While there were some vital games going on in MLS this weekend (especially that game in LA), the Philadelphia Union had nothing to play for other than pride. Maybe that was what helped keep the three points in Chester. However, the best reason for the win may be that the Union seem to be able to beat Sporting Kansas
City, taking an incredible 10 points out of the last 15 available against the current MLS champs.
There were a few important moments in the game that contributed to the final result:
1. Starting players with something to prove.
One thing that being out of contention does for a manager is it allows him to get a better look at players who haven't necessarily been playing. One such player on Saturday was Brian Brown, who the Union are going to want to look at before deciding whether or not to keep him. Brown is young (21) and has shown the ability to be a goalscorer. That's something he did on Saturday for the first Union goal, after he played the ball out to Cristian Maidana on the wing. Unlike a tiring Conor Casey, Brown carried on with his run, getting in position to receive the return pass from Maidana to put the Union 1-0 up.
If Brown can improve the rest of his game, he may be a valuable, cheap option as depth for the Union who will allow him to learn in MLS. In my opinion he needs to have a better all-round game against Columbus Crew next week to do that, as I thought he had a poor game overall on Saturday.
2. Cristian Maidana providing assists (but not finishes)
When Maidana has been on this year, the Union have been scoring and winning. If he has had an off-game or been injured, the Union have struggled. It is no real surprise that Maidana again provided the assists for both Union goals. He has the vision to be a leading creator in MLS (as he has been this season, despite not playing in every game). The passes weren't incredible, but both were inch-perfect allowing easy finishes for Brown and Pedro Ribeiro.
However, as good as those passes were, yet again we saw that Maidana's main weakness could be poor finishing. Good work by Andrew Wenger sent Maidana through on goal, only for the shot to go straight to the goalkeeper Eric Kronberg. Those are chances that you have to score, and the Union were lucky that Maidana's good play led to easy finishes, or we would yet again be talking about a bad miss causing dropped points.
3. Vincent Noguiera giving the ball away.
The Union went ahead, then the Union gave up a goal. It's been a common theme throughout the season, but it certainly isn't common when you realize that it was a mistake by Vincent Nogueira that led to the penalty. Instead of being his normal sure self, Nogueira was caught on the ball by the high pressure of the Kansas City offense. The Union defense weren't ready, and suddenly Soony Saad was through on goal. He rounded Zac MacMath, and MacMath did what so many keepers do, brought down the striker. It was an easy penalty decision, and this time MacMath wasn't the penalty hero as Dom Dwyer confidently scored from the penalty spot.
Given the fact that it was a rare mistake, and the Union came back to win the game I think we can forgive Vincent for this one.
4. The Referee letting them play.
There wasn't too many other clear cut game changers, so I am going to indulge in talking about one of my favorite moments of the season. It was in the first half, and Raymon Gaddis was upset at a late challenge by Benny Feilhaber. The ref didn't seem to see it, but Gaddis cleared the ball, and then turned around to discuss it with Feilhaber. The usually mild-mannered Gaddis then pushed Feilhaber over. The Assistant Referee was a couple of yards away, thought about signaling and decided that there was nothing more to it. It was a moment that showed how fired up the Union were, and it is nice to see players able to end it like adults, and the ref to not need to take action. Well done Ray Gaddis.
5. Brian Carroll coming on to the field.
Last week, instead of bringing on Brian Carroll, Jim Curtin brought on Pedro Ribeiro. This week, maybe learning from that mistake he brought on Brian Carroll. The move was to shore up the midfield and close out the game, and it worked as there were very few chances after that point for SKC. Not only was it a sound tactical decision, but it allowed Brian Carroll to probably play his last game at PPL park as a Union player. While he may not retire, he would be a good veteran presence for one of the new franchises, and could be an attractive pick up either by trade or in the expansion draft. This year, Carroll has been the target of much criticism but due to his work in the past Carroll had done enough for the Union to deserve to play in one last game at home.
So that was it, a game that was more memorable for the pre-game tailgate and a push than the actual action. Up next for the Union is a game in Columbus against a playoff team, looking to secure a better than 5th position and an easier run in the playoffs.