The Good: Ball Movement
The first half of the home opener was some of the best soccer a team wearing Union kits has ever played. The finishing was lacking, but the ball movement, possession, and tempo of play was exactly where it needed to be, and everyone was involved. The formation was fluid as well. Take the goal for instance, Fernandes cycles wide, holds of Andrew Farrell and finds Sebastien Le Toux who had cycled centrally. The New England defense couldn't handle the rotation and Le Toux does what he does best on Union home openers and put the chance away.
The stats showed how good the Union performance was. The 499 passes completed was the second highest in the league last weekend, only behind Seattle's 569. The passing accuracy was also extremely high at 82%. Both totals that could only be dreamed about last year. Even in the most impressive Union result in 2013, the 3-0 win over New York Red Bulls, the total passes completed were only 415. John Hackworth said he would bring a more fluid, attacking, beautiful style of play and the first half was exactly what I wold expect from that style. So far this season he is living up to his word. There is still room to improve the consistency, as the second half showed, but its still early in the season.
The Bad: Defensive Depth
In the first half Fabinho was showing obvious signs of an injury and despite the clean sheet in the end, the injury put the team at risk. He wasn't able to track Fagundez on New England's most dangerous chance, a point blank shot that MacMath came up with a save of the week worthy stop. Fabinho seemed to shake off the injury and had a solid second half, but the question that it raises is who would come on if he wasn't able to continue though? With Williams injured there is no cover for the outside backs. It is great to have 3 capable outside backs, but there is no second level of coverage. One injury, or one suspension, and there is no cover.
This season there is finally some coverage at the center back position. Ethan White came to the Union from DC in the offseason and was on the bench with striker, turned center back, Aaron Wheeler. When Berry was forced to come off with an injury the decision to skip over White and send in Wheeler was an interesting one. White and Richie Marquez played most of the early preseason games at center back, however Wheeler has become the third center back on the depth chart. Wheeler did a decent job, but may not be a long term solution if Berry or Okugo have to miss long term time. If Wheeler isn't the solution, and Hackworth doesn't trust Marquez or White above him, there are major questions as to the depth of this defense.
The Ugly: Replacement Refs
There wasn't much of a let down in replacement referees in the Portland opener, however, this weekend it was painfully obvious that not all of the replacement referees are up to the job. The center referee for the home opener was erratic and inconsistent in his calls. You could tell it in the players who more times than not were not arguing with the ref for the sake of arguing, but were confused at the reason calls went the way they did. Noguiera and Wheeler were the most obvious victims of this and were growing more and more frustrated as the game went along.
The center referee was not the only culprit on Saturday. The fourth office was equally as erratic. It might not have been seen by those at the game, but it was noted on the telecast on the Union's sub of McInerney and the Revolution's sub of Tierney. Both happened at corner kicks and both coaches requested to let the corner kick happen with those players on the field and let the sub happen at the next opportunity. The fourth official in both instances overruled the coaches and forced the substitutions to take place because their player passes had already been submitted. There is no reason the fourth official should have forced such power over the game and it is time that MLS figures out an agreement and gets the best (relative term) officials in the country back to work. We all love to complain about the level of officiating in MLS, but in the end, it is better than the guys that are the second tier.