Union Add Adu
By Justin Diaz

As I woke up at about 2pm (my summer sleeping habits are terrible), I considered how great it is to be a Philly fan. The Phillies just took 9 out of 10, and Hunter Pence has been everything we could have hoped he'd be. The Eagles, of course, are set to start the pre-season tonight with guys like Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Ronnie Brown making their Philly debuts. Then I check my twitter feed (@justindiaz92, for those interested) and see this post from our account: "NBC Philadelphia is reporting that star US player Freddy Adu is coming back to the USA to play for the Philadelphia Union. More to come on this." Moments later, the confirmation tweet: "Union News: Fox Sports is reporting that Freddy Adu will sign with the Philadelphia Union on Friday."

I felt instant elation. We are becoming spoiled. The stars of the sports world all want to come to Philadelphia, with the Union joining the Phillies and Eagles in adding the premier free agent of their league. It is incredible in every sense of the word, as it goes against what we expect. According to the Philly script, Lee, Nnamdi, and Adu should have been on the verge of signing with us before some other team sneaked in to steal them, not the other way around. While the championships have yet to come, surely they are on the way. 

For what it's worth, Adu is most likely the second-most recognizable U.S. name to the casual soccer fan. The skeptics will point out that he hasn't met the hype he garnered when he signed with D.C. United at the age of fourteen, and to an extent they are right. For much of his career Adu has not played up to his potential. That has changed recently.

That Adu made the national team for this summer's Gold Cup shocked most of the experts. His struggles led many to believe he couldn't handle the big stage or the expectations that the nation had heaped upon him, and for the entirety of the group stage and the quarterfinal matchup against Jamaica he sat the bench, certainly frustrated but waiting for an opportunity to make his impact.

That opportunity came in the next match. With the attack stagnant in the semis against Panama, who beat USA while Adu was on the bench in group play, Adu came on in the second half and delivered an excellent cross that led to Clint Dempsey's game-winning goal and the 1-0 final. As the ball struck the net, you could almost see the weight come off of Adu's shoulders. He was a new man and, most importantly in any sport, a confident man.

That confidence parlayed itself into a well-deserved start in the final vs. Mexico, and once again Adu proved he wanted to be a mainstay on the national team. His deft passing set up both of the USA's early goals, and while the national team ultimately lost 4-2, Adu's coming-of-age performance impressed all US soccer fans.

Now we in Philly get to see the new Freddy Adu, and it should be spectacular to watch. While Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux have been great for the Union in the attacking third, the Union's biggest problem has been getting forward on the attack. Defensive-minded midfielders like Brian Carroll and Keon Daniel have certainly helped on the back end, but provide little in the way of offense. With the addition of Adu, that all changes. His speed allows him to be defensively responsible and also enables him to join the attacking forwards on a rush. Look for much more dynamic offense from the Union as we approach the end of the MLS regular season and enter the playoffs.

The Union already had the best team in the league. The defense has been spectacular, Faryd Mondragon has been a wall, and the team seems to get a result every time out. Just like the Phillies had only one hole (right-handed bat), so too did the Union (attacking midfielder). Also like the Phillies, the Union wasn’t content to just hope they had enough to win it all; they went out and got the best player on the market for that need to give them the best chance to win. The players are in place, and now the fun begins. Sit back and enjoy it, Philly. We may never have it this good again.

Adios, Pescadito‏
By Justin D

As Kevin noted in his earlier entry, this is an incredible time to be a Philly fan. The top prize in NFL free agency, Nnamdi Asomugha, passed on Dallas and New York to come to Philly on a discount to become a champion. Some dude named Cliff Lee did the same thing last winter. On the same day, Ruben Amaro Jr. smugged his way into robbing Ed Wade again, filling what many consider the only hole on the best team in baseball by acquiring Hunter Pence to provide right-handed protection to Ryan Howard. And while these teams have gotten better, so too have the Union. In a bit of addition by subtraction, Carlos "El Pescadito" Ruiz is flopping his way out of town, reportedly because he could not handle the criticism of playing in Philly.

First of all let's take this as a compliment to just how intense we are as a fan base. The Little Fish has played in some pretty big ponds (T-Mac esque pun, sorry), representing Guatemala and holding the record for most international goals in that country's history. He has played for the Galaxy, the premier team in MLS, and in Mexico's Primera Division, known for the intensity of its fans. He has played in all those environments, and we were the ones to break this guy? We made him say "no mas?" Considering that the Union are the fifth team in this city and we pressured this guy into quitting, I'd say nobody can argue that Philly fans are the most passionate not only in America, but in the world.

And to be perfectly honest, this is a case where the fans have helped to make the team better. This isn't revisionist history; you can go back and look at my earlier entries, Carlos Ruiz never impressed me. Is he an elite talent? Sure. That doesn't mean he fits. I don't think I even mentioned the his name when discussing the team's successes, because he hasn't been vital to them. The skeptics will point out that Ruiz led the team with six goals, but finishing is just half of the equation. A vast majority of the time you can attribute a goal more to the great cross or the solid ball in than the actual finish itself. How many assists did Ruiz have this year. Zero. No assists. Sebastien Le Toux has seen his goal total fall substantially from 2010 (only two thus far), but couple that with his seven assists and he has been far more integral to the Union's success than Ruiz.

Also it is important to note that Ruiz leaving doesn't mean those six goals are leaving as well. Other players will now get more playing time, and they will now have the opportunity to prove themselves. Look for Danny Mwanga see the pitch more with Ruiz leaving and look for him to continue to shine; in 86 less minutes of playing time (basically a game's worth), he has five goals and three assists, and his dazzling speed juxtaposes nicely with Le Toux's precise passes. Guys like Justin Mapp, Kyle Nakazawa, and maybe even Jack McInerney will also get to see the field more, and with their combined efforts, Ruiz not only won't be missed, we'll be thankful he left. Gracias por todo, Pescadito, but you're not welcome here anymore.

Union's Ruiz doesn't like criticism
By Kevin K

HELLO! Carlos, you signed on with a Philadelphia team in February ... did no one fill you in on how you would be treated if you don't play well? Sure you don't like to be criticized, but that is the nature of the Philly Phan.

In case you missed it last night Philly Sports Daily reported that Ruiz was "affected by criticism" of his play and didn't enjoy his time in Philadelphia.

Right now of all times? Players are currently taking less money (Lee, Asomugha) to come and play IN PHILADELPHIA. Sure we criticize players, coaches, owners ... but hey someone should have warned you before you signed here.

But Carlos, just to let you know, we were in full support of you. When you came to take your picture at CBP with the Phillies Carlos Ruiz it was awesome. We even supported you when you played for your national team in Mexico and scored a goal. That made us extremely happy for you and the Union. You represented and that was great!

Now you come onto this team and lead it in goals only to walk out on them. I have to be honest with you, you look awful right now from walking away.

In a time when people want to be here, you take go and do something like this, really?

Carlos, I truly wish you good luck, but you will NEVER be forgiven by me for walking out on Philadelphia, on your team, and on the fans. You truly are not an example of a team player.
Carlos Ruiz doesn't like criticism apparently
By Kevin K

After the Union's 2-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids, head coach Peter Nowack announced that leading scorer Carlos Ruiz will no longer be with the team.

According to Philly Sports Daily, Nowak cited that Ruiz was "affected by criticism" of his play and didn't enjoy his time in Philadelphia.

Rumors are floating around that Ruiz will head back to Mexico and play there.

I guess this town was too big for two Carlos Ruiz's? Don't worry, the Phillies Carlos Ruiz loves it here.

Ruiz departs with six goals in fourteen games this season.
Goalkeeper Mondragon named to All Star Team
By Kevin K

The MLS announced today that Union Keeper and Captain Faryd Mondragon was named to the MLS All Star Team. The All Star Game will take place on July 27th at Red Bull Arena at 8:30 on ESPN2.

Mondragon has a .84 GAA with 7 shutouts in 19 games.

This is Mondragon's first MLS All Star Game, and the Union's second of All Time (Sebastian Le Toux was named the first All Star last year).

Mondragon tweeted, "Very proud to be selected in the All Star Team representing the Philadelphia Union without your support would have beeing impossible!". He also said, "Thanks to everyone at the front office, Technical Staff, Trainers, my Lions (make my job very easy) and specially the FANS!!! DOOP!!!"

Good luck Mondragon!
The Union deserve our attention
by Justin Diaz

The Flyers' run ended far too early. The Sixers' run ended right around when we expected it to. The Eagles won't play again for three months at the least. In years past, this combination meant that only the Phillies remained to watch. With the incredible success of the team, it's perfectly understandable why some fans may completely refocus all their passion onto them. As of now, though, the Phils are not the best team in the city. It's the Union that is dominating the competition, and it's the Union that deserves recognition.

The Union has achieved success early in this season thanks to a much more defensive approach and incredible goalkeeping by Faryd Mondragon, the all-World caliber Colombian. Do not confuse the low goal-scoring numbers thus far with offensive ineptitude, however. The Union are still capable of the high-octane offense they showed last season, which they proved in Saturday's match with Toronto FC. Six goals, including two apiece for Justin Mapp and future-of-the-franchise Danny Mwanga, marked a team record and an offensive explosion that saw the team nearly double their scoring total for the season (eight entering the match).

The improved defense, coupled with the scoring spurts the Union are capable of, has catapulted them to first-place in the Eastern Conference with 20 points. New York is just two points behind, but the Union has a game in-hand. It is no shock that a team from New York would try to buy their way to the top with elite talent (Thierry Henry is the best player on the Red Bulls), but what they fail to realize is that no one player not named Maradona or Pele will ever be enough to turn a team around. 

Look at the Union themselves to see just how important (or insignificant, rather) just one player can be. Last season, Sebastien Le Toux led the entire MLS in points. He was an absolute star for a cellar-dwelling side. He became an instant fan-favorite and a favorite of mine as well; when I decided to buy a Union shirtsey, I got Le Toux without hesitation. This year, however, he seems to have lost his scoring touch, netting just one goal with three assists through eleven games. The team around him has elevated their play, and for that reason they are playing as well as they ever have. It's not just one guy. It's the veteran presence of Mondragon. It's Piotr Nowak knowing the pulse of his team, and how to get the best of them. It's the explosive first step of Mwanga. It's the imposing physicality of Danny Califf on defense. It's the Sons of Ben dooping their faces off at every game, home or away. It's every single person wearing the navy blue and gold, and if you love Philly sports, you should join the movement. Doop your hearts out, Philly, because this team deserves it.

Union can't get past Galaxy
By Kevin K

"Here we go Galaxy, here we go ....", the now infamous line from the movie "I Love You, Man" stood pat Saturday night as the Galaxy were able to stop the hot streak that is the Philadelphia Union.

The Union started the season 2-0 when the headed into L.A. to face the Galaxy.

The Union's offense hasn't been alive at all in their three games (they won 1-0 in the first two games of the year) and it stayed that way against the Galaxy.

The Union failed to have a shot on goal even after having a man advantage when the Galaxy's Chris Birchall was given a red card. The Galaxy took advantage over the lack of offense by the Union by taking and keeping a 1-0 lead. The Galaxy then slowed the game down and took complete control in their 1-0 victory over the Union.

“We didn’t play well in the first half,” said Ruiz, who suffered a slight right shoulder strain in the final minutes of the match. “In the second half we obviously played better because they played with 10 men but we didn’t find the space to try and score. I think we played too many long balls and that was easy for them because everybody was defending.”

“We lost but we are going to keep going forward,” said Ruiz.

Union Doop All Over Dynamo
By Justin Diaz

Philadelphia ran roughshod over the state of Texas tonight. While the Flyers secured a playoff birth with their shootout victory over the Stars, the Union were dooping it up (I'm not sure if doop can be used as a verb, but I'll start the trend) in Houston, getting a big three points on the road in a 1-0 victory over the Dynamo. Last season, the Union did not earn their first shutout until the 23rd game of the season, but new keeper and captain Faryd Mondragon wasted no time in getting his first as a member of the Union. While a shutout is always impressive, what was more encouraging from Mondragon on the night was the leadership he showed. He was directing traffic all night and, when a fight nearly broke out near the net after a Dynamo player was ran into the boards, he immediately came over to tell his teammates to get away and not risk an early booking. Mondragon's veteran presence will be as important if not more than the talent that he clearly brings to the team.

The goal was a beauty, although it came from a person nobody expected to score. Off a great throw-in from Sheanon Williams in the fifth minute, star striker Sebastien Le Toux found the crossbar, but Danny Califf, last year's captain, put home the rebound and netted his first goal for the Union after being held to merely one assist last season. Williams, a member of the USL-2 affiliate Harrisburg Islanders, was solid in defense all night and showed the importance of a strong farm system in building a contending club.

After the early goal neither team had many chances, as the Union played very conservatively the rest of the night. Mondragon was rarely tested but when he was, he rose to the challenge. After so many matches in which the Union clearly outplayed their opponent but found themselves behind on the scoreboard, the strong defensive effort after the early goal was huge and will be a key going forward.

Last season, the Union were an abysmal 2-12-1 in road matches, but the win tonight showed that this team is far more mature than the one we saw last year. Mondragon is a big reason for that. The thirty-eight year old veteran earned the captain's armband in preseason camp and showed why tonight. On a team as diverse as the Union (the twenty-five players hail from nine different nations), it is very important to have a guy on the field who can bring the whole team together as Mondragon does. Next week, the Union host Vancouver Whitecaps FC, who have been a club since 1986 but make their MLS debut this season. For those of you who do not follow the Union, tune into 6abc at 4pm to see the Sons of Ben, the most dedicated fan-base in MLS, and a team that figures to be an MLS contender this year.
Union Season Preview
By Justin Diaz

Before I start my preview for the Union's second season, I need to give a brief commentary. Last year Major League Soccer presented the Philadelphia fan base a rare opportunity. For the majority of us, we grew up watching the Eagles, Flyers, Sixers, and Phils. We're die-hard fans. We don't know why, but we just are because that's the way it always has been and that's the way it always will be. We got a new opportunity last year, however. The Union became the MLS' latest expansion franchise, and the most passionate sports city in the world became host to the most popular sport in the world. The Union did not come without their doubters. People said Philly's too much of a blue-collar town and a slow, patient sport like soccer wouldn't work here. People said we'd especially abandon the team after their inevitable slow start; expansion franchises notoriously struggle early on. The doubters could not have been more wrong. The Union sold out every single game, even when we fell into the Eastern Conference cellar. The Union are already beloved here and they will certainly be a Philly stronghold for years to come.

Now that I've given us credit as fans, it's time to look at the team we are going to support this year. We have plenty to be excited about going into this season; a playoff trip is well within reach if the following five things go the Union's way:

1. Let Le Toux Lead the Way There's a reason the Sons of Ben chant Sebastien Le Toux's name on a weekly basis. The man is an All-Star after his first year as a starter, was a blatant snub for the league's MVP (apparently leading the league with 25 points, ahead of second-best Landon Donovan, isn't enough), and plays a Philly kind of game. Beyond the simple love affair that comes with hard-nosed play, this guy is an all-world talent. In MLS, players are either great goal-scorers or great passers. Rarely does somebody combine both aspects, and yet Le Toux does just that. Last season, he was the only player to be in the top five in both goals and assists, proving he has a powerful strike and a soft touch. If the Union are going to make a mark this season, Le Toux has to be the guy to guide the team.

2. Mwanga's Maturation Le Toux didn't enter the season as the Union's most popular player. The Union took Danny Mwanga first overall in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, and immediately the fans in attendance at the event, held right here in Philly, began chanting his name. In his first season, Mwanga was nothing special, but showed flashes of brilliance, scoring seven goals and adding four assists. His natural talent is plainly evident, and in his sophomore campaign, look for the Congolese striker to continue his ascension and become one of the MLS' elite weapons.

3. Get a Goalie Last year the Union had tribulation at the keeper spot that rivaled that of the infamous Flyers' goaltender sagas. Chris Seitz came into the season with a ton of promise, but let in weak goal after weak goal. Brad Knighton managed to record two shutouts - two more than Seitz - but spent most of the season as Seitz's backup, with the reasoning becoming more and more clear as he earned more starts. Neither of them are back this year. Faryd Mondragon, a 39 year-old veteran with fifty caps for the Colombian national team, and Zac MacMath, a 19 year-old rookie who garnered All-American recognition last year at Maryland, will battle for the starting job, and the keeper situation already looks much better than it did entering the inaugural season.

4. McInerney's.... Maturation Yes, this point is somewhat redundant, but with a young team it is vital the younger players with the potential for excellence realize it. McInerney was just 17 years old when the Union took him with the 7th overall pick in the 2010 SuperDraft. McInerney only made seventeen appearances last season, but showed flashes of brilliance, netting three goals in just 350 minutes of playing time, including a game-winner against Chivas, one of the Mexican Premier Division's finest clubs. This is not the biggest reason for optimism, however; McInerney has 12 goals in 16 games playing in the United States' national team's U-17 and U-20 teams, showing that he projects as an all-world talent down the road that can help the Union now.

5. Defensive Development The keeper can only do so much; the defense must be in place around him for him to be successful. Last season, the Union's defense would be excellent for 80-85 minutes and then have a collapse that would result in heartbreak. I recall in particular a match with San Jose last season; the Union dominated the game throughout but, because of defensive lapses in extra time of both halves, lost 2-1. As my buddy Alex, who will play collegiately at High Point University next year, noted, consistent effort is difficult but necessary in such a long season. If Piotr Nowak can inspire that effort in the Union this year, we can expect the same, entertaining style of soccer we got last season, but with a lot more success.
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Union Sign Carlos Ruiz
By Kevin K

Philadelphia Union announced today the signing of Guatemalan forward Carlos “El Pescadito” Ruiz.

Ruiz signed with the LA Galaxy in 2002 and made an immediate impact, scoring 24 goals and earning the MLS MVP.

According to the Philadelphia Union Website:

In six MLS seasons, Ruiz played a total of 155 matches, 137 as a starter, logging 12,349 minutes and registering 82 goals and 17 assists. Ruiz also holds the record for most goals in MLS postseason history with 16. The 31-year-old is the 10th-highest all-time scorer in MLS history, and third among active players.

Since leaving MLS in 2009, Ruiz has continued to be an offensive threat, notching 20 goals in 66 appearances with Paraguayan First Division club Olimpia Asunción FC (ten goals in 18 appearances), Mexican First Division club Puebla FC (nine goals in 33 appearances), and Super League Greece club Aris FC (one goal in 15 appearances). Recently, the striker notched three goals in UEFA Europa League competition against FK Austria Wien (2) and Norwegian side Rosenborg BK (1).

“El Pescadito” began his professional career in 1995 with Guatemalan club CSD Municipal, where he spent seven seasons and accumulated 59 goals and two “Clausura” championships (2000 and 2002) in 143 appearances. Ruiz debuted with the Guatemalan National Team on November 11, 1998 in a friendly match against Mexico. He netted his first goal against El Salvador on March 19, 1999 and has since has become his country’s all-time leading scorer with 41 goals in 86 caps. In 2001, Ruiz led Guatemala to a first place finish in the UNCAF Nations Cup after settling for second place the previous three years.

Carlos Ruiz, photo courtesy of PhiladelphiaUnion.com