Philadelphia Union Chalk Talk
Last Friday, a friend of mine and fellow season ticket holder from my section told me that he had 2 extra “tickets” for the Philadelphia Union Chalk Talk that was run as a lottery using Loyalty Points gained. If you had won, 50 loyalty points were removed from each seat of the season ticket. Due to a busy week at work (and “outside of work”) I had missed the email announcing the lottery, or may have just assumed I wouldn’t win with my measly 2 seats if it was a signed Le Toux boot or something. Anyway, intrigued by “Getting to know the tactical side of picking a lineup” as it was sold to me, I said I’d love to go along. As a coach myself, I was really interested to hear how the coaching decisions were made. Out of respect for the Union coaching staff, I won’t go into details as I would assume that the same tactics can be used against multiple teams. However, coming out from the event I think it was an experience to be shared, if only to encourage participation the next time such an event is offered.
We had to be at the Media Gate by 2pm, which after delays finishing coaching Camden Youth Soccer Club and potential traffic was a bit of a rush. We parked, said our hellos to people, explaining why we couldn’t stick around for tailgating. 2pm arrived, wristbands were put on, and we were guided through to the media room (which I was able to recognize from Hackworth’s weekly press conference). Up in front of us was a board, with “team lineups”. Immediately the cheers and groans went up looking at the lineups. It was a whole hour before the lineups are announced and we knew who would be playing… or so we thought. We were told quickly that it wasn’t confirmed lineups but what MLS thought were likely lineups.
After a brief wait and confidentiality over “potential lineup” stressed, Union Assistant Brendan Burke came in. After checking the board – he confirmed that the Union lineup was correct (and we all know the lineup). There was still time for changes to be made, especially to the Seattle lineup (which was almost nothing like what was on the board – thankfully for us). Brendan started off by mentioning who was in the lineup, and that there were a few very difficult decisions made to give us that lineup. He then went position by position, declaring what each player brought to the lineup, what everyone had been working hard on through the week, and the kind of thing that the Union coaching staff expected after a tough loss to New England.
Next came the interesting part of the “lineups” – tactically what to look out for. The laymen among us may think that the team lineup was picked out of a hat before the game, or that unless an injury happens there are 10 players that will play no matter what. Obviously, that is not the case. There were specific reasons for every player to be picked, not only with a general ideal of the Union to keep in mind but the opposition. If it was against a different team, then maybe player X would not be picked. It was really interesting to hear the points that Brendan made, and even more interesting to find out what we should look for during the game if a Union win was to happen. With that knowledge in mind, I made sure to look out for exactly what was mentioned, and for the most part it worked perfectly well. An A+ for the coaching preparations for this week.
After that the focus was placed on Seattle. Who were the danger men, some little sneak peeks of information that the “Union scouts” have suggesting at players who may or may not be playing. Instead of “what to look for in a Union win” it was “what are we worried about happening that may lead to a Union loss”. It was also great to hear that it wasn’t just lip-service to the media and we really were taking the threat of Seattle very seriously.
At that point some news broke about the subs bench, and the questions started. While I would never have asked some of them, I have to give Brendan great credit in that he never shirked an answer once. We had 15 minutes to ask questions in the original timeline but Brendan went over and above, taking time out of his preparations for the game to make sure everyone got every question they wanted answered. However there were so many I wanted to ask, I satisfied myself with replies regarding using 3 central defenders in future, and getting information on what we are doing to keep hold of the young stars. From tactical decisions, to why certain tactics just wouldn’t work for us with the players we have to what kind of player we may be targeting to buy and who we are worried about losing for the Gold Cup – Brendan answered everything. I just can’t wait for the announcement that Ryan Giggs is signing
After it all, it was very informative. The coaching side of me learned what kind of thing the professional coaches think about. The giddy schoolboy also got to be sitting down when my heroes were walking by to go to the locker room. If there is one thing I think should be passed on however, if you get the chance to go to a Chalk Talk, grab it with both hands. You can learn so much from being there – and definitely gain a further respect and admiration of the coaching staff.