Sunday, August 31, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Fact or Crap: Philadelphia Union edition

There's a board game out there called "Fact or Crap," where the premise is pretty simple: Someone reads off a statement, and you have to guess whether it's true or false. 

Example: "In Game of Thrones, Ned Stark is played by the actor Sean Penn." 

False. Sean Bean plays Ned Stark. I'd put down a card that says "crap" and receive points for being correct. 

Now, I've never actually played the game, but for some reason I thought it would be a good premise for a soccer story. 

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  • Fact or Crap? – John Hackworth's job is in jeopardy 

    I think you have to call this a fact.

    It's true the team is just six points out of first place in the Eastern Conference. They're three points out of a playoff spot, with a chance to catch D.C. United this weekend. In the bigger picture, the turnaround doesn't look entirely daunting, especially considering that the East is once again weaker than the West.

     But the club is tied for first place in total games played (10) and has the fourth worst points per game (.80) in the entire league. That says it all right there. 

    Toronto FC has nine points through seven games (1.29 PPG), and Los Angeles has eight points through six games (1.33 PPG). Seattle's points per game total of 2.11 is twice Philadelphia's, and they've played one fewer game. 

    We read a lot about Caleb Porter and Frank Yallop allegedly being on the hot seat because of similar struggles. Portland is 1-3-5, and Chicago is 0-2-6. But Yallop has won trophies in this league, and Porter led the Timbers to a playoff appearance and a total turnaround in 2013. Hackworth doesn't have something like that to fall back on, and that's the key issue in this argument. 

    Plus, when you consider the unpredictable nature of Nick Sakiewicz, anything can happen at any time. No one expected the Union to win in Seattle, but there are a pair of winnable home games coming up that might be a deal breaker, depending on the result.

    Fact or Crap? Cristian Maidana is out of shape 

    Crap. 

    These are the two Hack quotes that got people bent out of shape last week: 

    "Cristian, first and foremost, has to adapt to the level of fitness of the players in this league. There's a reason why he hasn't gone 90. And we've been working on his fitness since he arrived. That has been an issue."

    "It's a different culture. In Argentina, I think you eat dinner some time between 11:30 and 12:30, 1 [in the morning]. His kids, when they first moved here were bouncing off the walls at 12:30 and 1 [in the morning]. All of these cultural habits have to be adjusted."

    There's probably some truth to what Hack is saying about the cultural differences between Argentina and the United States, and there's always an adjustment period for foreign players coming into the league. But I'm not sure how a guy plays 87 minutes and 80 minutes in the first two games and then, all of a sudden, his fitness level isn't good enough. He did suffer that minor injury and missed time in April, so we obviously don't know what was going on behind the scenes with that situation. Maybe the injury was a result of his fitness level. 

    But none of that even matters because he NEEDS to be on the field. Maidana is one of the few creative and skilled guys out there. Believe it or not, he leads the team with two assists, and he deserves another assist on the Seattle own-goal because the delivery was excellent. Maidana also is co-leader with five shots on goal (3 against Portland) and looked much better in the less restricted role he was given at CenturyLink Field. 

    Maidana simply appears to have slower foot speed than other players. Did you see that great move he pulled on DeAndre Yedlin? He gave himself space on the left with the flick and first touch but didn't really have the pace to make something out of the play. He's very good on the ball, but he's not the fastest guy out there. 

    Still, most creative players aren't known to be fast and physical. Guillermo Barros-Schelotto, Diego Valeri, and Federico Higuain aren't/weren't speed burners, and they've done quite alright in MLS. 

    Fact or Crap? The Antoine Hoppenot sub is not working 

    Fact. 

    It's been a while since Antoine has influenced a game. 

    Antoine Hoppenot is credited with just one shot in 2014.

    The numbers speak for themselves: 

    2012: 4 goals, 1 assist, 817 total minutes

    2013: 3 goals (one from an accidental cross), 2 assists, 723 total minutes

    2014: 0 goals, 0 assists, 97 total minutes

    Antoine has no shots on goal this season. He's averaging just 10.7 minutes per game, which is much less than what he got in 2012 and 2013. His last goal was against Vancouver 20 matches ago, when the Union were playing with a man advantage for the better part of 80 minutes. 

    Hoppenot has earned a reputation as a diver, which I don't think is completely warranted. Recent performances (Seattle) have seen some pretty obvious dives, but he is not getting the benefit of some fringe fouls that really could be called outside of the penalty area. The Union didn't earn a single PK in 2013, and Antoine probably deserved a call or two during the course of the season. It's always harder for faster and smaller players to stay balanced in physical challenges, but he'll have to try to stay up more to get referees to start blowing the whistle. 

    Fact or Crap? Aaron Wheeler is to blame for Seattle's game winner

    Crap. 

    Yes, Wheeler was marking Chad Marshall on the play, but Amobi Okugo and Maurice Edu were in position to get to the ball first and they didn't do it. If anything, the blame can be shared between the three.

    As for the first goal, maybe Wheeler takes a bit more of the blame. After the initial clearance, he decided not to challenge Brad Evans for the second ball. The rest of the defense was ball-watching and slow to react, and Obafemi Martins got behind to score. 

    Really, it was a poor collective effort on that first goal. Kasey Keller, now a color commentator for Seattle, called the play "a little bit of a comedy of errors." 

    Fact or Crap? Zac MacMath has been the best Union player this season 

    I'll say ... fact. 

    Really though, MacMath and Vincent Nogueira are probably 1a. and 1b. in this category. 

    Three penalty saves for MacMath this season is a phenomenal stat. He's pulled this off in just ten games, and no other goalkeeper is even close. If he saves another, he will tie the league record for penalty saves in a season. 

    As for Nogueira, he's easily been the best field player. If there was a consistent striker up top, his numbers would look better, and he'd be an easy choice for the All-Star Game. Knowing how things work, though, we'll probably see Brad Davis or Will Johnson in there again, even though Nogueira has been a best-XI quality player every single week.

    Kevin Kinkead The Philly Soccer Page
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