issue. two words: Erik Ayuk. I want to see if it translates. Was nice to see the calming influence he brought to his play and believe me, this team needs a quaalude.

    • I’d rather see Jimmy Mac or Ayuk out there any day of the week before Cruz….or Fabinho for that matter. If these kids have that big of upsides to their game……..let them test their meddle. Be the club that puts youth out there………have that become your reputation…..especially if ducketts are tight. Look at Southhamton, well we lost six starters last year……..just put the academy kids in……they’ll be fine. Still fighting for a European spot 6 months later, God Bless them…….

    • Haha very true. It is so hard watching this team in perma-anxiety attack mode

  4. I think the CB issue will work itself out. Hopefully the chain of command will sort out and the comfortableness will grow and mesh. It is a lot to ask two CB to play well, in live play, after spending a preseason meeting for the first time then mostly playing cupcakes.
    I will say this. Marquez over White please. I don’t know much and have no empirical evidence for Marquez’s ultimate quality, but White’s play is panicky and troubling. Keep it simple Ethan.

  5. Watched the replay again last night, the CBs were actually worse on the plays RSL didn’t score on. That first 30 minutes was just an awful display and they were fortunate to not have given up a goal or two. Between their positioning and MBolhi having a weird game, they made it an adventure. Vitoria looked shaky and that initial optimism with getting a guy on loan from a big Euro club is turning into optimism it’s just a loan and no great investment.

    • I think at the 2:30 mark in the first half was the first time they got caught………RSL player swung one in and they almost scored. Mo was flipping $hit on one of them for not shifting over……..its all on tape!

  6. Totally agree on Pfeffer. These friendlies are meaningless, and he will not be jeopardizing his future national team career by skipping them at this stage. If he goes, however, he could actually be making a big mistake career-wise at the club level. If Zach stays and grabs this opportunity with both hands, then he gives the coach something to think about. If he goes, then Curtin has an easy decision to make once Chaco comes back, simple as that.

  7. 1. Stay Zac. 2. Go play Cruz. 3. play Ayuk or Jimmy. 4. Edu to CB – for the good of the team. 5. LeToux’s touch is the same as it ever was. MTL? Cam Porter’s goal last round was awesome.

    • pragmatist says:

      So, Edu and White? Or Edu and Vittoria? Annoyingly, I think it’s a valid question.
      And who goes to CDM? Do you start Lahoud?

      I always like to give the team at least four weeks to get a good feel for who they are. Chaco’s loss hurts, but we’ll know who this team really is by game 5.

  8. Pfeffer – If I was him I’d go to Europe and play for the MNT. If he’s the real deal that exposure there wouldn’t hurt and may improve any chances to go play there. Wouldn’t blame him if he chooses that route.
    Centerbacks – I agree, they are scary to watch on some plays. I hope this cap relief from Cruz and others turns into a good quality center mid (a.k.a Okugo replacement) so that Edu can go back to CB where he is most effective.

    • I was thinking the same thing soccerson, European clubs will pay more attention to MNT than they will the Union. There are always scouts at the youth internationals……….from all over!

  9. incredible to think of us in Champions League. that stadium was rocking last night. we could only hope to host a semi.
    to dream…

  10. These USYNT friendlies will be a little more important than most for Zach – he is on the outside looking in right now with the U-20 World Cup in two months. He had a pretty good shot of being a key part of the qualifying campaign prior to his injury, and I would think a youth World Cup experience would be huge for him.

    Selfishly, I think we all want him showing us that he belongs as a viable player in the Union lineup, but I think a spot in the U-20 World Cup squad is in the balance.

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