Amazing news for Union fans came out of the MLS headquarters yesterday as it was announced that Michael Farfan would be joining teammate Carlos Valdes and the rest of the MLS All Stars as they battle European giant Chelsea FC tonight. Despite only scoring one goal so far this season, Farfan has been a force in the midfield by pushing forward and opening up defenders to create scoring opportunities. Michael Farfan, or Marfan as he is know by the Union loyal to distinguish him from his twin brother Gabe, was added to the game day roster after Chelsea requested the number of subs allowed in the All Star game to be increased from 6 to 10. Although already being located in Philadelphia may have helped the choice to include him in the roster, this is not the only reason he was picked for the squad. In spite of him only being a second year pro, Marfan has been consistently one of the best players on the field for the Union this season especially as of late. It is extremely unlikely that Michael will get a start but with 10 subs it is very likely he will come on as a second half sub. Marfan is no beginner when it comes to scoring on experienced foreign teams. Last summer he scored the only Union goal in a 2-1 lost against Spanish side Real Madrid. Farfan’s beautiful chip shows the potential he has and backs up Ben Olsen’s and John Hackworth’s decision to bring him onto the All Star squad.
Check out the Michael Farfans goal against Real Madrid here.
The MLS All Star game kicks off at 8:30 PM from PPL Park in Chester, PA. The game will also be broadcasted live on ESPN 2.
Last week our writer Pat posted a list of 15 reasons why you should have been at the US Open Cup semi final. We decided that we will try to post a similar list once a week on a variety of MLS or soccer related subjects. Today we will look at why the Philadelphia Union, and MLS as a whole, deserve more media coverage then they are receiving.
1. The Union recently look good
Over the past few weeks Union fans have been enjoying some of the most exciting soccer we have seen from the team since their creation. We are scoring goals, playing incredible defense, and using an entertaining style of soccer. If non-soccer fans are going to watch a match, this is the type of team they should take a look at. Unfortunately, Union games are only broadcast on the Comcast Network with a minimum amount of advertising. The games that do make it onto channels like ESPN 2 or NBC may hit more viewers but still are not marketed well. When was the last time you saw a commercial for a soccer game on a major network that was not shown during another soccer game? Exactly.
2. Other Philadelphia teams either look bad or are out of season.
The Eagles are in pre-season, the Sixers and Flyers are also in their off season, and the Phillies are in last place of the NL East with a 40-51 record. Being a Philadelphia sports fan is a bit of a drag right now. Many people in the city are looking for a team that has been performing well and strives under pressure; the perfect fit for the Union. Sport’s news has also been slow and will probably continue to be until the Olympics start, so why not fill some of that gap with a local team?
3. There is an audience for soccer in Philadelphia
PPL Park holds a little over eighteen thousand fans and the Union have consistently sold out the stadium for league games. When the Union played Spanish giants Real Madrid at Lincoln Financial Field last season the total attendance was over 57 thousand. Over 30 thousand fans came out to see the US Men’s National Team play Mexico last year also. These numbers all prove that soccer does have an audience in the Philadelphia area. Of course teams like the Phillies and Eagles have a stronger hold on the sports fans of the city but these numbers are not low enough to 100% cut soccer out of the media spot light.
4. Philly is already a sports town
As mentioned multiple times above, Philadelphia is a huge sports town. The city tends to soak in any major sporting event that comes to it. If more marketing and advertising were done in the area, there is no doubt in my mind that the number of Union and soccer fans will grow. Thankfully the city is seeing its fair share of large teams coming in, with the next being the return of Real Madrid as they play Scottish Premier league champions Celtic. These games with well known foreign teams are probably the best advertisement the Union can get until they are shown more through television ads.
5. The Union and fans can basically market themselves
Anytime I bring a soccer virgin to a Philadelphia Union game they always leave telling me the same thing: “the atmosphere was amazing.” Yes, the River End is full of passionate and loud fans but so is most of the stadium. Being part of this “third team” in the stands whose only purpose is to yell at players and question the referee’s decisions is quite the experience for most non-soccer fans. It makes you want to go to as many games as you can and to support this club. The team also wants you to pay attention to them. They are a third year team full of young but talented players. This underdog of a team basically is a movie script. All you would need to do for commercials is show the passion of the SoBs and the youth of the team and BAM, commercial. Then you would need to air it once in awhile. I know the Union have some commercials like this already but how often do you see them used?
6. No one knows who we are
You ask any Philadelphian to name some players on the Philadelphia Union and you will get one of two responses: either “The Philadelphia who?” or “Freddy Adu”. There is no connection between the Union and Philadelphians mostly because no one knows who is on the team. Even if you are not a football fan you knew who Donavon McNabb was. The signing of Freddy Adu was great if just to give the team a face that people recognize. Now that the team has a player that most people have at least heard of we can start getting him out there more. Get him interviews on TV, then start bringing in a few other players with him. Eventually, and slowly, the city will start recognizing the faces of the team.
7. Watch the future of American soccer grow up
Last summer we learned that the only time America cares about soccer is during the World Cup. What many people in Philadelphia don’t know is that there are many players on the Union that have a legitimate chance of playing for the US Men’s National Team either this World Cup cycle or early next cycle. Talented players like Amobi Okugo, Sheanon Williams, Freddy Adu, Michael Farfan, Jack McInerney, and Zac MacMath all have shot to be called into the men’s camp. Of course not all of them will be chosen but wouldn’t it be cool to say you were a fan of them before they became national sensations?
8. You still have time to be a fan and not a bandwagoner
Since this team is only three years old the fan base is still growing. If you start following the Union now you will not be thought of as jumping on the bandwagon because you will be one of the originals. Add the fact that the Union started off shaky at the beginning of the season and there is no way you can be called a front runner. Being able to market the team to the population by saying they can be part of the beginning is not something many franchises get the opportunity to do.
9. Union fans are awesome
As passionate as the Union fans are, they are also genuinely good people. There is a sense of community among fans, particularly the Bens, that you do not get with many other teams. I have met numerous awesome people by just going to a few tailgates, walking around the parking lots before games, or talking on Twitter. The Sons of Ben give back to the community by holding charity events or doing public works. The SoBs will be joining the Philadelphia Union Foundation with building a playground in Chester that was partly designed by Chester kids.
On July 25th thousands of MLS fans will file into PPL park to watch as the MLS All Stars take on Chelsea FC. For Union fans, it was questionable if they would be able to watch one of their own play against the London giant but this question was answered on Sunday as the Commissioner’s two picks for the All Star team were release. Don Garber choose two defenders: Ramiro Corrales of the San Jose Earthquakes and our very own Carlos Valdes.
Valdes is coming of an amazing game against the Montreal Impact where he not only put in a stellar defensive performance but also went on to score the winning goal in extra time off a Sheanon Williams long throw. As of now it is still unknown if the Philadelphia Union captain will be starting as he will have to beat out other talented defenders like New York’s Heath Pearce and Whitecap’s Jay DeMerit.
I believe there is a good possibility of Valdes getting on the starting eleven for the MLS All Stars. He is a talented center back with the ability to communicate well and also hold good positions. He has been extremely consistent all season and has come up huge when called upon by the Union. If put on the pitch, Carlos Valdez will be tested against players like Fernando Torres and newly signed Eden Hazard.
There have been many changes this season to our beloved Philadelphia Union with the loss and gaining of numerous players. As of late, the Union have arguably been playing the best soccer of any MLS team. So how does this new team compare to that of previous seasons? To investigate this we will take a look at how the starting line up the Union used this past Sunday against Toronto FC compares to ex-Union players that still currently play in the MLS.
Union Starting XI vs Toronto FC:
Macmath; G. Farfan, Valdez, Okugo, Williams; Gomez, Carrol, M. Farfan; Adu, McInerney, Pajoy
Ex Union Players Still in MLS starting XI:
Seitz; Harvey, Califf, Thomas; Mapp, Salinas, Nakazawa, Jacobson; Le Toux, Mwanga, Moreno
Before I start, I want to state that I have respect for FC Dallas goalkeeper Chris Seitz. Despite the anger that was aimed in his direction by Philadelphia fans for his questionable playing in 2010 he has always been respectable toward Union supporters and Front Office. This season Seitz has made four starts ending with a record of 0-2-2 and allowing five goals. It is hard for me to even make an argument on how this can be better than Zac Macmath’s stellar performance so far this season. With 14 starts so far, Zac has allowed 16 goals and posted 5 shut outs. Macmath can thank the back four in front of him for making this season easy for him so far. Zac has only had to make 37 saves in league play this season compared to current save leader Matt Perkins’ 70. The 20 year old goalkeeper has also come up huge when the game called for it by making amazing saves particularly at point blank range. The Union’s starting keeper has only had one noticeably bad game and that was the season opener loss to Portland where the wet conditions, turf field, and nerves may have hindered his ability to perform at his potential.
When it comes down to it, it is a no brainer on who is having the better season in 2012. Chris Seitz simply has not played enough this season to even raise an argument against Zac Macmath. The fact that he did not walk away with a win from any of his starts does not help either.
Winner: Zac Macmath
The Back Line:
I cannot say enough good things about the Union defence this season especially Carlos Valdez. They have consistently locked down in front of goal and also made great desperation plays when necessary (i.e. those few goal line saves against LA last week). Defensive midfielder turned center back Amobi Okugo has fit in nicely alongside Valdez after the departure of Danny Califf while Sheanon Williams has been phenomenal like usual. Losing ex-union captain Califf was a blow to the team this season but after trying a few differently back lines the team has started playing the same great defence they have been known for.
The Philadelphia Union have lost three defenders that still play in the MLS: Jordan Harvey (Vancouver Whitecaps), Danny Califf (Chivas USA), and Shavar Thomas (Montreal Impact). These are three strong defenders with the weakest one, in my opinion, being Thomas. Both Thomas and Harvey find themselves just beginning to become regular starters for their respective teams. Thomas has taken over for injured Matteo Ferrari in the last four games for the Montreal Impact who came away with one win and three losses in those games. Those games included a 3-0 loss to Toronto FC at home. Although the 11 goals scored against the Impact in those four games cannot be fully blamed on Thomas, he is partially the involved. Harvey has recently earned a starting position again for the Vancouver Whitecaps and it appears he will stay there for bit. Jordan started on July 4th against Colorado due to the suspension of first string left back Jun Davidson. His performance that game led Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie to say it was “… the best he’s played since I’ve come to the club”. Harvey played well enough against the Rapids to earn his spot in the starting eleven again this past weekend where he put in another worthy performance even though Davidson was available. Lastly we have Danny Califf. The former Union captain was only just sent to the west coast team but has been doing some solid defending alongside Rauwshan McKenzie. Califf has always been a consistent defender and that trend has continued in LA. Chivas may not be putting up big numbers on the scoreboard but there defense has been making sure their opponents don’t either, for the most part at least.
Maybe it is my bias but I feel that Philadelphia’s defense wins this over the past Union players. Posting three shut outs in their past five league games, the Zolos have been making it tough for every offense they go up against. This is especially amazing when you consider that half of the back line is not even listed as a defender.
Winner: Current starters
The midfield is where the comparisons between current and ex Union players start to get interesting. While our current midfield has been incredibly creative and does more then it’s fair share while attacking with the ball, defensively they have been mediocre, even laughable at times. Opponents have been able to easily work their way through the middle of the field forcing our defense to work harder than they should. We saw this multiple times in last week’s game against the Galaxy. I understand our midfield tends to be more offensively minded, but this is not an excuse for shabby defending. Offensively the midfield has been amazing. They have been making it easy for Jack Mac and Antoine Hoppenot while also being able to keep possession and pass the ball around when needed.
Of the four former Union midfielders still in the league only two have been consistently getting time on the pitch: Justin Mapp of the Montreal Impact and Andrew Jacobson of FC Dallas. Justin Mapp has been proving to be a force in the midfield, exploiting space given to him and helping to create chances. Unfortunately, Mapp has the same problem he had while playing with the Union last season (other than only using one foot); he seems to show up and disappear too often. There has been multiple times while watching the Impact this season that I have 100% forgot Mapp was on the field. Despite this, Justin Mapp has been playing well enough to consistently make it into the Impact’s starting lineup. Andrew Jacobson is part of a team that has not won a game since April 14th. With a winless streak that long, it is not just one person’s fault; it comes down to the whole team.
Although all the ex-Union midfielders are talented players, it is hard for me to talk up a midfield whose top player is Justin Mapp. It also does not help the former players’ cause that the current squad has been playing great soccer lately.
Winner: Current Union
This comparison is probably the hardest to decide between. The current Philadelphia offense has been putting on a clinic, scoring fifteen goals in their last five games. The scary part is that this offensive onslaught is only a recent development and I am still a little hesitant to say that the form the players are in is here to stay. Of the three starters up top against Toronto FC, Jack McIerney has been the most consistent, scoring 3 goals in his past 3 league games. Freddy Adu has looked better than he did earlier in the season and had an amazing game this weekend causing many iffy moments for the Toronto defense. Still the weak part of our current starting lineup appears to be Lionard Pajoy. Pajoy has been more involved lately but still has major weakness that lead to missed chances. The most noticeable of these weaknesses is his first touch on the ball. For a striker, if your first touch is not near perfect every time scoring will be a rarity.
Chivas USA may not be playing the best soccer lately but one thing is consistent for them, Alejandro Moreno. Moreno played for the Union in 2010 before being sent to Chivas. While at Chivas, Moreno has played very well, creating chances for his team and holds the number two score of all Chiva’s players on MLS’s Castrol Index. In spite of only having two goals so far this season, I still feel he is a necessary force to have on the field. Playing only 300 minutes for his new team, the Portland Timbers, Danny Mwanga is one of the most recent Union departures. Other than scoring a magnificent goal last week, Danny is having the same problem he had when he played in Philly; he cannot seem to gel properly with the team that is playing around him. His lack of shots and goal scoring opportunities makes him a minimal threat to most defenses. Lastly, we look at a player that holds a special place in most Philadelphia Union fans’ hearts, Sébastien Le Toux. While wearing the blue and gold Seba was a goal scoring machine while also being an all-around good guy. Since joining the Whitecaps, Le Toux has played nearly every possible minute but has not found the back of the net nearly as often as he did when he was in Philadelphia, scoring only 4 goals in his 2012 campaign.
Choosing between these two line ups is tough for me. If I chose off of the form players held while they still played for the Union, I would go with the former players in a heartbeat, but if I was going off of how players are currently playing I would go with our current lineup. When it comes down to it, and if I was forced to choose, I would go with what we have now. Our offense is scoring multiple goals per game but the horror of our early season performance still hangs in the back of my mind.
Winner: Current Union
The moral of the story is that things could be much worst. We have a great team that is scoring consistently and is defending beautifully. Although some of the above could stream from my personal love for this club, I still feel that most of what I stated holds true. My only hope, and I’m sure it is the same hope that all Union fans have, is that our team continues to play the same game they have been playing for the past few weeks.
Sunday’s match against Toronto FC saw an event which many Philadelphia Union fans have waited months for; the return of fan favorite and Colombian midfielder Roger Torres. Torres has not seen the field for a league match since March 24, 2012 due to a knee injury. Coming in Sunday in the 83rdminute to an enthusiastic crowd chanting his name, Roger’s first touch was less than decent, directly to a Toronto player, but he quickly recovered by feeding a beautiful through ball to a darting Antoine Hoppenot which was unfortunately snubbed out by the Toronto defense. Playing only seven minutes, Torres did not get many opportunities to show off the ball control skills Union fans have grown to love over the time he has spent here, but the fact that Torres did not play noticeably poor during his short time on the field should give Philadelphia fans hope that this major injury won’t be career changing for the midfielder. Although it will likely be a few more months until we see Roger starting, especially with the competition ahead of him, I would expect to see him regularly used as a late sub for Michael Farfan or Freddy Adu.
Roger’s absence in the midfield has allowed players like Marfan and Adu to step up and become a creative force on the field. It will be interesting to see how Coach John Hackworth organizes his midfield as Torres becomes closer to match fit.
Personally, I never really liked Torres as a starter and think he does better coming on early in the second half, where he can use his creative ball-handling on tired defenders to open up passing lanes or to get shots off. Also, the way Marfan has played as of late proves that he is needed on the field. This is the problem with a team that has so much depth; you see many talented players that would likely start at other teams benched. Torres will be joining a bench which already holds many other skilled young players like right back Raymon Gaddis and likely defensive midfielder turned center back Amobi Okugo due to the recent signing of Bakary Soumare.
When all is said and done, I am excited to see what the return of the Roger Torres era has in store. He is a player that is not scared to shoot which has been a major problem for Philadelphia Union until very recently. As Torres is slowly reintroduced to the midfield, Union fans will be watching to see if he is still the creative, offensive minded player that he was before the injury. We saw small glimpses of it against Toronto allowing the Union faithful to hold the hope that one of their favorites will make a triumphant return to the pitch later this season.