A Point Away From Home

[Editor's Note: Another great statistical and tactic analysis piece from MK_27. Read up!]

All the Philadelphia Union needed was a set of vuvuzelas to complete the list of possible excuses necessary to explain an away loss to the defending MLS Cup Champions.  Playing on the road at altitude, dealing with the erratic swerve of the infamous Jabulani, coping with sun glare reflecting off of a plethora of empty seats, missing their top goalscorer - they could have easily taken the penalty kick decision as a sign that it just wasn't their day.  In stark contrast to what would have happened last year, however, they remained in the hunt and an unlucky / unjust goal was exactly what the U needed to push for a goal of their own against the Colorado Rapids.

Tactical adjustments throughout the game had a significant impact on Saturday's outcome.  Whether it was bringing Keon Daniel on, swapping a forward for a forward, or bringing Keon Daniel off, all three substitutions helped determine the tempo, team formation, and final result.  Hit the jump for a look at how it played out...

There were no surprise starters along the back line, though Michael Farfan's groin injury opened the door for the coaching staff to include Juan Diego Gonzalez in the traveling roster for the first time in a very long time.  Gabriel Farfan (left) and Justin Mapp (right) took up positions on the wings while Brian Carroll tucked in behind Kyle Nakazawa in the middle of the park.  Jack McInerney and Sebastien Le Toux partnered up front, with McInerney working out of a more withdrawn position.

The first significant change came sooner than expected, when Mapp pulled up with a right groin strain.  He was visibly bothered by the injury as early as the 10th minute following his run that lead to Nakazawa's curling free kick, though he managed to provide shadow defense and contribute to the attack for another 15 minutes (including one effort that nearly put McInerney through for a goal).

A more responsible defensive player than Mapp, Keon Daniel came on and immediately switched sides with Farfan, allowing Jordan Harvey and Sheanon Williams more freedom to venture forward.  When Farfan stretched wider to the right, Nakazawa and McInerney slid in next to each other and combined to take advantage of the newly created midfield space with a beautiful ball into the box for an overeager Le Toux.

For the remainder of the first half, possession fell mostly to the Rapids, and they mounted some dangerous attacks - almost all of which came in the form of headers just off-target - but the teams went into the break in a stalemate.

At the Half:
Possession - Rapids 60%, Union 40%
Total Passes - Rapids 216 (80% accuracy), Union 143 (64% accuracy)
Open Field Crosses - Rapids 8, Union 1
Rapids 6 Shots - 1 on goal (saved)
Union 3 Shots  - 1 on goal (saved)

Having survived the first half and 15 minutes of the second, the Union looked to build off of a few promising chances and made a move to replace offense with offense - Danny Mwanga for McInerney.  The Rapids were surely going to have scoring chances (as we saw 4 minutes later), and Philly was not about to ride it out hoping for a scoreless draw.  When combined with the width and defensive coverage provided by Farfan and Daniel, a fresh Mwanga / hungry Le Toux tandem seemed promising.

Pablo Mastroeni was always looking for a call in the box in the 63rd minute, and he managed to sell that Danny Califf's hand on his shoulder was forceful enough to bring down his ordinarily sturdy frame.  It's always disappointing when a poor call changes a game, but the culture of simulating / diving / complaining in the world of soccer forces referees (who are always wrong anyway) to make split-second decisions on what is real and what is fake.  That said, nothing would have made me happier than if Conor Casey had tried his cute little penalty kick only to have Faryd Mondragon stand completely still and catch it with one hand.

Were it not for the anger and desire to set things right, Danny Mwanga's goal three minutes later may have never materialized.  In an extended stretch of possession I hope to see highlighted on next week's State of the Union, the ball was worked carefully from the back and then carried from one touchline to the other, loosening the defense enough to draw coverage away from Daniel, Le Toux, and most importantly, the team's new leading goalscorer.

There is no doubt that fans were disappointed to see Stefani Miglioranzi take the pitch in the 79th minute for Daniel, as it signified the Union's intention to settle for a draw.  Migz dropped into his defensive midfield role next to Carroll, Nakazawa remained above them, Mwanga became more of a lone striker, Le Toux dropped a bit to provide a little coverage on the left wing, and I started to sort the recycling.  Considering Colorado was completely unsuccessful in creating anything offensively through the center of the field, and knowing the U's vulnerability to headers at the end of crosses, I was surprised to see a concession of the flank.

By the end of the game, possession and passing statistics remained in the home team's favor, but the Union managed to close the gap in a few categories.  Danny Mwanga, who is up against it in terms of yellow cards, avoided his 5th, which would have meant a mandatory one-match ban.  Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf, and Jordan Harvey kept from earning their 4th.  Gabriel Farfan somehow managed to keep his family's perfect honor record intact, remaining cardless despite committing a game-high 6 fouls.  More than anything, the team can be proud of walking out of the defending champ's house with a point despite having access to every ready-made excuse in the book.

Full Time:
Possession - Rapids 55%, Union 45%
Total Passes - Rapids 407 (73% accuracy), Union 326 (64% accuracy)
Open Field Crosses - Rapids 14, Union 11
Rapids 13 Shots - 3 on goal (2 saved, 1 pk scored)
Union 9 Shots - 2 on goal (1 saved, 1 scored)

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