CHESTER PA - OCTOBER 07: Danny Califf #4 of the Philadelphia Union and Omar Gonzalez #4 of the Los Angeles Galaxy go up to head the ball at PPL Park on October 7 2010 in Chester Pennsylvania. The Galaxy won 1-0. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Edson Buddle gave the Los Angeles Galaxy a 1-0 victory off of a David Beckham goal. But it wasn't a deflating loss like what would have been expected of an early season version of the Union. The outcome of the game does not indicate a difference in the current state of the Union and its early season form. Yet watching the second half, after a disastrous first half, the Union left me feeling satisfied.
The second half of the season can be summed up by the second half of the Galaxy game. Yes, plenty of comparisons were made previous to this one (in this article) about how the Union have played this year. If the Union had been able to make the playoffs this season than one could feasibly conceive of a Disney-esque movie. Le Toux as the above average player who turns into the star. Danny Mwanga as the rookie who makes a huge impact. Shea Salinas as the lovable fringe starter who has a horrible injury but rallies back to make a late season impact. Piotr Nowak as the tough but likable coach, who manages the team like no one else could. Justin Mapp as the unwanted mid-season addition who finally finds confidence in himself and cements his status as a starter. The list of characters goes on and on. The second half of the season has been an almost idealistic time for this team, considering its expansion origins and this being its first season in existence.
In opposition to that analogy,"I Can't Get No Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones could rightfully be used to describe much of the first half of the season. Beyond a couple of players, most notably Sebastien Le Toux, the Union did not perform well enough on the most part to satisfy any Union fan or supporter. Poor results were expected of the youth based expansion team but poor results went hand in hand with dismal play.
This game made it clear that the Union are far and away a completely different team than early in the season. Fact is that the Union wholly dominated the second half of their match up with the Galaxy. Kyle Nakazawa's inclusion in the game, which occurred only because of a nasty injury to Fred (see the front page with a picture of it), clearly changed the outlook of the game for the Union. They began to control the ball more than they had previously, not only in the game itself but seemingly in any recent game. Atypical of the Union was this possession based offense that allow for Justin Mapp to show flashes of that potential that is always talked about. It was unfortunately hampered, however, by the fact that there was no midfielder opposite Mapp who could provide width to the play. It severely hurts Mapp's ability to affect the game.
Once Nowak came to the realization that having three central midfielders on the field (Andrew Jacobson, Stefani Miglioranzi and Kyle Nakazawa) was limiting the Union's offense, Salinas entered the battle field. Adjusting to having two speedy midfielders was not easy for the Galaxy, especially as Nakazawa roamed the center of midfield, dominating in possession. The one hitch in the great play of the second half was that the Union were unable to put the ball into the Galaxy's net. Without an athletic goalkeeper like Donovan Ricketts, the Galaxy find themselves in a tied game after Le Toux's spectacular backheel around the 72nd minute mark and then its a game in the hands of the Union because of momentum.
After the jump, a short list of the "good" - player-wise - from the game...
Kyle Nakazawa: Nakazawa's coming out party was a great sight to behold. With his emergence Nowak has a midfielder he can trust after Eduardo Coudet. Miglioranzi has not impressed this season and Amobi Okugo is having some growing pains while adjusting to MLS play. If Nakazawa can continue to improve or at least be consistent then the Union solve one of their major problems - who can shore up a rather weak central midfield?
Shea Salinas: It appears that Salinas has fully recovered from his leg injury back in mid-July. In recent games Salinas has come in as a sort of Super Sub and has made very impressive influences upon the games he has entered. Salinas brings energy and speed that is vitally needed when Mapp is attempting to make runs down along the chalk. More of Salinas, maybe even a start, would be a welcome thing.
Brad Knighton: Pin pointing Knighton's problems in net is a hard thing to do. Is it confidence? Is it a lack of top level talent? Is it just who he is? Knighton still spills too many rebounds into dangerous areas but he cannot be faulted for his one-on-one or high pressure situational goalkeeping. When he was needed, Knighton stepped up for the Union. Landon Donovan timed a run perfectly and ended up dribbling into the box with only Knighton to beat. The USA World Cup found himself defeated by the hands of Knighton in the one-on-one. More play like what Knighton displayed versus the Galaxy would alleviate my nervousness with him as the starter next season.
Sheanon Williams: Since establishing himself as the starting right back on the Union there has been a noticeable change in the Union's defense. Williams has been excellent since being signed by the Union and shows no signs of regressing but rather has been pretty consistent in improving his play. His long throw-ins are incredibly threatening and his defense has been more than adequate. Plus him starting has allowed Nowak to move Michael Orzoco-Fiscal into the center of defense, which has also improved the Union defense.
Note the fact that all four of the "good" in this list are 25 or under, a great sign for the Union.