The long wait for the first MLS home game in Philadelphia was over. A beautiful day would set the tone for a great evening to come. The Sons of Ben marched to Lincoln Financial Field. We didn't have Drew Carey but we had our own celebrity on hand in Joe Biden. The stadium meant for the NFL filled its lower deck with 34,870 Philadelphia soccer fans to cheer its own team on to victory. An impressive event indeed.
A very different Philadelphia Union team showed up yesterday. 3 new faces and a reshuffled lineup brought experience and balance to the squad. Fred and Miglioranzi made their start in the midfield while Arietta was brought on for defense. With Stahl out and Myrie gone, Orozco was brought back to strengthen a dwindling back line. Young Mwanga and Myrie were replaced by players with more years under their belt and it showed.
The starting formation:
The first half was fantastic. Both teams came out with a lot of energy. A direct kick was given at 2:50. Torres took an excellent shot and forced United keeper Perkins to make the first save. The key mistake here was Perkins keeping the ball in play. Moreno chased down the rebound to the sideline, gets control and passes to Torres. Without much time to spare Torres sent a beautiful ball down to the 6 yard line with LeToux waiting. LeToux was unmarked and able to make the diving header for the first goal in Union history at 3:07.
Getting that early goal was absolutely huge. The Union were clearly playing a style much different than what we saw in Seattle. They slowed things down, maintained possession and even offered some glimpses of real creativity.
In soccer, the little things really do make the difference. Perkins keeping the ball in play for Goal 1. Moreno hustling to keep things alive and Torres with the perfect placement to LeToux. For Goal 2 the little thing was Cristian Arietta making a tough defensive clear that sent him to the ground but got the ball to Moreno near midfield. Moreno keeps control and plays an absolutely perfect long curving pass that splits the defense caught in transition. LeToux had the speed to keep up, got behind both defenders and pulled the trigger at the exact moment he needed to for the second goal of the night at 40 minutes past.
What doesn't make me proud though is poor defending, and disorganization. If a casual observer was to turn on the game without having any background knowledge, he would have guessed incorrectly which side was the expansion team.
The second half was a different story. As a seasoned Philadelphia sports fan I know to get worried when things are looking a little too good. To expect some sort of intensity loss when your team is up by a few scores and to deal with the consequences. DC really came out hungry early in that second half and I could see that the Union looked just a bit flat. Energy returned a few minutes in and LeToux was all alone on a break away at 52 minutes that could have easily been the 3rd goal but Perkins made a good save to deny him.
A weak and poorly placed pass from Orozco handed DC United their first big opportunity. You have to hand it to Santino Quaranta for his control and composure to take that shot so non-chalantly 25 yards out. I can only assume Seitz was caught off-guard, sleeping or screen by a defender on that one. I don't think anyone on the defense expected that shot when it came. The game now sat Union 2 - United 1.
The next major moment was one of the oddest sequences that I've ever seen in a soccer game. Seitz makes a big save at 64 minutes off of a corner. He steps out to the edge of the 18. As he waits for the team to get up field DC's Moreno hangs around to harass the keeper. Imitating Seitz movement as he goes to make the kick causes confusion. The ball falls to the ground, Moreno, picks it up and scores. Apparently this is something that Moreno has done before but I've never seen it. I don't really give him points for being crafty. I give him points for being a douchebag. There are certain lines for respect in soccer and doing that to the keeper is crossing it. Seitz hesitates a few times waiting for Moreno to move away and most times strikers will. Under FIFA rules the keeper can only maintain possession of the ball in his hands for up to 6 seconds or else an indirect free kick is given. Seitz knows he is near the possession limit and tries to get rid of the ball while Moreno is all over him. Either way, it was a huge embarrassing mistake for the young keeper and one that thankfully did not cost Philadelphia the game. Union 2 - United 2.
At this point the game felt like it was starting to slip away. The stupidity of that second goal was hard to shake. Could this expansion team bounce back and take this game after handing the other team a goal like that?
DC United's Dejan Jakovic gave us another chance to win by getting a red card denying a goal scoring opportunity on a long pass from Orozco to Moreno at 78 minutes. This set up a free kick just outside of the 18 on the top of the circle with LeToux as the taker. He had been the man all night but I knew asking for a hat trick out of him was bordering on ridiculous at this point in the Union's life. LeToux delivered with a perfect shot into the lower left corner past Perkins. The Union went up 3-2 and held on for the win.
I was on the phone with someone after the game who described the atmosphere. He said that a bunch of the players went and leaped up into the crowd at one of the endzones, got pulled up into cheering fans and started dancing. Awesome.
A couple of scattered thoughts after the game:
- Torres is really turning into an essential player for us on the outside.
- Fred really helped clean up the center midfield and enable better distribution.
- Defense played solid. Orozco and Arietta played well despite Orozco's turnover that led to first DC goal.
- Moreno played a great game despite being hacked quite a bit.
- LeToux seems to recognize the opportunity he has here in Philadelphia to be the go to guy and boy is he taking advantage of that. Hats off to the hat trick.
Let's not disregard reality: while this was a great win it came against a struggling team. With that said, the euphoria of watching your newborn soccer team win is great and has carried over strongly into the next day. It will likely last just a few short days until the next match at Toronto on Thursday (April 15th). I'm just excited to watch this team develop and can't wait to be part of that home crowd.