A View from Afar / Commentary

11 thoughts to start the season

Photo: Daniel Studio

Eleven thoughts and observations to start the MLS season, just like 11 start the game. Ready? Go.

1. Don’t freak out too much, Philadelphia Union fans.

FC Dallas won the Western Conference last year and are probably better this year. The Union were playing without several injured starters and incorporating half a new starting lineup that has yet to build chemistry. It was always going to be an uphill battle for the Union on the road against Dallas, just like it would be for almost any club in MLS.

2. Keegan Rosenberry looks good on the ball.

But can he play defense? He did all right against Fabian Castillo. It’s still early, but the more we see of Rosenberry, the less his selection at No. 3 looks like a reach. Bonus point: Don’t forget that Rosenberry played center midfield for much of college.

3. If the Union are going to play that high a line, they need at least one really fast center back, and his name is Richie Marquez.

Marquez is the quickest and most proven of the club’s four dedicated center backs. He must start when healthy. His absence was notable Sunday.

It’s unclear from Jim Curtin’s post-game comments whether Marquez was held out of the lineup due to fitness issues related to a lingering hamstring injury or because he lost his starting job in preseason while injured. Union fans should hope for the former, because the latter benches a promising player due to injury after he earned his job with excellent regular season play last season.

4. The Union still need an upgrade at left back.

Entering Sunday’s match, most would have predicted that Fabian Castillo would be the Dallas winger who would most clearly own his side of the field. Instead, it was journeyman Atiba Harris (typically a right winger but playing right back) who torched Fabinho on a regular basis. Fabinho remains a liability as the Union’s starting left back, no matter how much Jim Curtin talks him up to boost his confidence and cool the media heat. He played a part in both goals and one that was disallowed due to a handball.

5. Andre Blake may be the best shot-stopper in MLS.

Dallas TV commentators said it during their broadcast of the game. They might be right. He is a walking highlight reel.

6. What is the best position for Leo Fernandes?

The Union have deployed Fernandes at all three attacking midfield positions during his time with the club, and so far, he has looked the best while playing centrally. (Caveat: I saw little of his play for the New York Cosmos. Observations welcome in the Comments section below.) On Sunday, he was mostly invisible as an inverted winger on the right, save for one really nice chance created in the center of the field.

7. Andrew Wenger and Cristian Maidana outscored Philadelphia Union 2-0 in their first game for Houston.

Wenger’s reaction after his goal for Houston was the first time I saw him smile in a year. Sometimes, a guy just needs to start fresh — and perhaps, at right attacking midfield. Wenger is now at position No. 4 that is not center back. Maybe they’ll even get it right this time.

8. Ken Tribbett is the first Ocean Nor’easter field player to play a regular season game for the Union. 

Tribbett’s start on Sunday made him the first former Ocean City Nor’easter outfield player to appear in a regular season game for the Union. (J.T. Noone was on the Union roster but only played in friendlies. If I’ve missed someone else, please say so in the Comments.) He joins fellow former Nor’easter John McCarthy on the Union roster. It’s often easy to overlook Ocean City because of the shadow that Union affiliate Reading United casts, but the PDL club from Cape May County is now routinely cycling through players who go on to get drafted by and/or play in MLS.

Tribbett looked good in training camp, and he wasn’t bad either on Sunday, though it’s hard to pull apart his individual performance from the team’s. Either way, the Union have probably found a keeper here, if not as a starter, then at least certainly as a depth player.

9. Familiarity too often breeds contempt.

The old saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” most certainly applies to the Union. Ray Gaddis suddenly seems like a man being pushed aside by at least a vocal set of fans, if not by Union management, but he is a player who was viewed as recently as last year as one of the league’s best one-on-one defenders. Rosenberry has looked good so far, but he’s still the shiny new object whose flaws have yet to be discovered by fans and opposing teams. Gaddis may need to improve in the attack, but he remains one of the two best fullbacks on the Union — if not the best — and certainly starting quality in MLS.

10. Mike Magee, cult hero.

Did he really create all four goals in one half in his first game back with Los Angeles? There simply is no player in American soccer like him.

11. Last week’s readers poll produced some interesting findings.

Bonus 11! Key findings from last week’s poll, which saw about 320 voters respond:

  1. 59% of voters said the Union will make the playoffs this year. I agreed. We may all be crazy.
  2. 33% of voters said Andre Blake will be the Union’s MVP this year. On Sunday, he and everyone else agreed. (I also voted for him.) Runners-up: Nogueira (19%), Barnetta (18%), Sapong (12%).
  3. Ilsinho (31%) and Roland Alberg (25%) are the players voters are most excited to see play, followed by Andre Blake (15%).
  4. At 51%, Ilsinho was the player most voters thought would be the best of the Union’s new veteran additions, followed by Roland Alberg (26%). I walked out to left field and picked Matt Jones, who garnered 3%.
  5. In terms of ranking the players most likely to be a pleasant surprise for the club this year, voters pretty evenly split among Keegan Rosenberry (26%), Leo Fernandes (23%), Ken Tribbett (21%), and Fabian Herbers (18%, 57 votes). I went with Tribbett, although nobody told me that it might result in the negative surprise of Richie Marquez not starting.
  6. Two-thirds of voters think Rosenberry will be the rookie who has the biggest impact on the club. He definitely looks like it so far.
  7. The vote on whether Maurice Edu is the answer at defensive midfield split, with 50% saying he is and 50% saying he isn’t. 18 percent thought he should play center back instead. The other 32% felt he won’t be the answer as a true No. 6, and the Union should part ways with him. I voted with this latter group, though it really all depends on his mindset, since he’s talented enough to pull off the No. 6 role if he really wants to.
  8. 51% of voters said the Union’s biggest hole/area in need of improvement is center back, followed by a true No. 6 defensive midfielder (18%) and backup center forward (15%). Fabinho proved them all wrong once again, demonstrating that starting left back (8%?!) is really the biggest need. Intel out of the super secret aeronautics lab at Stanford indicates that work has restarted on the sun rocket.
  9. 77% of voters said the firing of Nick Sakiewicz and hiring of Earnie Stewart has turned the Union around, while 22% said the jury is out. Two lonely cynics dissented, and no, we cannot confirm whether their last names were Sakiewicz.
  10. 79% of voters said Jim Curtin can make the playoffs by the end of 2017. Just 25% said Curtin should be fired if the Union are below 6th place come mid-season. On the whole, it seems a clear majority of Union voters have faith in Curtin and are willing to be patient with him.
  11. 86% of voters characterized themselves as either a “huge Union fan” or  a”loyal fan who has been beaten down but is still sticking around, no matter what.” More than half (54%) went with the latter.

33 Comments

  1. What’s the plan with Yaro? Assuming he’s a bit of a project, but I thought he’d at leasy start with the team.

    Liked Ilsinho. Liked Blake. Mostly liked Dallas. Jealous.

    • Barring calamity he is in Bethlehem for the foreseeable future.

      • old soccer coach says:

        The 2016 roster rules came out last Friday I think. As long as his slot with all its specific characteristics remains unoccupied on the Union roster, and, as long as they put a right of recall in the loan agreement, he can play with BSFC and return to the Union at will, as I read the rules.

    • He started for BSFC Sunday. That seems like a good place for him this year, honestly. I don’t think he’s going to beat out Anderson, Marquez, or Tribbett for a starting spot; and if he’s not going to start, having him sit on the bench is wasting time that could be spent developing him.

      • old soccer coach says:

        I fully agree about game minutes. Also, he may learn quickly and be ready before a year has passed. Dom Dwyer certainly did!

      • DomesticCat610 says:

        I hope Yaro progresses fast though, he has one thing not many of our CB’s have…….PACE!!!!!!!!!

    • old soccer coach says:

      Remember, the two teams will practice side by side at least some of the time, and probably for warm-ups and drills they will behave as one large group.
      .
      My take is that Yaro has to learn how to avoid passing errors, of which he seemed to make one or two a game in his preseason games. BUT, somewhere today in the various PSP articles and comments, perhaps Dan him self above but I have been heavily distracted working through his material, someone said if you intnd to play high press and a high defensive line, one of the CBs must be a burner and cited Marquez. My thought was Yaro!

  2. Dan C (formerly of 103) says:

    Dan,
    I’m going to disagree with you on point #2. During the preseason, I would agree. But I can count on two hands the # of time Keegan cut the ball back to play to tribbett as soon as he was under just a little pressure. I expected more due to what I saw from him during preseason. I may be jumping the gun as it was his first game (jitters?) but he has to be better then that.

    Add in the fact that he lost his runner on the first goal (tried to hold up for the offsides) and did that throughout the preseason. This time it stung as his runner scored. Gaddis has his pros and cons, but his positioning, recovery speed, and 1v1 defending is better then Keegan right now, and I need to see more creativity and calm before I say keegan is good on the ball.

    still love ya!

    • old soccer coach says:

      At the beginning of preseason he did exactly what you saw against Dallas but began to improve it over time and by the end was providing offensive service that Gaddis never has.
      .
      Let us hope the same learning curve show up in the regular season.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Fair points! One regular season game and a bit of preseason is not much of a sample size. I probably should have combined point #2 with #9, as #9 points out that we haven’t had time to really ID Rosenberry’s weaknesses.

      So to clarify, I do think he looked pretty good on the ball (still), although your point about cutting the ball back to Tribbett is spot on, and I do think he looked “all right” against Castillo, but I don’t think he looked “good” against Castillo. But then, most right backs don’t, which is why I didn’t beat him over it.

  3. MikeRSoccer says:

    I think that Gaddis caught so much flak last season because of a significant regression in his one-on-one defedning. Post-Williams trade, it was routine to see him get torched one-on-one each game.

    • I also think everyone assumed that him playing on the left instead of the right was significantly holding him back, especially on the offensive side, but then he switched to the right and showed he just has no o.

    • Anonymous says:

      I thought Gaddis was still good on one-on-one defending, but it was his back-post marking that left a lot to be desired. On more than a few occasions his mark beat him to the back post, resulting in goals and scoring chances.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      I think so too. His second half of the season was one of the worst stretches we’ve seen from him. I don’t think he was bad in that stretch, but I think he was very mediocre. So the question is whether he was adjusting to being back at right back (as opposed to left back), playing injured, this was his true level of play as a right back, or something else. I’m not sure of the answer yet, but I’d like to see more of him at right back this season to find out.

  4. What the heck is wrong with Dallas fans? They have one of the most exciting teams in the league, a season opener at home on a weekend, and they can’t muster better than about 50% attendance. I’m pretty sure we had more fans at the River Cup. Seats covered behind the goal at field level was so sad. Perhaps more importantly…what the heck is the Dallas FO doing right to keep such a stacked team with paltry fan support?

    • I was reading the comments about the game on MLS.com and apparently the stadium is about to undergo some renovations so some of the areas were closed in preparation for that.

    • pragmatist says:

      Apparently they are building the US Soccer Hall of Fame attached to the stadium somehow, which is why the seats were covered. A little more of an explanation about that during the broadcast would have helped with general league marketing.
      .
      Another MLS missed opportunity…
      .
      That said, they were still apparently 1K short of capacity…for the home opened of the conference favorites. Sad.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Crappy location. Frisco is more than 30 miles from Dallas and even farther from Fort Worth. Probably bad marketing too.

  5. Lucky Striker says:

    3-5.

    6: Your last sentence is the answer.

  6. Is there a Sun Rocket T shirt available? If not, there should be.

  7. Great One says:

    Always appreciate your perspective Dan, it of tens helps in calming some initial nastiness.
    .
    I don’t like to jump to any kind of conclusions. This game was a bad team, hoping to turn itself around, missing some starters, playing a great MLS team. The results were bad as you would guess. My problem is that the U looked completely in disarray, without a plan, without speed (of foot or thought) and lacking pretty much everywhere people said prior to the season. If this is our attack this year we are in major major trouble. The only positive you can take from Curtin here is that he didn’t wait too long to sub.
    .
    I constantly tell myself to calm down, my brain fights itself. One side says calm down and relax and wait and see. The other side says that I tell myself that EVERY year and commenters here perpetually say wait to see before you judge. Part of me fears nothing changes until Curtin leaves.

  8. Didn’t Jeremiah White play in some friendlies for the Union? He’s an Ocean City alum

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Not sure if White did, but J.T. Noone at least did, though never in the regular season. I left out of the subtitle — but included it in the text — that I was referring to the regular season. I probably should have it in both spots, so I’m editing the subtitle accordingly.

      • LM Chesthair says:

        Ryan Richter, now with Bethlehem Steel, didn’t play in MLS games with the Union but did get into some friendlies. He is an Ocean City alum.

  9. I’ll give one mulligan, that said how the hell is Columbus Home Opener gonna be any easier… !?!? (thnx MLS…) ahhh, no whinning, GO UNION BEAT COLUMBUS !!! UNION-UNION-UNION !!!

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