Houston Visits PPL Park as Union Look to Reclaim First Place

Houston Visits PPL Park as Union Look to Reclaim First Place

The Union, who were fortunate to get out of Chicago with a point
on Wednesday night, return home to PPL Park where they'll face the Houston
Dynamo (8PM/ABC).

With the point on Wednesday the Union, with 32 points from
21 games, remain in second place in the Eastern Conference - two points behind
Columbus, but with two games in hand. Houston sits fifth in the Eastern
Conference table, with 27 points from 22 games.

Sheanon Williams, who missed the Chicago game due to a red
card suspension, will likely return to his familiar right back spot. Michael
Farfan filled in adequately, but as assistant coach John Hackworth pointed out
in this excellent
interview with Adam Cann from The Philly Soccer Page
, the Union struggled with
Chicago’s pace and pressure and had difficulty building out of the back without
Williams.

Williams will rejoin back four mate Carlos Valdes, whose
permanent rights were acquired by the Union from his Colombian club team Independiente Santa Fe. Valdes has been a rock in the middle of the
back line. The decision to lock up his rights could not have been a difficult
one. He’s just 26 years old, and has adjusted to the MLS in a hurry.

The other Carlos – that’d be Ruiz – was officially
transferred to Mexican club Veracruz. Speaking of transfers, Peter Nowak and
the Union front office have just eight days left in the transfer window to
bring in some reinforcements. Inquirer
columnist Marc Narducci
, citing a team source, claims that the Union is
working on acquiring a young international striker.

To date, speculation has centered on 21 year
old Costa Rican international Josue Martinez. However, the price for Martinez,
who plays for Saprissa in Costa Rica, may be too rich for the Union. As
The Brotherly Game points out
his transfer fee is rumored to be as high as
$2 million.

The Dynamo has already dipped into the
transfer market, acquiring Honduran international Carlos Costly. Costly, who is
an incredibly physical and skilled forward, also sports what may be the worst
hair in all of CONCACAF
.

Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear has some
seriously physical options to choose from along his front line. He’s got
Costly, Brian Ching, Cam Weaver, and when healthy rookie Will Bruin. Ching, who
checks in at 6’1”, is the shortest of the bunch.

Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis is the key midfield cog
responsible for providing service to the Dynamo’s stable of forwards. Davis leads
MLS with 10 assists and has also chipped in three goals. Sheanon Williams will
likely be charged with the task of shutting down Davis’ tireless and dangerous
runs down the left flank. Union keeper Faryd Mondragon must also be wary of
Davis’ technical ability in dead ball situations.

On the flipside, the Union looked absolutely punchless in
the offensive third on Wednesday night. Veljko Paunovic bailed the Union out with
a tremendous strike from 25+ yards away
. Beyond that the Union did not have
a whole lot of chances. Their best scoring opportunity, which came in stoppage
time, didn’t even result in a shot on goal. Danny Mwanga was alone in the box
with the ball on his left foot, but curiously opted to play a ball across the
six yard box to an oncoming Brian Carroll. Mwanga needs to know the situation
there and shoot the ball. Ohhhhhhhh, Danny Mwanga….shoot the ball!

A number of you have astutely pointed out that Nowak needs
to inject some more creativity into the center of his midfield. Carroll
provides fantastic defensive cover, but ideally he should be paired with a
string pulling midfielder who controls tempo and pace. Roger Torres may
ultimately develop into that player, but right now he’s too inconsistent. I don’t
know if there’s a guy on the roster capable of filling this much-needed role.
Perhaps there’s someone available through the transfer window who can be that
guy?

Here's the lineup I hope we see tonight: Mondragon, Williams,
Valdes, Califf, G. Farfan, Mapp, Carroll, Torres (while inconsistent he remains
their most creative midfield option), Daniel, Le Toux, and Mwanga.

Final Score Prediction: I remain doubtful that the Union will be able to get things going
offensively. I think we’re looking at another 1-1 draw.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely to See
Red: Valdes celebrates his permanent transfer by having to deal with the
massive Dynamo frontline. I’ll say he picks up two yellows for persistent
fouling.

Photo Credits: Kyle
Terada-US PRESSWIRE, Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

usa-tranquillo-barnetta-union.jpg
USA Today Images

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

Tranquillo Barnetta is going home.

In an abrupt announcement on Tuesday, the Union declared that the skillful Swiss attacking midfielder will not renew his contract with the club and will return to Switzerland following the 2016 season to play for his hometown club, FC St. Gallen.

According to MLS Players Union, Barnetta’s exit will free the Union of $687,500 next season.

“The entire soccer community here was so welcoming and I’m so thankful to everyone at Philadelphia Union for making me feel so appreciated,” Barnetta said. “Playing in front of my friends and family and making plans for life at the end of my career where I want to live is a force I can’t resist.”

Although the timing of the announcement is a surprise, the move isn’t one. With Alejandro Bedoya now in the mix, currently playing out of position in a box-to-box midfield role, the Union will replace Barnetta with Bedoya at the center attacking midfield spot. It’s a position that Bedoya is comfortable in, playing there with his previous club, FC Nantes.

Bedoya played for the injured Barnetta in the center midfield spot last Saturday and scored his first goal of the season in a 1-1 draw with Toronto FC.

But even with Bedoya ready to take over, the Union will miss Barnetta. Since joining the Union in 2015, Barnetta, 31, has been one of the better possession playmakers in MLS, scoring six goals and seven assists in 37 games.

“Tranquillo has been a key piece in what we’re trying to build here in Philadelphia but we appreciate his decision to return to Switzerland,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, whose club has three matches left in the 2016 season, and will likely make the playoffs. “We look forward to continuing to push for the postseason.”

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

The Eagles are 3-0. They’re alone atop the NFC East and have been the biggest surprise of the young NFL season.

Doug Pederson’s message to his team: You haven’t done anything yet.

Although the Eagles are riding high, Pederson doesn’t want his team to change its outlook or hard work. That’s what teams have to worry about once they’ve found some success.

“The biggest thing is complacency,” Pederson said Monday. “You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are.

“But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, ‘Hey, we're back to work. We're 0-0. This is Game 1 and let's go.’ That's just the way it has to be. You are building for one ultimate goal and that's a few weeks down the road. That's what you are trying to get to. But you can't get there unless you take care of the next opponent. It's my job to keep them focused that way.”

Being 3-0 (they’re one of five 3-0 teams) gives the Eagles a head start, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. This is the ninth 3-0 start in franchise history. They’ve made the playoffs just five times in the previous eight. And they recently missed the playoffs after starting 3-0 in 2014 under Chip Kelly.

In NFL history (before this season), there have been 276 teams to start with 3-0 records. Of them, 200 (72.3 percent) have made the playoffs.

“We just have to approach it the same, one day at a time,” Pederson said. “That's the way this business goes. You are on top of the world one minute, and you can be at the bottom of the heap the next. Just got to keep things even-keeled and can't get too high, can't get too low. Approach it the same. Like I mentioned earlier, you can't substitute for hard work. That pays off on Sundays. We just have to stay the course. Again, a lot of football left.”

While the Week 4 bye comes pretty early, the Eagles have a couple key players who will use the time to get healthy. And Connor Barwin pointed out that the bye is coming about closer to the halfway point between when the team started its tough training camp and the end of the season.

Pederson told his players to use the week to get away from football and free their minds. Meanwhile, Pederson and his coaches will use the extra time to self-scout and prepare for the final 13 games of the regular season.

With a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback who was thrust into action a week before the opener, expectations outside (and perhaps inside) the building were tempered.

The Eagles aren’t an underdog anymore.

“We kind of enjoyed flying under the radar, but obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “For us, nothing different. We’ll keep our preparation the same. We’ll stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day and understand what’s gotten us to 3-0.”

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