Everyone that is old enough to legally drink (and I am sure some of us not old enough) have their own hangover cures. It probably ranges from not drinking in the first place to energy drinks to some concoction of food blended together that seems undrinkable. Whatever your own hangover cure is, I think the Union need to try it, as they seem to be playing with a permanent hangover.
A mere 9 days after throwing away 2 points against a struggling Chicago Fire team, the Philadelphia Union were back in action at PPL park, in yet another must win game against the Columbus Crew. Would the team and coaches learn from the mistakes of the past to get the win? Or with the New York Red Bulls winning against Toronto FC, would the final whistle bring the end of the Playoff Push?
Unless you are reading this having not seen the result or game, you know the answer. If you are reading this clueless... don't read on.
1) The Union not being "healthy" or playing their best XI.
Conor Casey, Sebastien Le Toux, Ethan White and Sheanon Williams were all unable to play against Chicago Fire. This week, only Sheanon missed out while Cristian Maidana had a mystery illness. However, even although Casey and Le Toux managed to get into the starting XI there were questions over how healthy they really were. The fact both were relatively ineffective before being substituted suggested they weren't 100%.
Having to automatically substitute two players is a problem as it reduces your ability to change the game tactically with substitutions. The players are also likely to be playing at a lower level than normal. Whether just tiredness or because of injury, not having everyone at 100% in a must win game is not going to give the team the best opportunity to win that game.
Add in the fact that according to this tweet, Jim Curtin actually chose Fabinho over Sheanon Williams. While Sheanon may have struggled at times this year, Fabinho is never in a million years a better option in a must win game. That decision should seal the fact that Curtin won't be the next head coach of the Union.
2) Missing free headers from six yards away.
First chance was this one. After a turnover caused by Vincent Nogueira, Sebastien Le Toux found Andrew Wenger at the far post, six yards out, and Wenger put the header wide. It was in the second minute of the game, and could have completely changed the outlook of the game as Columbus would have had to come out, allowing the Union to play on the counter. For all the effort that Wenger showed in the game, it is all irrelevant as he just has to score that chance. Similar to the Maidana miss against Chicago, he seemed to get too cute, and missed the target.
The second chance was a bit more central, more difficult as he was being marked, but Wenger headed straight at the keeper, quite weakly. If he can turn those chances into goals, he may be a good (even great?) MLS winger in future. Otherwise, the idea of him being a full back may come to fruition.
3) Lucky bounces going the Union's way.
There are some wonderful goals scored every year in soccer. There are also some scrappy, lucky goals that are maybe even more important to the teams involved. The Union took a 2-0 lead late into the game because of two of these types of goals. The first was from a knock down by Amobi Okugo, who has been getting into the box more often recently. Danny Cruz was there to almost mishit the ball into the back of the net, off a slight deflection. It had left the keeper no chance, and sometimes mishitting the shots are better than getting a true strike.
The second goal was off a typical Union counter-attack. Andrew Wenger did very well to nod the clearance on to Vincent Nogueira. The Frenchman had his shot saved, and it hit the post. Wenger, like any good goalpoacher will do followed up, got a lucky bounce off the post, and it was 2-0 Union, and it seemed as if the game was in the bag.
4) The substitutions not being tactical enough.
While Jim Curtin was not necessarily outcoached in this game, there are still some major question marks about the substitutions he made (as well as early tactics). The continued refusal to play two strikers is head-scratching, but the subs Curtin did make are even more so.
The first substitute was both needed in terms of Conor Casey being gassed, and the correct one to make. Danny Cruz came on to great effect, getting the goal and being a general nuisance. It allowed Le Toux to move to the striker role, and it was a different look for the Union. It is the kind of move that has been missing recently, and it was nice to see.
However, the other subsitutions are ones that really should have been different. First off, the Union had taken a 2-0 lead in the 75th minute. The second Union substitution was in the 80th minute. By the 80th minute it was 2-2. Before the 3rd Union substitution it was 3-2. That sub came in the 85th minute. That's a 10-minute spell where things went horribly wrong for the Union. What should John Hackworth, I mean Jim Curtin, have done differently in my opinion?
Well firstly, when you have seen the team go from 2-0 up to be pegged back to 2-2 and you take off your talisman goalscorer, for a player in Pedro Ribeiro that was going to be played out of position, that's just wrong. For me, my sub would have been at 2-0 to take off Le Toux and bring on Maidana. Maidana is a guy that can hold up the ball, still create chances but certainly waste time, as he has done so well in the past. There is the fact that maybe Maidana wasn't healthy due to illness, so why then was he on the subs bench? That's also a terrible decision if true.
If Maidana can't go however, bring on Brian Carroll, thus moving Edu and Nogueira forward, and playing Wenger up top. This keeps everything very compact, as well as gives the team another experienced head that knows how to see out games. Neither was done, and it was 2-2 and the ineffective Ribeiro was brought on. This also meant, in a must win game, the Union yet again did not play with two strikers. That wasn't done until the Union were 3-2 down, and Antoine Hoppenot was brought on. The Union may as well not have even tried considering how little Hoppenot's contribution to the game was.
You can certainly point to the fact that the subs bench was very thin in talent, so who do you bring on instead of the subs made (especially with Maidana likely being unavailable but on the bench)? The matchday 18 didn't include Brian Brown, Zach Pfeffer or Aaron Wheeler, all of whom may have been better options than the ones used.
5) The Collapse.
Disgraceful. Disgusting. Depressing. All of those are perfectly acceptable ways to describe that five minute spell when the Union went from 2-0 ahead to 3-2 behind.
The first Columbus goal came from yet another absolutely disgusting clearance from a Union player. This time it was Fabinho who cleared the ball into the middle of the field, on the ground, allowing the oppsotion to get the ball back. The Crew spread it wide to where Fabinho should have been defending and sent a great cross in to the box that was expertly finished by Ethan Finlay. It is now 2-1 to the Union and that ugly feeling in the pit of Union fans stomachs was stirring.
The second goal, a mere minutes after the first was again all down the left hand side. Fabinho had decided to jog back when Columbus were breaking, taking himself out of the game. It is unacceptable for a full back when up 2-1 to a). be caught that far forward and b). be lackadaisical in getting back. Carlos Valdes and Maurice Edu did their best to help out Fabinho by doing the exact same thing. Then Ethan White was pushing/pulling his attacker who was doing the same to him and both fell over in what was determined to be a 50/50 tussle. Okugo was back covering, but his tackle attempt was very poor, and Justin Meram coolly equalized. For the second time in nine days, the Union gave up a lead at home, something that Jim Curtin had emphasized should never happen.
The third goal came from the right hand side as Carlos Valdes got caught on his heels. This allowed Jairo Arrieta to nip in front of him to get the winner for Columbus, and knock the Union out of playoff contention. It has been a sad end to the season, and one which the Union players and staff will be embarrassed about when they have to watch those five minutes in the video room today. Forget hangover cures, we all need to find some way of being able to remove the memory of the game from our recollections.
After the game, I was one of a group of Philadelphia Union founding members taking part in the "U Thank U" photo event. What should have been a fun, memorable event was more like a funeral, maybe apt due to the death of the playoff push. With the USOC Final confidence gone, was that the hangover that the Union needed to recover from?