I had the pleasure of sitting down before the Philadelphia Union’s recent match against FC Dallas, to talk with one young fan, whose passion and enthusiasm for the club is truly “next level.” Everyone, meet Ryan.
Welcome back to the latest edition of Three Takeaways, a segment in which I analyze each of the Philadelphia Union’s matches throughout the season.
Philadelphia Union traveled to Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday to take on defending champions Atlanta United. After 90 minutes of hard-fought play, the game ended with a 1-1 draw as the Union wrapped up a two-game, away stretch.
Philadelphia was without No. 10 Marco Fabián, who was ejected the previous game against Sporting Kansas City. Fabián was replaced in the Starting XI by Homegrown Brenden Aaronson, who scored the lone goal for the Boys-in-Blue in his debut.
There is a lot to talk about, so let’s get to it.
Aaronson Shows Out in Debut
With Marco Fabián suspended for his ejection against Sporting, the Union called upon 18-year-old Homegrown midfielder, Brenden Aaronson to start in his absence at the Union’s No. 10 role.
Aaronson, like Fabián, scored in his debut and made a strong argument for seeing more time on the field. Now, before you say that an 18-year-old couldn’t possibly replace a traveled international player like Fabián, I will point out that 10-year-old Ronaldo was lightyears ahead of the present-day, 16-year-old me. Age isn’t a factor here.
However, I don’t believe that the Union will give Aaronson many more looks in the Starting XI at this time, so fans will have to wait to evaluate him beyond one standout performance.
In the meantime, let’s look at the intangibles.
Aaronson was able to move the ball around, and showed more at the No. 10 than Marco Fabián has through two games this season. He’s was able to move the ball around the field, and create space for himself.
Looking at the numbers, Aaronson had a better opening than Marco Fabian had against Sporting, though not as good as the Mexican’s opener against Toronto Football Club, according to the Audi Index.
I don’t think that Aaronson should be the hard start for the rest of the season, but I do believe the Homegrown should be given more time to prove himself off the bench, so that he might be able to become a consistent member of the Starting XI in the near future.
Controlling the Center of the Box
Two of the three, non-PK/own-goals scored against the Union so far this season have come, interestingly enough, from the exact same scenario. Be it a scrap inside the penalty area or a pass to a lone man standing on the penalty mark, both have resulted in goals conceded by the Union.
To me, this is negligence by the coaching staff. Despite an obvious problem rearing its ugly head, the staff hasn’t worked to correct it, and Atlanta was able to exploit it against Philadelphia. If it happens again, I’ll be even more disappointed. Jim Curtin and his staff are supposed to be working to make this team the best version of itself.
This seems oddly specific, however, it is focused on a broader subject. The Union’s coaching staff has to be held accountable for its actions, or it’s lack thereof.
This scenario happening once is bad enough, but consistently leaving a man open in the most vulnerable place on the field is unacceptable. Fans will surely hope that this is the last they see of this.
Woah, We’re Halfway There
Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve done it. We’ve officially reached the halfway point, before I call for Jim Curtin to be terminated.
The Union have had a poor showing in each of their opening three games. They fell 3-1 at home to Toronto, fell 2-0 on the road against Kansas City, and drew Atlanta 1-1 in a game where it seemed they would finally earn three points.
To be clear, I’m not calling for Curtin’s dismissal just yet, I won’t do that until around match five or six. However, Curtin has shown that he most likely isn’t the leader the team needs.
I’ve given him some leniency this season with the entry of Ernst Tanner as Sporting Director, in the event that Earnie Stewart was the puppet master, running things behind the scenes. However, Curtin has shown that he is still unable to get the best out of his team .
To be clear, it isn’t just Curtin who I’m disappointed with. Marco Fabián hasn’t exactly lived up to the hype. Midfielders Warren Creavalle and Haris Medunjanin have been poor. The players also deserve criticism when and where it’s due.
Make sure to check back in next week when Lister analyses the Union’s play against Columbus Crew SC at Talen Energy Stadium.
The Philadelphia Union fell, 2-0, to Sporting Kansas City on Sunday, March 10, at Children’s Mercy Park. It’s another loss for the Union, who have dropped their first two games of the season.
Philly played the majority of the second half with 10 men after midfielder Marco Fabian received a straight red card for allegedly stomping on Kansas City forward, Johnny Russell.
Ilie Sanchez opened the scoring for SKC in the 11th minute, converting a controversial penalty to put the home side up, 1-0. Later, in the 60th minute, the Union were reduced to ten men after a straight red card was shown to Fabian. Sporting put the game to bed 20 minutes later, pressing Union defender Jack Elliot into an own goal in the 80th minute.
The Union will likely have to play their next couple of games without Fabian, whose penalty was saved by Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia in the 41st minute and who scored the team’s only goal in the season opener against Toronto Football Club.
While Philly played most of the second half with ten men, the visitors still managed to generate offense, registering 12 shots in total, five of which were on target, two more shots on target than Kansas City mustered.
Despite conceding twice, the Union defense limited Sporting to just one other clear look at goal. In the 61st minute, Kansas City captain, Graham Zusi, rattled his freekick off the crossbar from the edge of Philly’s 18-yard-box. Zusi’s free-kick resulted from Fabian’s questionable stamp on Russell.
The Union’s next game is on March 17 and will be played away from home, against the reigning MLS Cup champion, Atlanta United, at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7:00 PM EST on Fox Sports South, ESPN+ and Fox Sports Carolinas.
Welcome back to another edition of Three Takeaways, a segment in which I collect my thoughts about what went right, and what didn’t, in each of the Philadelphia Union’s matches.
Three Takeaways has returned, and just in time for a disappointing 3-1 defeat courtesy of Toronto Football Club, at home to open the season.
Saturday’s game offered a first look at the Union squad that Sporting Director Ernst Tanner has assembled during the offseason. The most noticeable additions came in the cameos of German defender Kai Wager and Mexican midfielder Marco Fabián in the Starting XI. Absent from the team was veteran striker CJ Sapong and defender Keegan Rosenberry.
But, without further delay, it’s time to kick off the first edition of Three Takeaways for the 2019 Philadelphia Union season.
New Year, New Union?
For years, the Union have praised the 4-2-3-1 formation and its effectiveness on the field.
However, with the departure of former Sporting Director Ernie Stewart to the United States Men’s National Team and the hiring of Tanner, the Union have opted for a new style of play, running a 4-1-2-1-2 at Talen Energy Stadium last Saturday.
Philly came up short on the day, but they did dominate in possession, 61.8 percent to 38.2 percent, as well as shots taken, 17 to 8. To a certain extent, the gamble made by Tanner and head coach Jim Curtin seemingly paid off, showing fans that the Union is capable of dictating play under the new formation.
Branching out is something that the Union has needed to do for the past few years, and Tanner’s entrance has shown that Curtin will have the ability to play with the team to find what’s best as opposed to staying with an archaic system that failed to notice the need to change in the organization.
First Game Woes
Philly may have led in possession and shots, but outside of that, they had little to show for on offense.
Many fans were expecting to see a big impact from marquee signing Marco Fabián in his first start for Philadelphia, and by the numbers, he performed quite well. Fabián finished with seven shots, three of which being on goal, including the Union’s only goal.
But Fabián did not look as attractive, as his numbers would otherwise suggest. He didn’t show the same energy that last year’s No. 10, Borek Dockal did, and he moved the ball around the field noticeably less.
Overall, the Union had trouble threading the seams and finding passing lanes to run into.
It looked as if Philly’s game plan was to utilize the speed of Fafa Picault and exploit the TFC backline. Picault certainly got in behind and saw plenty of the ball, but was unable to make anything of his opportunities.
Going forward, Picault is going to need more help from his midfield partners, especially from the feet of Fabián.
Nevertheless, it’s the first game, the season is not dead, and signing Marco Fabián was not some mistake the Union will live to regret. Picault is undoubtedly a mainstay in the Starting XI, too.
I don’t believe this game should be looked at as a marker for the rest of the season.
Philadelphia has many new components to it, and the team is going to adjust and mesh throughout the season. Changes should, and most likely will, be made. Formations may not be adjusted, but players will be moved around and set plays will change.
Through all this, though, the team must maintain its focus on the prize, MLS Cup.
I believe the team has the potential to do something great this season, and I will continue to say that until the Union lose sight of their target.
Check back in next week when Lister collects his thoughts on the Union’s performance against CONCACAF contenders Sporting Kansas City. Until then, DOOP On.
Welcome to the Rumor Radar, a weekly column by Philly Football Daily MLS contributor, Noah Barnes. Each week, Barnes breaks down the top MLS transfer rumors of the week.
Its official! The MLS primary transfer window has been open for a week now, and that means the time for transfer rumors is upon us. It also means the return of The Rumor Radar, where we will break down the top five transfer rumors of the week, and assess their likelihood! So without further ado, here are the most compelling rumors to come out of this week leading up to Opening Day.
Steven Naismith – Sporting KC
It seems as though every transfer window, Peter Vermes’ side are linked with at least two or three centre forwards to add depth to an already excellent attack. It also seems as though that trend will continue into the current transfer window, as Sporting KC are being linked with 32-year-old attacker Steven Naismith, as per reports in the BBC and the Scottish Sun.
Naismith is currently on loan at Heart of Midlothian in the Scottish Premiership, where he has scored 10 times in just 17 league appearances for the club. This mark is good enough for the third highest tally in the league, and is incredibly efficient for a player his age. However while this form has potentially caught the eye of MLS clubs, including SKC, it has also made current Hearts boss Craig Levian keen on keeping the player once his contract with parent club Norwich City ends this summer.
Naismith’s current form could make him an ideal signing for a Kansas City side lacking in attacking depth, and his experience in the English Premier League would only bolster that notion. Naismith amassed 73 appearances for Everton in four seasons with the club, scoring 18 times as a withdrawn centre forward. This experience, combined with the fact he would leave his home country of Scotland on a free transfer, could be mouthwatering.
Yet while the prospect of playing alongside his fellow countryman Johnny Russell could be intriguing for Naismith, it seems unlikely that he would leave his home country at this time in his career. At 32, he is only a year or so away from retirement, and this is something he would likely want to to in Scotland where he began his career.
Transfer Probability: 2.2 / 5
Quentin Westberg – Toronto FC
After a 4-0 drubbing by Panamanian side Independiente in the Concacaf Champions League on Tuesday, Toronto FC could well be looking to bolster their defense before the start of the season. According to The Athletic’s Kristian Dyer, this could mean dipping into their transfer budget to sign a new goalkeeper to challenge current shot stopper Alex Bono. This new keeper is rumored to be former United States youth international Quentin Westberg.
Westberg, who currently plays in the second tier of French football for AJ Auxerre, has spent most of his career as a backup goalkeeper, and would likely fulfil that same role in Toronto, at least to start. At 32 years of age, he could well be a reliable second option to Bono, especially considering he has racked up more appearances this season (13) than in any prior season.
Westberg, a dual-national player, would not fill a designated player spot for TFC, a prospect that could make this transfer more likely to happen. His limited appearances in a top flight league, combined with his age, would also likely make him a cheap option for the club to pursue. Westberg, due to his experience at the US youth international level, could also be beneficial to the young US based players in the side hoping to crack the international squad.
Transfer Probability: 3.4 / 5
Darlington Nagbe – Columbus Crew
In all fairness, this transfer rumor is not exactly new. Rumors have been swirling for weeks now surrounding the future of US international Darlington Nagbe, with reports linking him with a move out of Atlanta. The most prominent reports have linked Nagbe with the Columbus Crew and a reunion with former head coach Caleb Porter. These speculations have only continued to grow since last week, when Dirty South Soccer reported that the attacker had requested to be traded to the Columbus club.
While the same publication is now reporting that Nagbe is “happy in Atlanta,” suggesting that the transfer saga may be approaching a positive end for ATL fans, it is not difficult to imagine how a player of Nagbe’s ability would fit into a Columbus side under a new head coach. Nagbe has shown flashes of his potential over the course of his time in both the MLS and for the US and the international level, netting 20 times in 163 appearances over a five year tenure with the Portland Timbers.
Nagbe, a player skilled on the dribble, would certainly add some creativity to Porter’s side, as he has contributed 21 assists over his career. Add in an average of 1.5 key passes per game, and Nagbe does not have bad numbers for a center mid. Though these number might seem low to some, especially considering Nagbe is 28 and yet to realize his full potential, Columbus fans might hope that a reunion with Porter could bring out some of the spark many have tipped Nagbe to possess.
However, it appears that the player is increasingly likely to stay in Atlanta under new coach Frank De Boer. After a reported rift with the team and management, Nagbe is back in training, which is a fact sure to disappoint some in Ohio.
Transfer Probability: 1.7 / 5
Pablo Aranguiz – Back to Chile?
While FC Dallas are not currently being linked with any potential reinforcements to their squad, rumors are certainly flying considering the future of young midfielder Pablo Aranguiz and a potential departure from the club he signed for less than a year ago. According to Dallas soccer site Big D Soccer, the club are reportedly looking to send the out of sorts youngster back to his home country of Chile.
Aranguiz, who the club bought last season to help sort out midfield depth issues, has yet to settle in Dallas, and has made only nine appearances since arriving. Given that the 21-year-old has shown flashes of his potential, it seems reasonable that any potential loan move will strictly be for future development, and not a signal of a lack of future with the club.
Reportedly, Aranguiz is being shopped to Universidad de Chile in the Chilean first division. Aranguiz’s ability as a creative midfielder would serve the club perfectly, as they have been in desperate need of such a player since the loss of Yeferson Soteldo to Brazilian club Santos. And while FC Dallas fans might be upset about the potential loss of a player for the upcoming season, manager Luchi Gonzalez seems confident that a move back to Chile may be the perfect way to jumpstart Aranguiz’s development.
Transfer Probability: 3.7 / 5
Editor’s Note: Philly Football Daily’s newest contributor, Wyatt Noble, reacts to the Union’s loss to NYCFC, in what is Noble’s first for the site.
Philadelphia Union looked plain hapless at times during Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the New York City Football Club.
But despite missing out on the opportunity to secure their first home playoff game since 2011 and playing some of the worst soccer imaginable during the first half, it’s not time to panic for the Union. In fact, there may even be cause for optimism heading into a knockout round rematch with NYCFC.
There’s no denying the Union looked out-of-sorts during the first half, with the team conceding three goals in just over half an hour, managing a measly three shots and 31 percent of possession.
And then there was the noticeable infighting between two of the Union’s best players in Borek Dockal and Cory Burke to couple the off-ball stagnation. Philly’s young, touted backline seemed afraid to touch the NYCFC players they were tasked with marking.
But looks can be deceiving, and so can stats.
New York central defender Maxime Chanot did well to shake off and rise above C.J. Sapong, before nodding in City’s first goal in the eighth minute. But the header itself was a pretty tame one, one that Andre Blake would normally save with ease.
Expect Blake to make this kind of save nine times out of 10 and on Wednesday night, too.
Then, Auston Trusty’s unfortunate own goal in the 10th minute could have broken the Union’s spirit completely. Despite being two-nil down, Jim Curtin’s team began to claw their way back less than five minutes later, courtesy of Burke’s tenth goal on the year.
It’s probably safe to assume Trusty won’t be scoring any more bangers for opposing teams this season. Only time will tell, however.
While the Union conceded a third goal in the 34th minute, their play at the other end going forward improved drastically. Nevertheless, the Union’s back-four must do better than they did on this play that ultimately led to New York’s third goal, courtesy of their captain David Villa.
Pivoting to the positives from Sunday’s loss.
Down two goals at the half, the Union came out fighting, and were it not for a series of stellar saves from Sean Johnson, which included a penalty stop on Fafa Picault in the 59th minute, the two teams would’ve been level.
New York’s backline looked susceptible to through balls, and Dockal often found himself with more space than he knew what to do with.
Philadelphia ended the game with a 45 percent share of possession and nine shots to boot, but with some sharper finishing and admittedly a little bit of luck, it could have quite easily been enough to win this game.
Putting this loss to the side, the Union have only been beaten once in their last six games away from Talen Energy Stadium, and it just so happens that the rematch with NYCFC will be another away game.
Sunday’s 3-1 scoreline may have some City fans feeling confident heading into Wednesday’s rematch, however, it’s important to remember that New York has won just three of its last 11 games. And that is counting the game on Decision Day.
Remember, this New York team was eyeing up the Supporters’ Shield midway through the season. But after the departure of its head coach, Patrick Viera, the team’s form dropped off drastically.
If the Union can correct the unfortunate individual errors that ultimately cost them a home playoff game, there’s no doubting Philadelphia will be well-prepared to right its wrongs from Sunday and remind the league why it finished with a franchise record 50 points this season.
Kickoff for Wednesday night’s knockout game is slated for 7:00 P.M. EST, and will be broadcasted on FS1 as well as UniMas.