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5 Union thoughts

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Five thoughts on Philadelphia Union and MLS. Ready? Go.

Marquez and Victoria finally partner at center back

Richie Marquez and Steven Vitoria finally started together at center back, and the results were promising, particularly considering the game marked the return of both from injuries.

Marquez looked as if he hadn’t missed a game. The jets were there, the timing was there, and the aggressiveness was certainly there. His near-perfect set piece header on goal was stopped only because Tally Hall was positioned in exactly the right spot to save it.

As for Vitoria, he looked slow and awkward at times, which, in his defense could be due to his long layoff. More significantly though, he looked effective. Now, that may be a function of an Orlando club playing without several starters and deploying only two legitimate offensive threats (Kaka and Cyle Larin) along with four midfielders who typically play holding midfielder roles and a left back (Corey Ashe) playing right back. But let’s also give the guy a bit of credit. A good performance is a good performance.

This is the pairing that many Union observers have wanted to see for weeks, for a simple reason. If the two can be effective, it means Maurice Edu is no longer necessary at center back. That means he can return to center midfield or, less likely, become available on the trade market.

In evaluating the pairing, the key question mark was and remains Vitoria. Marquez is a no-brainer. He has been the team’s best defender this season.

Vitoria is a different story. At $400,000, he is one of the league’s highest paid defenders. He is on loan from Benfica, and the Union have 10 remaining regular season games during which to evaluate him and his value. Thus far, it hasn’t matched his $400,000 salary, even if you don’t factor in a possible transfer fee. That said, a good stretch run could demonstrate he’s worth somewhere in the area of $200-$250k per year, and with Vitoria not factoring in Benfica’s plans thus far, they might let him go via free transfer. That would make him worth it for Philadelphia.

Can Michael Lahoud stay healthy?

Another player, another solid return from injury: Mike Lahoud.

The question now is whether Lahoud can stay healthy for even two-thirds of a season again. Last year, he played just eight games. The year before, it was nine. This year, he has played in 10 of the Union’s 24 league games.

The shame is that, over the last year, Lahoud has when healthy often looked like a player in the process of taking the next step from good role player and backup to solid, established MLS starter. He looked the part again on Saturday against Orlando.

Unfortunately, Lahoud isn’t the Union’s only injury-prone midfielder, with both Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana getting regularly hit by the injury bug. A team can afford a couple players like this if they have good depth. But when they’re concentrated in the same positions, a talented but injury-prone player becomes a luxury a team can’t necessarily afford.

If Lahoud can stay healthy the rest of the season and play at a high level, then maybe he puts some of those questions to rest. If not, there may be a tough off-season conversation ahead.

Maidana on a wing — we’ve seen this before, sorta

When Cristian Maidana first signed with Philadelphia, he was advertised and deployed as a left winger. He did all right, but it’s clear he had been put in a box. He wasn’t fast enough to play as a straight left winger, and the consignment to a wing cramped the creativity that has shown him wandering to both wings to create.

With manager Jim Curtin inserting Tranquillo Barnetta into Maidana’s preferred No. 10 center attacking midfielder role, Maidana has been shuffled off to a wing once again.

Unlike his predecessor, however, Curtin has had enough time to see Maidana’s tendencies. Anecdotally, it’s fair to say most of Maidana’s creative work comes on the right flank, and that’s the wing Curtin stuck him on this past Saturday.

Will it work? As always, give it time, and we’ll see. Maidana (and the Union attack overall) looked better once Barnetta left the game and Maidana returned to his central role.

That said, if you want one big fat reason why it might be worth sticking with, look no further than Maidana’s failure to take Sebastien Le Toux’s perfect second half ground cross and bury it in the net. Maidana has proved one of the league’s best for creating goals for others, but how he failed to touch that ball that Le Toux left for him will remain one an enduring mystery. The No. 10 should be a creator, but the Union also need someone who can make those runs into the box from midfield and bury the more than occasional goal.

The U.S. Open Cup

Wednesday night’s game against Chicago is everything. If the Union crash out of the U.S. Open Cup, they may leave their fans nothing left to hope for this year.

But if they win, they get a shot at a trophy. They get a shot at Champions League soccer and the increased profile that offers. (Montreal just signed a player based in part on that player’s experience playing against them in Champions League.) And they get more allocation money for this year, which everyone knows this team needs.

Much like the Union, Chicago has everything to play for. The playoffs seem like a pipe dream. This could make their U.S. Open Cup semifinal quite the match.

Playoffs? Playoffs???

There may come a time where the classic Jim Mora video is no longer appropriate to describe the Union. Alas, that time is not here.

With 10 games to go, Philadelphia are eight points behind fifth place New England in the standings. That’s the Union’s target to catch. Orlando may be in 6th with 21 points, but they have 13 games left to play.

So far, the Union have shown no sign they will push into that sixth and final playoff slot. They haven’t won in a month, Vincent Nogueira and Maurice Edu are injured, and they have the league’s worst points-per-game ratio in the standings. The best sign for optimism may be that their remaining schedule doesn’t include any of MLS’s best clubs (LA, KC, etc.) on it.

Some fans have called for the Union to treat the season’s final third as an evaluation period to make judgments on players for next year. It won’t happen. Jim Curtin lacks the job security to be able to do that. If a general manager is hired, he could call for Curtin’s removal. Even if one isn’t hired, Curtin was still likely always on the shortest of leashes this year. His saving grace may be that Union ownership right now lacks credibility with the fan base and could be hard-pressed to justify a firing when the club’s biggest problems have been due to the lack of a dedicated, quality general manager to manage the salary budget.

Right now, the season still hinges on the U.S. Open Cup and a long shot push toward the playoffs, and it will remain that way until the Union are mathematically out of contention for both.

38 Comments

  1. Lineup next year:

    Sapong/Argz
    Barnetta-Chaco-Someone other than Le Crap or Wecrap
    Nogs – Edu
    Someone other than harvey-high draft pick-marquez- gaddis

  2. I think you touched on exactly why Chaco isn’t a lock for that #10 spot. He just doesn’t give you enough goals. It seems to me he has the ability to score but is afraid to shoot. His shot from outside the box on Saturday was perfect. We need more of that from him. He needs to be a real scoring threat. I think the jury is still out on whether Barnetta can bring that quality to the 10 spot.

    • To be fair, Chaco’s poor scoring record would be less of an issue if the Union weren’t getting putrid performances out of their wingers. A combined 5 goals from LeToux and Wenger is dreadful. It makes the fact that Chaco is 3rd in the league in assists even more impressive.
      .
      Even though Barnetta isn’t known for scoring goals, I figured slotting him into the LW position for Wenger would open things up a bit for Sapong to get more goals. Apparently this wasn’t the plan.
      .
      There really isn’t any plan for this team. I mean, they were interested in Bedoya, ANOTHER central midfielder. While I’m sure he’d help with defensive support, he is hardly a need on this team.
      .
      Until there is a GM and plan in place, this team will most likely continue to make poor decisions.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      At the risk of repeating myself from an earlier comment on a different article, think about the defensive responsibilities of Barnetta and Maidana in the Orlando game. Whom do you want defending in front of Carroll and Lahoud, especially against a team without significant threat down the wide channels (refer to Adam Cann’s preface analytical piece for the explanation, please). With the best will in the world Chaco is an indifferent defender, works his tail off, but just not good sometimes. Barnetta was better from hindsight, and Chaco’s defensive liabilities were masked by Orlando’s indifferent threat down the flanks currently. Possibly it was a one game adjustment to the specific needs of a specific situation.

      • Correct. I’d be surprised if Chaco was on the outside against a team with dangerous wings or attacking outside backs. Add to the mix that Jim probably had no idea what he was going to get with Vitoria. With Mo back tomorrow night, I expect Barnetta to be outside and Chaco to be back in the middle. I think you’ll see the Carroll-Lahoud CDM again. Question is, who is the other outside winger with Barnetta? Seba or Ayuk? I think we’ll see Ayuk get the nod, as he’s been diamonds thus far in the Open Cup games.

      • You are extremely knowledgable ,and usual bring me back to reality, but I’m sorry I can’t agree here. If we have TWO dmids already, it’s a real problem if we have to worry about who is defending in front of them, that position should be primarily attack

      • Completely agree. Maidana’s defense shouldn’t have even been relevant given the two true DMids sitting behind him. Regardless of where Orlando’s attacking strength was this past game (really just Kaka and Larin), Barnetta and Maidana should have been deployed based on what would create the most in attack.

  3. It really is a very depressing time. Gotta put all our hopes on tomorrow night right now and pray it works out.

  4. On Vitoria, I don’t think Benfica would let him go via free transfer. If the Union want to keep him, they’ll have to pay SOMETHING for him (even a nominal amount). If Benfica were willing to let him go via free transfer, they would have terminated his contract and be done with it. Doesn’t make sense for Benfica to retain his rights for this year if they weren’t going to try to get a return from him. Isn’t one of the requirements for MLS to accept a loan from a different league a purchase option? That might be the way the U have to go.

    I may be in the minority, but I like Wenger more than Le Toux on the wing. Wenger’s had some truly puzzling moments this season, but I’d be very interested to see what a Barnetta – Maidana – Wenger midfield would be able to do.

    • A loan has multiple benefits. One, it gets the player off your books for the length of the loan. If Benfica needed that 400K for someone else, they got the Union to pick up the tab.
      It also gives that player a chance to increase their transfer value. Keep in mind, this is a guy that wasn’t in Benfica’s plans, so he had very little value before we picked him up.
      That said, I agree, if he is not out of contract (don’t know anything about his contract), they will try to recoup something.
      My guess is that Benfica wants him to play the rest of this season as much as we do.

    • Probably, re: Vitoria, but I do think it’s within the realm of possibility. Based on Vitoria’s season so far, a significant transfer fee for him is unlikely. And if you’re Benfica, you haven’t seen anything from him to show he’s worked his way into the first team’s plans, so a mutual termination of contract may be something they’re open to. But it’s all speculation from this end, and your points are all valid.

  5. CI don’t think the slow knock on Vitoria is a death sentence. CI mean Danny Califf was never a burner but he held down the for in the best defensive pairing the Union ever had. I think it is more about his awareness and positioning than anything else.

    • Totally agree Sieve. I just wouldn’t want him at the $400 k number. $200 k is reasonable.

      • I’d only take him at league average. Nothing to me screams that he has any oustanding talent and till he shows otherwise I wouldn’t offer more than an average salary 200K is prob 50K-75K to much I think.

      • I don’ think any of us has seen him play enough to know whether or not his salary is justified. But we have seen Marquez enough to know he is replaceable.

      • This defense need to be built around Marquez and who he can play with if you ask me. I would be asking him right now who do you want to pair with and who do you want as fullbacks and that is who they should go get in the off season.

      • Marquez is definitely the key to this defense, but I don’t know if they should go that far.

  6. Can someone confirm to me that the YouTube is live streaming tomorrow for semi final? Do you just type in U.S. Open cup semifinal? Thanks.

  7. Another thought occurred to me. I don’t think they want Vitoria to start because that will put Edu back into the midfield where he will potentially step all over Nogs when he gets back. The Unions inability to pick up complimentary pieces is kinda amazing Nods and Edu step on one another Barnetta and Maidana step on one another. Aristeguieta Sapong step on one another. those are the player we need on the field and they can’t play together.

    • I disagree about Sapong and Aristeguita. They may both be big dudes, but they are very different players.
      As for the others…yeah, redundancy is the MO of this FO. (See: Goaltending fiascoes.)

      • well they are both physical holding guys. so there are similarities. It is also academic because we can’t get them on the field at the same time.

    • Crazy talk. Everyone knows the way to win in this league is to load up on goalkeepers, defensive minded midfielders, and slow-ish strikers

    • This what happened when you don’t have a GM – you just keep collecting people and putting them out there. It amazes me, when fans can see flaws, but you’re really convinced your FO can’t.

    • Edu has adapted amazingly well to being put at CB, which is decidedly NOT the position he prefers. I would tend to think that if he was told he would move back to DM only in the function of cover, clog, block, defend, with the occasional long run, he would do it. I mean wouldn’t he take that over staying at CB? He would be amazing in that role with Nogs and Chaco.

      • We’ve seen it before Edu is not a midfielder he isn’t disciplined enough it is the same when he plays CB those long runs are killers for maintaining the structure of the team. If this team continues to need the Brain Carrollesque type of cover for the back 4 then the person needs to play in the same style and not cost the team money. Some players to take this role that come to mind Tchani or wil trapp, perry kitchen, andy dorman, andrew jacobson, christian higiuta, diego chara.

      • I would walk that statement back a little.
        .
        Edu is a very good midfielder but not a good fit in the midfield next to someone like Nogueria. Nogs is the more creative and technical player making him the player you want to be more involved getting forward. Edu is the more athletically gifted and defensive player. The problem is that Edu likes to get forward so often that it restricts Nog’s game.
        .
        I will say though that with Nogueria out injured, a midfield of Edu with Lahoud or Carroll would be interesting since then there would be cover when Edu goes forward but it gives you another aerial presence in the box for crosses.

      • While I can agree with your statement to a degree. I still find Edu very undisciplined and I’m not entirely sure he is a midfielder. Yes he is athletic and at times can be defensive oriented, but he has a bad first touch does not quickly see runs being made by teammates and lacks in passing abilities. Sitting in the back as a CB makes up for his poor touch and lack of vision cause it gives him time on the ball and to see the field around him with no pressure. Yes he likes to play offense we all know that, but it is not a strong suit of his I go back to his untimely runs and his poor finishing. When it comes to where his skills lie I think he could be a very good CB with more discipline although he is still paid too much. Ultimately he may be tradable when all is said and done cause he may have the highest value and not fit the structure of where this team is headed if you have a vision and plan for the team which the FO doesn’t.

      • I think I have to agree with this stark, honest evaluation. I’d like to be clear, Edu has done everything this team has asked of him. He has been the ultimate professional. But, I think he equates to a luxury player. He’s like a jack of all trades, master of none. I think it behooves the Union to move him and redistribute his money in players across the field. As the Dr. said, get a shut down defender and allow Nogs to do what he does best.

      • I agree with everything you have said except for the conclusion that he is not a midfielder.
        .
        I think his skill set in midfield would be a huge plus for some teams depending on the style of play of the rest of the midfield.
        .
        He will never be called the creative or technical midfield piece but having a strong and athletic two-way midfielder is still very useful for teams around the world at all levels.

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