For Pete's Sake

Five thoughts after a Union win

Photo: Earl Gardner

Who saw that coming?

(I certainly didn’t.)

Chris Pontius broke his season-long scoring drought, Jim Curtin broke the glass on a new tactical plan (“FOR EMERGENCIES ONLY”), and the Union broke the Chicago Fire on Saturday afternoon.

Some thoughts on the match, the week that preceded it, and the final games to come in this campaign.

  • First, the positives. Good for Chris Pontius, a well-liked figure and team leader whose poor production this season had reached the point where it was comical. Both goals were classic Pontius — well-taken and a product of being in the right place at the right time. It was a night of strong performances from players who’ve been less than their potential this season. Alejandro Bedoya played one of his best games of the season in a more attacking role. Richie Marquez continued to prove that he’s good enough to be a regular starter in this league. Even Fabinho looked feisty flying along the touch line. In front of a really good home crowd, the Union were clinical, controlled the match, and got a win they deserved. That’s what you like to see.
  • Even when this team is good, they’re infuriating. The tactical shift to a 4-1-4-1 — as always, broken down by Adam Cann in this week’s tactical analysis piece — wasn’t complex. Nor did it require a player to be signed to the team or to return from injury. (Warren Creavalle, after all, has been sitting around all season waiting to be used.) And yet it took the coaching staff 30 games to give it a try. Eighty-eight percent of the season, including all of the games that ended up mattering, passed by before someone had the idea to try a formation that didn’t require the Union to use a player they don’t have on their team. It’s mental.
  • Sub-thought here: it might be fair to say that I’m being too pessimistic. I’ll note here that Saturday’s game was the most emotionally numb to a Union performance that I’ve ever been. On a personal level, I may have hit my breaking point with this team. If you read the rest of this column and think, “gee, Peter is being a little bit unfair to the Union…” that’s probably why.
  • It’s a pity that Juninho and Bastian Schweinsteiger couldn’t suit up on Saturday evening, because without two of Chicago’s best players on the pitch it’s tough to consider the match a “statement win.” Indeed, this was only the Union’s third win this season over an Eastern Conference playoff team, and the second where their opponent spent most of the game disadvantaged (a red card crippled Columbus on July 26). Pairing this game with wins over full-strength Seattle and Atlanta sides this week would build much-needed confidence in the coaching staff heading into the offseason. One win doesn’t change the season-long evidence that change is needed.
  • Of course, wins must be what the club are shooting for, because they’re clearly not using these otherwise-pointless games to test out their young players. Curtin ruled out starting Derrick Jones, Auston Trusty, and Adam Najem days before the Chicago match even kicked off, and it’s tough to foresee changes off the back of a win. Matthew De George summed up the problem with the team’s logic better than I could. I’ll just add that it’s impossible to tell what you have in your young players until you test them against MLS competition — and it’s even more impossible to sell fans on your young players if you don’t trust them against MLS competition.
  • It’s a bit difficult to drum up any enthusiasm for the end of the season. Part of that is the team’s poor play, but another part is the rhythms of the Philadelphia sports calendar. The Eagles, of course, are in full swing — hello, The Other Jack Elliott — while the Flyers and Sixers are about to start promising new seasons. (Both of those teams, by the way, are committed to their young players.) Kevin Kinkead has often talked about the “window” that the Union missed by struggling mightily at a time when the other four professional teams in the city were similarly poor. Have the Union missed their window entirely? This franchise needs a shot in the arm, and that shot simply won’t happen until after a busy offseason by the river in Chester.

25 Comments

  1. Rihcie the Limey says:

    This game was officially a sell out. If you are Jay Sugarman why would you do anything differently? Team plays like crap, has an incompetent and recalcitrant coach, but the youth soccer teams and ‘soccer tourists’ will buy tickets to the games. The River End has a capacity of around 2,000 so even if it is completely empty for every game they are still making plenty of money. The owner has no personal ambition above making a return on his investment. That box is checked so nothing will change until ownership is changed.

    • Maybe, but I don’t think boycotting games is going to do much either. If Sugarman really just sees the team as a long-term, (relatively) inexpensive investment, even low ticket sales won’t matter.
      .
      The league is growing rapidly, and the team values are growing along with it. We could have the lowest attendance in the league and the team’s value would still increase. We’re in a bad spot where if the reality is that Sugarman just wants to sit on his investment, there isn’t much fans can do to change that.
      .
      I know you didn’t suggest boycotting, but many have, which is why I brought it up.
      .
      Lastly, let me register my sadness that there is no more Doopcast. I miss it terribly. 😉

      • If you don’t think that empty seats won’t be noticed by the league in the 4th largest media market in the US, you are sorely mistaken. It’s not only the lost ticket revenue, it’s also parking concessions and gear. That gets factored into a club’s valuation.

  2. Alright, let’s just say it: Curtin should be fired.

    • The dude is so set on 4-2-3-1 that he wouldn’t even admit that it was a different set-up.
      .
      “…it’s still a 4-2-3-1, you know, just because it’s written that way on a schematic that comes out, it’s the difference between a yard or two in either direction”
      .
      Curtin’s tenure has been all about ruts of his own creation. Whether it’s Jim deciding that Keegan needed to sit for most of the year, deciding that Ale was a #10 for too many games in a row, NEVER changing from the 4231, and now declaring that the youngsters won’t see the field in the last few games that should be the best time to showcase young talent.
      .
      If we are going to progress from the bottom (the only way is up right?) we absolutely need a leader with a clue.
      .
      We are looking at some potentially big upgrades across the field in the offseason –
      .
      We absolutely need to upgrade the coach to match.
      .
      It’s time to move on from Curtin.

      • Maybe everyone else is so focused on changing formations as a silver bullet to all our problems? Not to defend Curtin or anything, but seriously too much blame gets put on the formation. We have had numerous tweaks throughout the season already.

      • Not a silver bullet, rather a common sense change. Play to your teams (limited) strengths.

  3. I actually left the match at halftime. I just can’t get excited by this team anymore.

  4. The only thing I can come up with as a compelling story line right now for the Union is counting CJ’s goals. He’s tied the record. Can he set a new one? After that, I have nothing until people start getting sacked and others signed.

  5. Nice to see the team win but I can’t get excited mainly because it took 100 games to change the formation. I always hear that the Union are fit yet I see them stumbling around the final 20 minutes every match because they’re always chasing the ball. Maybe a strategy of trying to possess the ball more than 40% of the match would give these guys the energy boost to play strong for a full 90 minutes and not 70-75 like we’ve seen so often over the past few seasons.

  6. Didn’t go to the game. Nobody wanted my free ticket. Didn’t watch on TV.
    Empty seat was paid in full. That’s what matters most, right?

  7. Yes yes yes on point #2. I had assumed that Curtin was stubborn about the formation because he had orders from Earnie to play this way. If that’s not the case, then it is indeed infuriating that it took them until now to try switching up, as you say, to account for the fact that they don’t have a true #10. And it really does speak to Curtin’s weakness as manager in a way that I can’t justify.

    I too have become numbed-out to this team in a way I haven’t in previous seasons. This is the least excited I’ve ever been about what is, ostensibly, a big win.

    • Ernie has repeatedly stated that he is not the one enforcing the 4-2-3-1 formation – nor the predilection to unceasingly trot it out no matter the conditions.

  8. You know what would have made this game matter and have a lasting impact?

    If Jones was the one anchoring this formation at the 6 instead.

    Like, lets be honest, who cares about WC? He is not going to be here much longer. He is not part of the future. So he played well in a meaningless game. WOOOHOOO.

    But man, if Jones was there. If Jones was the good preforming at the 6 in a formation like this. THEN omg. We could be thinking about thefuture. Maybe this formation is worth something? Maybe we can use it with Jones when we need too? Maybe Jones has a real future as a 6?

    But nope – none of that.

  9. Peter, even though you are living about 3,000 miles away, you have managed to maintain a clear view of what’s happening in Chester, PA. Well done.

  10. What’s infuriating about this team for me is that we’ve been here before. We’ve read this article before. The subject of “they finally played a complete game” is not new this season. But they follow it up with an absolute clunker. The team is schizophrenic.
    .
    So, yes, they played very well, both individually and as a team. But I think back to a failed experiment with the PGA Skins Game years ago where players had to “validate” a hole by winning the next one in order to cash out. (It was a horrible idea for the Skins Game.) I feel this team needs to “validate” this win with another one, otherwise it’s just more smoke-and-mirrors.
    .
    And Kinkead was correct, they wasted the perfect opportunity. Everyone else was crap. The Union could have captured a large block of sports fans, but they completely screwed it up.
    .
    I’m looking forward to the offseason. But if we sign 3 guys no one has ever heard of from 3rd division Euro leagues, we’re just heading for the same type of retread year.

  11. Section 114 (Former) says:

    Ownership.

  12. Bedoya should not be the starting CAM for this team after one win in that position. Quite frankly, he hasn’t been that game changing and impressive all season, even when playing as a D mid or distributor. Fabinho has been the best left back we’ve had on this Team. I’m not surprised that he has been Doing well and contributing as of late. That has been his whole career here. The coach and fans just can’t see that. Lastly , I’m all for losing every game left so that Ernie will have no choice but to fire Curtin. He should not be back next year. But, next year will probably develop the same shit, releasing players that were needed and who could make a difference on the field and keeping players that are not needed at all ….(Brian Carrol). Nothing against him at all. Why did we need to waste a roster spot for him ??????? That’s pathetic management. Derrick Jones needs to see the field a whole lot more. He needs to start a lot more as well. I don’t want Curtin and this FO to ruin another great aspect.

  13. playing young players to determine their value is certainly one way to prepare for next year. Using veteran’s in new positions in
    a different formation is another way. Don’t think for a minute I’m defending Curtin, but at least take him to task for what he’s doing wrong.

  14. Isn’t this game Exhibit A for why Curtin should be replaced? Don’t have a 10… okey dokey use a formation without a 10. 4-1-4-1; empty bucket; whatever. Good grief. Just a meathead player as far as I can tell.
    .
    2nd. Ownership doesn’t care so why should you? People really need to stop buying tickets. That’s the problem with all Philly sports franchises… they are automatically profitable because Philadelphians are too loyal. Stop enabling.

    • I personally Do not want everyone to stop buying tickets so it ruins the entire organization and risks becoming Chivas USA. I just want a coach who’s more expierenced and not from within the organization.

  15. A special cheer to use at the end of the game after anymore losses this year…
    We are Chivas! clap clap…clap clap clap
    We are Chivas! clap clap…clap clap clap

    I don’t know if I’d have the heart though. I’m angry with ownership and “coaching” staff. The players would get the brunt of it.

  16. +1 on union5

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