CHESTER, PA - MARCH 31: Goalkeeper Joe Cannon #1 of the Vancouver Whitecaps accidentally punches Lionard Pajoy #23 of the Philadelphia Union in the face while he attempts to make a save during the second half of a Major League Soccer game on March 31, 2012 at PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania. The game ended in a scoreless tie. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
It wasn't a win, but it wasn't a loss for the Philadelphia Union.
The first point of the season finally came around for the Union, a small positive in an otherwise disappointing beginning to the 2012 MLS season.
"If you can't win, it's better not to lose," Carlos Valdes said to Kevin Kinkead, of PhiladelphiaUnion.com, "...we're trying our best and the goals are going to come. We're closer."
As the saying goes, close only matters in horseshoes and hand grenades.
The Union yet again controlled a game, possessing the ball 51.2 percent of the time and completing 74 percent of their 443 passes. Yet again Philadelphia failed to take advantage of forays into the opposing final third.
While the Union had the only two shots on target during the game, they were not the most dangerous side on the field Saturday.
Former Philadelphia star Sebastien Le Toux led a weakened Vancouver Whitecaps offense that threatened Zac MacMath and the Union's defensive back line multiple times. If not for shoddy finishing, the Union would have been down by at least a goal early on in the first half.
During the post-game press conference, Union head coach Piotr Nowak acknowledged the team's inability to pull the trigger when given opportunities to take shots.
"The problem is still that they are in the mindset right now that we are in a losing streak," Nowak said (transcribed quotes by The Goalkeeper). "The mindset is always to choose the easy way, the safest way. If you are winning, you are more confident, you take your chances and are more opportunistic. It doesn't mean that you have to make those kinds of decisions."
Keon Daniel and Brian Carroll managed to challenge Vancouver goalkeeper Joe Cannon, but neither could put their volleys into the net. The Union had kept up this inability to score for 113 minutes prior to Saturday's 90 minutes of scoreless play.
Nowak started rookie striker Chandler Hoffman, a Generation Adidas player, at what he called a secondary striker role, but the former UCLA standout was mostly outside in the midfield and failed to make an impact in 51 minutes.
Starting target striker Lionard Pajoy had a lot of work to do to create offense and Hoffman did little to aid him in his efforts. Pajoy himself nearly scored in the first half, dragging a shot just wide of the left post.
It wasn't until the removal of starting left back Porfirio Lopez for Michael Farfan that the Union offense began to truly have some bite, as Farfan and his brother Gabriel Farfan combined on the left side to provide width opposite of Daniel. Even then the lack of creativity in the final third bite the Union repeatedly.
The positive of the game was goalkeeper Zac MacMath, who registered his first clean sheet of the year and had multiple saves that were game changers, including an early one-on-one stop of Le Toux.
"As I said, it's going to help all of these guys with their confidence," Nowak said of the team's and MacMath's performance. "We stopped the negative series, regardless of how you slice it, but we didn't get a goal. I think the defensive block was very solid."
Despite only taking one point from the team's first four games, Nowak was still thinking positively heading into the Union's two week break until April 14.
"It's still progress. It was more important to stop this negative series [of results]," said Nowak, "and make sure that we are going to progress as a team. We can't promise anything - all we can promise is to fight, and that's what the team did today for 90 minutes."