A long long time ago
I can still remember how that
team used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those DOOPers dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
But three games made me shiver
With every article I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his wounded pride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the Union died
Sorry, was a little drama heavy there, the team isn’t actually dead or dying. I just felt like butchering Don McLean’s classic “American Pie” (the song, not the movie you damned Philistines) However, they are sick. I have just returned from watching the Union drop a 1-0 decision to the Chicago Fire. How did I feel? Well…it’s complicated. Let’s get something out of the way here, I’m not “jumping ship” on the Union. This team can go 0-34-0 this season and I will still renew my season tickets and buy whatever new hat or jersey they put out next year. I’m NOT some fair-weather fan; I grew up supporting the Phillies and Eagles for god’s sake. Pete Incaviglia, Rico Brogna, Mike Mamula, Ray Rhodes, Koy Detmer and more. Did you know ANY of those people that I just named? I supported them. ALL of them. I am no stranger to supporting Philadelphia teams that…shall we say, “perform under expectations.” So before you accuse me of “bailing” on this team I will say that I have never bailed on any Philadelphia team no matter how crappy they’ve been. I’ve always believed that things will “get better” and also keep in mind that I was standing in Paktika province, Afghanistan when Harry Kalas made his legendary final call of the 2008 World Series. I never got to see or hear it live and for me, the Philadelphia Championship drought is still going strong because I’ve yet to personally see any Philly team win it all. It sucks.
So, now we’re sitting at an 0-3-0 record. We have lost three games in a row, giving up six goals in that time. Now, because I’m a nerd and wanted to know, when was the last time the Union lost three games in a row? Well my friends for that we need to go back to our inaugural season from April 15th to May 8th the Union went 0-4-0 and gave up 10 goals in that time frame to Toronto, New York, Los Angeles and Salt Lake. I think it was safe to say that we weren’t expecting much from the team then. This was an expansion franchise, players were learning about each other, trying to gel, trying to figure out how they fit together. It would get better we all thought and it did. We missed the playoffs but the team got stronger in the off season, the 2011 season was one of success, with the team just missing being the top Eastern Conference seed and us making the playoffs for the first time. While our playoff exit was disappointing it wasn’t exactly unexpected for a team in its first ever playoff appearance. Going into the offseason I’m sure we were all confident (I was at least) that with a few tweaks this team would get over the hump.
And now it’s nearly 2 years after that 0-4-0 stretch of matches and we’ve seemingly regressed back to being an expansion club. The team play has been…not good for lack of a better phrase (well, one that is safe for children to read at least). Let’s examine some things I noticed from the Chicago game, both during and after shall we?
1) Our Defense/Team Is Leaking Goals
I can’t fully blame MacMath for that goal. It shouldn’t have happened at all, Gomez and Torres should both have defended the cross, and both totally whiffed on it, leaving Marco Pappa free to swing in a cross for Dominic Oduro to head home. Furthermore, Valdes and Albright should have tried to challenge for the header that Oduro scored on. Watch the replay, no one jumps with Oduro to try and hit the ball away, in fact Valdes actually starts moving towards the goal rather than challenge Oduro.
2) Peter Nowak Looked Like He Wanted To Be Anywhere Else But Toyota Park
The few times I saw Peter Nowak, he was sitting on the bench, looking dejected and disinterested in the match. After Chicago went up, Nowak seemed to be blankly staring at nothing, barely paying attention to the game. John Hackworth, the assistant coach was the only one who was actually up and yelling encouragement/direction at the team. When Mwanga was brought off, Nowak barely got up to shake his hand. Contrast that with Chicago’s head coach, Frank Klopas who I saw calling out to his team, directing them and going up to meet with his players the moment they stepped off the field.
Look, you may disagree with me, you may think what I’m saying makes no sense, but from what I saw, Peter Nowak has checked out of this team. Yes, it was only game 3, but Nowak looked as if he couldn’t care less about the team. You can argue that the players played “with no heart” or whatever, but often times, players feed off their coach. If your coach sits there and looks like he couldn’t give a damn, what exactly does that do for you?
3) Fans “Jumping Ship” On The Team
As I said in the opening of this article, I never have and never will jump ship on this team. But, I will always question things. Brian Dawkins once said, “I will never have my best season.” This applies to the team as well, the Union could’ve gone 33-1-0 this season and I still would have questioned things for that one loss. However, from what you’ve seen of this team so far how confident are you going in to the match with Vancouver? Vancouver is 2-0-1 so far this season and I don’t think I’m breaking anyone’s hearts when I say that they are obviously a far improved team than what we faced at PPL Park last season. What exactly are we, as fans supposed to do should the Union drop another game and go to 0-4-0? Be content? Hope that things will magically “turn around”? I asked this in my last article and I will ask it again. WHEN do we all acknowledge that Nowak is bad for the team? People said, “Oh, it’s just the first game,” then it went “It’s ONLY the second game,” now I expect to hear, “God people, calm down, it’s only the third game of the season! 31 more to go!”
If we’re sitting on say, a 3-12-2 record at the All-Star break, are those same people going to be telling me, “Man, everyone calm down, we’ve got 17 more games to get this baby rollin’!”? I’m a patient man, I mean hell, I sat through a viewing of the movie Gettysburg in theaters when I was 11 years old and it is a four-freaking-hour movie. However, even my legendary patience has limits. The Vancouver match is do or die time for Peter Nowak. The return of Sebastien Le Toux makes this even worse. I hope for Nowak’s sake that Le Toux never scores during that game or else the booing may start. Not for Le Toux or the Whitecaps but for Peter Nowak.
4) This Team Can’t Challenge For/ Or Dispossess The Ball
Okay, this got annoying real fast. This falls on the players, but also on the coaching staff. Numerous times Chicago had the ball and moved down the field, a Union player would move with them and stare at the ball at the feet of the Chicago player. They would barely try and challenge for it and numerous times Chicago would knock the ball past our player. Watch what Chicago’s players did, they virtually jumped up our players’ asses whenever we had the ball. It frankly got EMBARASSING how our guys seemed to want to try and dribble through two Chicago players, forgetting that Chicago Fire players are in fact NOT a permeable membrane.
5) Possession, Shooting And Positioning
The Union in the past two games have led in possession (as well as they should for the Colorado game where they were up a man for most of the 2nd half). In the Chicago game, the Union possessed the ball for 54.7% of the match while Chicago had it for 45.3% hey that doesn’t sound bad right? Possession is always good.
Until you look at the shots.
Chicago got off 15 shots with 6 on target while the Union had 7 shots with only 2 on target. For a team that had over 50% possession that does not exactly inspire confidence. And this leads me to my point; the Union players haven’t really looked dangerous with the ball this season at least not during the run of play. People aren’t running into the box and hell at one point near the end of the game, Lionard Pajoy was trying to disposes a ball from a Chicago player near the touchline of the right side of the field not too far away from our box. My first thought was “Why the hell is Pajoy, who is a forward, back trying to defend? Shouldn’t a midfielder or defender be doing that with Pajoy waiting more down the field for them to get to the ball so he can make a run?”
Our players lack positioning, THAT is a coaching issue. This crap needs to be sorted out. Gomez and Carroll need to learn where roughly their “areas” are that they’re responsible for. Our forwards need to learn that drifting all the way to one side of the field means that you’re bunching up and making it easier for the other team to defend. Our defenders need to learn that teams are attacking us down the wings easily because we tend to bunch up and ignore a player streaking down the wing. Midfielders should realize that their primary goal is to distribute the ball and stop trying to take on the entire opposing team. This is something that coaching should have focused on in the preseason but apparently they didn’t so we get to watch “The Learning” which so far is a much more worse movie to watch than “The Happening.”
6) Lopez, Gomez And Martinez. Oh My
Lopez so far has looked like garbage. Sorry if you’re reading this Porfirio, but so far in 3 games you haven’t impressed me, awesome though your hair may be.
Gomez’s free kicks are a thing of beauty. It makes me genuinely sad because set pieces were one of our biggest weaknesses last year and we seemed to have addressed that…though everything else has disappeared.
Martinez showed some determination later on in the game, but right now I’m very “meh” about him.
Danny, I don’t know if you will ever read this but WAKE THE HELL UP. You have no physicality, no presence, no drive, nothing. I accused Nowak of checking out but Christ, you were just as bad. You were practically invisible for the time you were in the match. You were supposed to step up and be our franchise scoring leader this season. You couldn’t even make it 90 minutes this match. Fantastic.
Finally, let me say this. This is the team that Peter Nowak and Nick Sakiewicz wanted. They put it together. They stood behind it. Sakiewicz isn’t going anywhere, he’s part of the ownership group and can’t exactly be fired. However, Nowak can be fired. There are glaring holes in this team that need to be fixed NOW. Some coaches excel at fixing their teams problems. They work with their players during training; encourage them to do better for the benefit of the team. Good coaches do this. Hell, even average coaches do this. Nowak’s greatest failing is that he has what is essentially a young, talented team to command and develop and his development process seems to be failing these players. Before you accuse me of taking blame entirely from the players, I’m not. However, let me ask you a question. If I have a child and raise it entirely in the belief that committing crime is an acceptable thing to do and that is all it knows, do you blame me or the child when it commits a crime? Yes, the child would be blamed, but my upbringing would no doubt be called into serious question by society. What I’m getting at there is that Nowak could be teaching bad soccer to our young players. Instead of being creative with the ball, they instead are playing so that they don’t piss off Nowak and get benched/cut/traded. You do need to reign in your players sometimes (Hello Mario Balotelli), but soccer is a game about creativity and team play. It seems to me that the team lacks that creativity spark right now and I hope that we find it and soon.
I truly mean this when I say that I don’t WANT to hate Peter Nowak, he seems like a decent enough guy. However, his actions and his treatment of players tends to bring all that into question in my eyes. For example, if you’re a billionaire who gives tons of money to good causes but goes home and beats your wife and kids, all the goodness you supposedly do in the world doesn’t make up for the fact that you actually suck as a human being. Peter Nowak may be a great guy and awesome to hang out with, but that doesn’t cover up the fact that he sucks as a head coach right now. A former Philadelphia player (Eagles I believe, I’d have to track the quote down in the book I read to give proper credit) said, “You can play poorly in Philadelphia. But don’t EVER act like you don’t care.”
I’m willing and HOPING to be proven wrong Peter, but you’ve got to show me something. You’ve got to show all of us that you CARE as much as we do. So far I’m not seeing it and that, more than anything, will be your downfall.
– Matt Reppert