The Good: Aaron Wheeler
A huge shoutout goes out to Aaron Wheeler. Not only has he filled in for Austin Berry, but he has gone above and beyond the call and been named to the MLSsoccer.com Team of the Week. Anyone watching who didn't follow the Union until this week wouldn't have been able to tell that he is really a forward turned defender. His positioning was spot on, his size helped protect the box from crosses, and while most forwards are not known for their tackling, Wheeler might be the best tackling forward (turned defender) in the history of the game. He frustrated Di Vaio all afternoon and his efforts deserved a clean sheet.
His distribution could use some work out of the back and he did default to booting it out of tight spaces, which isn't the worst reaction in the world. This "Good" reward is not saying he's going to force Berry out of the starting lineup, but it gives the Union their first real depth at center back since....well...ever? It will allow Williams to remain on the wings when healthy and not have to play out of position in the center when there is an injury or suspension. It is a good feeling knowing there will be someone on the bench capable of stepping in and playing to the level of play in the league.
The Bad: Individual Performances
Overall the performances, outside of a small handful, were just not good enough to gain all 3 points on Saturday, but there were a few that stood out more than others. The first one that was dreadfully obvious was Fabinho. He made former Union winger Justin Mapp look like he should be on the plane to Brazil with the USMNT this summer. While Fabinho's offensive push is a great benefit to the team, his defensive ability is putting the team in bad positions. This is not a new revelation, the first home game he was the one trailing Fagundez on the point blank save MacMath had to make. This past weekend he was repeatedly beaten by Mapp and on one agonizingly drawn out play he lost out in a slow speed chase with Di Vaio.
While Mo Edu is headed to a USMNT call up, Saturday was not the performance expected out of a senior national team midfielder. One play in particular that stuck in my head was in the first half, Edu lost the ball around midfield, took a late swipe at the trailing leg of the Impact player who was breaking towards the goal that would have only resulted in a yellow card, and then walked back on defense as Montreal had a dangerous chance. I may be a bit harsh on Edu, but as a player trying to make a World Cup roster, earning a nice DP contract, and being handed the face of the franchise, I expect more than an average performance.
The wing play has also been absent at best. Last week I called out the formation, noting the confusing trend of Hackworth forcing Maidana to play on the right and LeToux on the left and it continued against Montreal. Both players fail to have any impact (no pun intended) on the game and continue to pulled from the game for other options. I sit somewhere between the players need to show more when they are on their natural side so they are too valuable to switch and Hackworth needs to stop overmanaging.
The Ugly: One is the loneliest number
The Union have been unable to find a second goal yet this season and it means to take home all 3 points the defense needs to be perfect and that is a lot of pressure each game. I understand the argument that it is still early in the season and it is a small sample size, but how many games do you need to see a trend? Here's the results including the preseason this year:
Union 1-1 New England Revolution (Preseason)
Union 1-2 New York Red Bulls (Preseason)
Union 1-1 Orlando City (Preseason)
Union 0-1 Columbus Crew (Preseason)
Union 0-0 Toronto FC (Preseason)
Union 1-1 Portland Timbers
Union 1-0 New England Revolution
Union 1-2 Columbus Crew
Union 1-1 Montreal Impact
That's an average of 0.77 goals a game in the 9 games played this calendar year and not a single multiple goal game from the boys in blue. Until the Union figure out how to put a second goal in the back of the net they will continue to struggle to get the full 3 points.
Bonus Ugly: Studs Up Tackles
A quick shout out to MLS and the regular referees (welcome back) for making a real effort to clean up the studs up tackles from the game. If you've been watching highlights from around the league you're starting to see the red card flashed pretty quickly for studs up tackles. It is obvious the league is taking a hard stance and pushing the officials to make a statement. I think they could even be a bit harsher to make sure the point gets across.
The red card to Andrew Wenger this weekend was the perfect example. There wasn't a ton of contact and it wasn't a situation where anyone needed to be carted off the field with a broken leg, but the studs were up, and it was treated appropriately. There shouldn't need to be an end of career injury to result in a red card and making the punishment a regular reaction even for a tackle without contact, the players will soon get the hint.
I wouldn't mind the league taking the stance one step further and extending the strict zero tolerance policy on scissor tackles. There is absolutely no need for the second trailing leg to sweep through the back of the opponents legs. It is not a natural motion and it does not aid in tackling. The only intention is to bring down the opponent and/or to injure. MLS has always been a bit of a rough and tumble league, and there is nothing wrong with a good shoulder-shoulder duel, but it has to be a safe league or the creativity and skill will suffer in favor of brutes and goons.