A View from Afar / Commentary

The Union return to competence

Photo: Earl Gardner

It’s too bad that the current state of refereeing decides so many close soccer matches.

On the other hand, Philadelphia Union can at least take some consolation in the fact that they’re now producing soccer matches close enough for referees to determine the outcome.

That’s the bright side to Saturday’s 2-1 loss to D.C. United. The Union played a fairly good match, certainly well enough to earn a win or draw.

Had a few key refereeing calls gone differently, they walk out of RFK Stadium with a result.

  1. Zach Pfeffer’s handball in the box called could have gone either way. Did the ball hit his hand? Yes, it appeared to. Was it intentional? That’s debatable. Could the ref have let it go? Absolutely. But the penalty call that led to United’s game-winning goal was defensible.
  2. Chris Pontius took down Sebastien Le Toux in the 64th minute on a potential breakaway just outside the 18. Pontius appeared to be the last defender, and Le Toux would have been in on goal. Pontius got a yellow card. It could — and maybe should — have been a red card.
  3. Vincent Nogueira drew a soft yellow a minute earlier for a tackle on Chris Rolfe. As he went down, Rolfe clearly and intentionally kicked upward and put his cleats in Nogueira’s gut. Rolfe was not called for a foul when he could have been ejected.

On the other hand, the Union benefited from a no-call on Maurice Edu when he fouled Davy Arnaud just outside the box in the first half. Arnaud went down inside the box like anyone against young Mike Tyson, but it certainly could have been a foul, only one that began just outside the 18.

Yes, this is life in the three-official system that is professional soccer. Some day, maybe FIFA will wake up and add another two officials, but till then, this is what we have.

For the Union, the consolation is they are not only playing competent soccer again, but they are showing signs for the first time this year that they could — could —  actually be a good team.

Le Toux and Wenger, on the rise?

Sebastien Le Toux and Andrew Wenger combined for the Union’s early goal in a sign of attacking life that has been rare for the two this season. Both looked dangerous at times beyond that, with Le Toux putting a blistering shot on goal from distance and Wenger rattling the crossbar with a powerful left-footed drive. That Wenger failed to net was an obvious negative, but seeing the two threaten United was a necessary change.

Most other elements of the team are looking improved of late. If this pairing can return to their 2014 form, the Union are suddenly a very different sort of team.

Edu vulnerable in the air?

Maurice Edu has been a terrific central defender all around, but one weakness seems to be revealing itself. When he has to defend in the air, he consistently gets beaten to headers. As the sample size of Edu’s center back work increases, we’re gradually learning more of his strengths and weaknesses.

Aristeguieta on the losing side — again

The Union have gone 0-7-3 with Fernando Aristeguieta in the starting lineup. They are 3-1-0 when he doesn’t play.

Coincidence? Perhaps, and Aristeguieta had a fairly good game. Still, maybe it’s time to give C.J. Sapong another start.

Curtin late to the sub table

When Jim Curtin gets his subs wrong, it’s not because he picks the wrong guy to replace or insert. Rather, it’s that he pulls the trigger about 5-10 minutes too late. It happened again Saturday, when each change should have come earlier. Experience will help there, but so too might a particular focus from assistant coaches on the players who typically fatigue first for the Union, so they see the signs earlier.

Richie Marquez, your new favorite player

Just saying.

After how unsteady the center back position has been all season for Philadelphia, Marquez has stepped in and rarely put a foot wrong. (He’s been identified as partially responsible for the Chris Pontius goal, but Edu is the defender whose head the ball goes over before reaching Pontius, not Marquez, who is behind him.) Everyone who complained about the Union passing on Steve Birnbaum to trade up and get Andre Blake needs only to watch Marquez play. Birnbaum is good, but Marquez + Blake could end up better.

Really, Rene?

Rene Meulensteen reportedly recommended 34-year-old left back John Arne Riise as a signing for the Union.

Not that Riise wasn’t a good player in his prime, but —

Really put in some tough scouting there, huh? Serious analytics, eh? Recommending a former player. Wow. There’s your money’s worth for that Meulensteen contract.

Oh, that Nick …

Did you catch Union chief executive Nick Sakiewicz’s response to Chester Mayor John Linder’s complaints about the Union not doing enough to improve Chester?

“Revitalizing the city isn’t what we ever promised,” Sakiewicz told The Inquirer. “One business doesn’t fix decades of economic mismanagement in a city.”

Sakiewicz’s bluntness raised some eyebrows. Certainly, it lacks the polished and empty blandness that public relations professionals often advise. Then again, Sakiewicz’s type of response is why he’s a much more interesting interviewee than most.

More significantly, is he wrong?

He’s definitely not wrong on the second part of that quote.

As for the other part — Nobody ever expected Philadelphia Union by itself to revitalize Chester, but the case for building PPL Park was definitely that the stadium would help revitalize the city.


  1. alicat215 says:

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but….I applaud Sak telling Chester to clean up their own mess…..he’s right……this once. Second, I guess I watched a different match then……….slow counter, non-chalont when we have the ball….no purpose, bad subs, and giving up points in the last ten minutes………regression. Pfeffer has cost this club 5 points this year so far…………….

    • I mostly agree 215- it was slow at times and that is not ideal on the counter and the 2nd half was more of the same, but for 43 minutes, this club looked, dare I say, like a team imbued with belief in itself and that translated in their play. Sometimes I just beg this team to slow down some- they are almost frenetic to the point of anxiety and I can’t have anxiety in my futbol.
      Multiple sequence of possession. Looking for the long outlet through ball. I liked it. Still gaping holes, but they showed me they can play a bit and after nearly 12 or so games of kick and chase and total failure to retain possession this was a nice break.
      To me it is clear Maidana and Noguiera and Marquez and Edu at CB and the solid calming contribution of the keeper has changed the momentum of this team. Hopefully the belief continues to grow- or at least isn’t fleeting after one tough result.

      • alicat215 says:

        I hear ya dude, but I’m not going to sugarcoat bad footy and bad coaching. If I see good things….I will applaud them, if I see more of the same from a few weeks back….I’m calling them on it. Even if I saw a silver-lining…..I would state it. But, while the rest of you have seem to have found it……sorry, bro…..I can’t see it. They should have had at least a point there…………but conceded a late goal on something that most high school players can do…..clear a freaking ball away with your head! Same as it ever was…………

      • The Black Hand says:

        Yep…a headed clearance, out of bounds, would have done the trick. .
        Pfeffer was caught up in re-inacting the epic beach footrace between Rocky and Apollo…

      • Dont’ forget … wait … dare I say it … Carroll.

    • You should at least credit Pfeffer with the 2 points he gained us in the prior DC game, don’t you think?

      • alicat215 says:

        sorry, this is pro sports. Great, he scored a match winner………but he also has cost the club 5 precious points. We may revisit this at the end of the season when the Union don’t make the playoffs by oh, say 2-3 points. He’s suppose to score goals…but, he is also suppose to redirect a ball out of bounds without looking like a ballet dancer! I like the kid, but the more I watch….the more I can see why German clubs wanted nothing to do with him……

      • Andy Muenz says:

        Not sure how you come up with 5 points. If your going to blame Sunday on him (and where were Edu, Marquez, Carroll, and Fabhino on the play?) that is 1 point. Charge him with another point for the red against Dallas and that’s 2 points. On the other hand, as a midfielder he’s second on the team in goals and the Union have won both games he scored in. The kid is 20 years old and has played about twice as many minutes in the first half of this season as he did in the last four full seasons combined. I’d say that’s pretty damn good for him.

      • alicat215 says:

        5 points……..would have came away with at least a point in DC. His red card was a three pointer….your basically conceding the match or playing your balls off for 1 at that point. The kids played well?……5 points. At the end of the season….to the people that matter……that will be what sticks out.

      • Dr. Union says:

        Let’s face it while Pfeffer cost us 5 points the front office and M’Bohli fiasco cost us playoffs last year and what at least 12 points this year. I don’t disagree that Pfeffer cost the team points, but he is not the problem here the FO is.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        It’s not a given that the Union would have beaten Dallas with 11 men, so that may or may not have been 3 points. Even if it was, 3+1=4.

      • alicat215 says:

        Doc, we most certainly have personnel and depth issues. If a player plays like crap, how do you blame the FO? The FO is an abomination….we all know this. But, I’m not going to blame the FO for misjudged headballs….thats just ridiculous

      • Dr. Union says:

        Alicat215 my point is not that Pfeffer should be coddle or even not sent down to the reserves my point is that other players have cost us more points then him. And the bad personnel decision made by the FO are what I am blaming on points lost. Yes Pfeffer cost the team points, but is this the soul reason the Union won’t make the playoffs NO. How bout M’bohli’s terrible goalkeeping. Wengers idoitic watching of the balls bounce over his head plus his inept ability to have offense. The turnovers by Fabinho. The terrible positioning of Williams and Ethan White. Almost everyone on this team has cost this team points in one way or another so to blame missing the playoffs on Pfeffer alone to me is incorrect. I blame this team and their lack of organization, structure, and identity which ultimately all comes down to decisions made by the front office on who to hire who to bring in and how this team is run. Blame which ever player you want but on bad teams every player will cost you points eventually.

      • alicat215 says:

        woopy doo! Most footy countries are loaded with kids his age playing first team football……all across the world. If a kid costs his club points….he costs his club points. You like giving trophies out for tenth place don’t you?

      • Andy Muenz says:

        And most kids cost their club points at some point or another. If they don’t, they are not staying long in MLS, they are moving to Europe. So it doesn’t make sense to ding him for the points he cost without crediting for the points he gained.

      • alicat215 says:

        what are you talking about?..the kids that cost their club points get sent to the reserves or put out on loan…or dropped…go get a job. Thats reality. You can coddle these kids all you want, but they are in the results business. Only in America are we this soft on our players…….”oh, its all about development man…..he’s 20…and still developing”. Enough of that crap…….he’d already be looking for another job or trying to get back into school if he was across the pond!

      • Andy Muenz says:

        So you’re saying the Union should fold since I don’t think they can field 11 players who haven’t cost their team points? Last I checked, MLS was not La Liga and the Union aren’t Real Madrid. They are going to have players who cost points.

      • Andy and Doc, have more players on this squad cost the Union points besides Pfeffer, yes. I also agree with the argument that if your going to be mad at personnel……the FO brought them here….should blame them too……I get it. Remember, I’ve said I like the kid as a player. But, if your a coach…that has to be in the back of your head whenever you consider putting him on the pitch.

  2. The Black Hand says:

    Damn fine piece, Dan!!
    While it was COMPLETELY accidental, Pfeffer’s hand did interfere with a threatening play…thus had to be called. The other displays of refereeing (can we call it that?) were abysmal.
    Interesting point on Fernando Aristeguieta. He is a strong player…but he doesn’t seem to work, with this club’s terrible wing-play. Sapong has more pace and I think that is what we need, up top. Maybe a two-striker formation?

    • I suspect Aristegueita’s record is a good example of correlation not equalling causation. His starts mainly occurred during the M’bolhi Reign Of Error. But by the same token, I wouldn’t mind giving Sapong a start simply because he’s playing really well.

      • alicat215 says:

        that statistic is shocking………and it translates too….get Nando off the pitch! I don’t care about his plus side, his mentality, or if the fans like him…..if you are 0-7-3 with him starting….he needs to go! Sad but true…….

      • The Black Hand says:

        I can’t disagree. Dude is a beast but he, for whatever reason, isn’t getting the job done.

      • Dr. Union says:

        He isn’t getting it done but as I mentioned before when he played in a 2 striker set he had a much better game its clear that this is what the Union should be doing. Nando has a higher work rate then Sapong so let him play underneath from time to time and Sapong can stretch the D and win balls in the air. This team doesn’t need to roll out 5 midfielders every game with 1 maybe 2 backups playing out of position. Play with 4 in the middle and have some depth for injuries/ tactic changes.

      • A beast that doesn’t put the ball in the net … and is slow. I’ve lost interest.
        Sapong please.

      • alicat215 says:

        I like a healthy Casey starting and CJ coming on in the 60th to keep the opposition back four honest….and to test their tired legs….

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        Scottso! Best line of the year because of the double entendre in it! “M’Bohli Reign of Error!” Too bad you could not have attached the sound track of “Ca Ira” to the phrase! Well done, very well done! love it!

      • Merci, OSC. You can help me popularize it.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Your sarcasm kills me, Hand. 😉 Even I know this piece is mediocre.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I was being quite serious, actually. I found your points to be spot on…with the exception of Edu being a “terrific central defender all around…” (I find Mo to be a terribly mediocre player and a tremendous waste of resources). Everything else, I agree 100%.

      • You can debate the money he makes(at least it’s not my money), but I really don’t get the Edu isn’t very good or is mediocre perspective that many seem to have. He’s one of the 2 or 3 most talented guys on the team. That doesn’t even seem debatable to me.

      • Dr. Union says:

        You could easily argue that Edu is not one of the top 3 talented guys on this team, but regardless of that being okay on a poor team does not make you talented. It makes you, as has been said mediocre at best.

      • The Black Hand says:


      • Dan Walsh says:

        In that case … thanks! 🙂 Always happy to hear it, especially when I think I didn’t nail it.

        Given more of a sample on Edu, I might agree with you, but right now, I think he’s been very good on the whole, with a few notable exceptions (as noted).

      • Hard to top last weeks Mr. Walsh. Like trying to follow the book of Revelations. You were on fire. This is a good piece though. The logical write.

  3. Nick is right and wrong. He is wrong that that the stadium project with all of its other features (residential, commercial, entertainment) was not intended to be a big boost. He and his partners promised that. He is right re chester’s history – the amount of money poured into chester over the decades has gone missing or been squandered, fifa-like. He has to own his part in that.

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