The dearth of goals continued for the Philadelphia Union on Saturday evening, as FC Dallas controlled the match and took advantage of some defensive sloppiness to down the Union 2-0 at Pizza Hut Park.
Philadelphia head coach Peter Nowak started the match with Carlos Ruiz on the bench. Many Union fans had pointed the finger at Ruiz for the sudden departure of a once-prolific attack. Thus far this season, 2010 scorers like Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux have struggled to find their form, while Ruiz has looked out of place in the schemes proposed by Nowak.
The early going looked favorable for the Union, especially on the counter attack. While Dallas had the better of possession in the early going, Philadelphia came closest to edging ahead. In the 13th minute, Justin Mapp led the Union on the break off an FC Dallas set piece. A low cross by Brian Carroll found Amobi Okugo, but the youngster lost his footing and shot well wide. Two minutes later, Mapp found himself free down the left wing. As he approached goal he passed back to Carroll, but his shot was deflected away by Dallas defender Ugo Ihemelu. There were at least two other solid chances early in the first half for the Union to break through, but they were unable to capitalize on those opportunities.
The game changed in the 29th minute, when Fabian Castillo broke free from a scrum along the right touch line. Center back Carlos Valdes got caught flat-footed. Castillo passed across the 6 yard box to an unmarked Brek Shea who buried the sitter for the early 1-0 lead.
This goal seemed to rattle the Union, whose back line had been the reason for success this season. In 2010 these types of breakdowns were commonplace. Valdes, Danny Califf, and goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon had earned honors from the media for the marked turnaround from a suspect bunch the previous year. On this night the backline looked tired. The 33rd minute saw a hard shot by Marvin Chavez just go wide, after being offered much time on the ball by Califf. Nearly 10 minutes later, Dallas doubled the lead as Castillo headed home a perfect cross from the right back, Jackson.
Nowak tried to inject some life into the offense at the half by bringing on Ruiz and Jack McInerney for Mapp and Carroll. These changes showed negligible impact on the final result. In fact, in a game where a team is 2 goals down, it might be expected to see some sustained play in the offensive third. While the Union did end up maintaining possession in the latter portions of the match, only one shot was registered on frame (a modest effort from 25 yards from Mwanga in the 77th minute). Perhaps the best shot came from Roger Torres in the 65th minute, but it sailed just past the upper right corner.
The trouble for Philadelphia right now is that the talent level just doesn't appear to be high enough, especially in the central midfield. This hurt even more in this match. We watched Andrew Jacobson, a guy traded from the Union for next to nothing in February, thrive in the FC Dallas system. Every match becomes a story of ceding possession just inside their own half. The constant pressure on the defense finally showed cracks tonight, with the entire back line looking spent. The Union cannot seem to retain possession for any stretch of time, especially on the road, unless their opponent is ahead and can afford to sit back.
For all off the talk of Ruiz being a poor fit in the offense (I myself being one of the talkers), there were no major breakthroughs in the first half. It's becoming clear that the lack of quality possession is taking it's toll on the team, both in its record and on its back line. Until Nowak devises a better offensive tactic to take pressure off the defense, this team will struggle to maintain its early form.