With two games in a week, it was a busy time for the Philadelphia Union. The fan reaction to last week's disappointing loss to D.C. United made it even more difficult, and injury issues (Edu's concussion and Carroll's groin) added to the problems facing John Hackworth and company.
The Union players rallied around the embattled manager and gave a solid performance on Wednesday night in Kansas City - with a 2-1 win relieving some pressure on John Hackworth. However, there were some casualties from that game - Fabinho accumulated one too many yellow cards meaning he missed Saturday's game, and Corben Bone spent less time on the field than Sporting Kansas City spent level after their equaliser, picking up a red card.
Possibly the injury/suspension issues added up with tiredness to hinder the Union for Saturday's loss to the Revolution. However, I'm one of those that believe the players are professional sportsmen, and without a very long flight, the "tiredness" excuse is just handy for those looking to make excuses for a poor performance.
In terms of game-changing moments - there were a few talking points we can discuss :-
For the Kansas City game :-
1) Can we play Kansas away every week?
I don't know what it is about playing Sporting - but time and time again, John Hackworth manages to get the best out of his players when they line up against Kansas City. The 4-0 win in Hackworth's second game as Union manager after Peter Nowak's firing. The 1-0 win last season. One of the better attacking performances of 2013 was the first half of the home opener against Kansas City. This time, SKC again went up against an inspired Union. Despite claims that it was one of the worst performances of the year by Hackworth, it was an almost perfect away performance, stifling the Kansas City superstars while getting plenty chances at the other end.
2) Amobi the Captain, Amobi the Defensive Midfielder.
Brian Carroll was hurt. Maurice Edu was concussed and off to the USMNT camp. Michael Lahoud was off on international duty. John Hackworth was short on options at defensive midfielder, and gave Amobi Okugo the chance to play his natural position. Amobi also got the captains armband, and didn't let Hackworth down with those decisions. Amobi was a giant in the midfield, closing down everything that came his way. If that is the typical performance from Amobi in the position, we need to find a new central defensive partner for Berry ASAP.
3) Zac MacMath saving Fabinho's sluggish defending.
While the defending/counter-attacking tactics employed on Wednesday night worked great - there were some moments of panic for MacMath to mop up. He made 2 great saves in the first half to keep the Union level. If Kansas had taken the lead at any point, especially in the first half - after the boos/chants from the weekend before then you can see the players heads going down. Thankfully that didn't happen, and we ended up getting our 2nd 3points of the season, with a lot of thanks to Zac.
4) Andrew Wenger the provider.
The Union traded away their top scorer of the last 2 seasons to get Wenger. So far, we didn't see much evidence that Wenger will score even half of the amount of goals Jack McInerney will. However what Wenger can do is hold the ball up better than Jack, and he did that perfectly on Wednesday. Getting the ball under control, he managed to hold off most of the Kansas City defense before picking out an open Cristian Maidana to slot home the winning goal. If Wenger can get someone to play up front with him - and feed off of him - he may be a very important player for the Union going forward.
On to the New England Revolution loss :-
A) - Wenger shot first.
Ok, i know that it was a header, and New England had a shot off target, but on Star Wars day have to get some kind of link in right? This time, the incident in question is the 3rd minute header by Andrew Wenger. Unfortunately, unlike in the classic Star Wars Movie, it didn't end well for our "hero". Somehow, Brad Knighton made a save that is surely going to be the front-runner for save of the week, when he somehow managed to keep Wenger's header out of the net. The Union confidence must have been higher coming off the Kansas City win, and if Wenger's header found the back of the net like Han Solo's blaster found Greedo.
B) Defensive meltdowns.
Goal 1 - free header, Zac MacMmath nowhere. Goal 2 - Sheanon Williams played Teal Bunbury onside, who has too much room to pick out Diego Fagundez, and this time Zac can't make a wonder save. Goal 3 - in fairness this was fantastic play by Lee Nguyen, who was a class above anyone else on the field. However, he made Ray Gaddis and Austin Berry look foolish. Goal 4 - poor foul to give away, and Zac got caught going a step behind his wall. Goal 5 - defense was all over the place really, and Patrick Mullins finished well (it would be nice to have someone that can finish on the Union's roster).
Any time you lose 5 at home you are going to look at the defense as having had a bad day. While Amobi was outstanding on Wednesday in midfield, you have to wonder if having him in defense and someone else in midfield would have been better. Having nobody to be that someone in midfield was the issue with that option. Instead, Wheeler was back in defense, alongside someone who he hadn't played with at all, and Sheanon Williams was also out of position. New England's offense is a powerful one (despite early season struggles) - but for me the team selection made it easier for them.
C) Penalty Decisions
I have to confess, i have yet to see a conclusive replay of any of the two penalty decisions. However, from my view (about 5 feet away from the tackle) I would say Amobi Okugo definitely fouled Teal Bunbury just before the Union got the penalty. Whether it was "sympathy", my eyes were deceiving me, or just a bad decision, the officials said play on. If I was Bunbury, I'd be upset at not getting the penalty. If I was Okugo - I may be surprised the ref didn't point to the spot. Never mind, play raged on and........
Antoine Hoppenot went over for a penalty reward, that Le Toux dispatched with his usual aplomb. There wasn't any evidence of contact that i could see in replays, but it doesn't take much to bring any player down, particularly our Antoine. The referee, maybe unaware of his "diving past" gave the penalty, if only the ref gave the foul in the first half when Danny Cruz took a "tumble", my sunglasses may have made it out unscathed.
D) Fans picking the substitutions
No. I don't really think that Zach Pfeffer was introduced because the Sons of Ben chanted for him to come on. I give Hackworth a bit more credit than that. Pfeffer for Leo Fernandes was a sub that needed to be made at half-time, as Fernandes has lost some of his early season magic it seems. However, it is funny to think that Hackworth is taking advice from the stands for which subs to make. Next week - will the Starting XI be chanted in the tailgate area?(Tell us in the comments section below who you would be chanting for).
Pfeffer certainly showed enough in his few minutes on the field to get more playing time. With all of the suspensions, injuries and national team call-ups surely he will get that chance in Los Angeles. If he can repeat the rumored performances for the US under 20s and from Germany with Hoffenheim, the Union may be in better shape than when he was in the stands.
When you add in the singing of Bohemian Rhapsody (and even a rumored "We'd rather support the Red Bulls" chant) - it seems the River End made their own entertainment, as at that point only New England Revolution fans would have been entertained by what was going on between the four corner flags.
E) We got our free haircut (but most people wouldn't have realised until they got home)
The 67th minute. Patrick Mullins, who had annoyed the Union fans with his antics all game, lashes the ball past MacMath for a 5-1 Revs lead. That was enough for many of the Union fans in attendance, and they decided to get out before the parking lot crush began. However, from that point - the Revs took their foot off the gas, and the Union got two "garbage time goals" for the free haircut. Therefore, if you left at the 67th minute, and didn't know the final score reading this - go and get your haircut. Thinking about the Union - it may be another year before you get another one.
Bonus Combined "Game-Changing Moment" - Union players being those getting sent off.
We all start to believe that the opposition get a red card, and the Union collapse. These last two games, red cards have been given to Union midfielders. These two games, they seemed to play well enough with a man down (scoring a third goal even). This even goes back to last season, where the Union struggled with a man advantage (especially against Toronto FC) yet did well when a man up (Kleberson's goal). Maybe, when you have referees that like to give out red cards - a Union player should sacrifice himself for the good of the team and get a red card?
In terms of these decisions, the Kansas City red card (Corben Bone) didn't change anything really. Bone probably isn't going to get many minutes from here on out, and it was close enough to the end that the Union held on. However, it was also a decision I think was harsh on Bone - the tackle was more a yellow card tackle than red card tackle.
None of that can be said about Maidana's red card. It was high, studs up, and likely deserved that red card. He is an important part of this team, but now he will likely miss at least the 2 trips to LA (and possibly will not play again before the World Cup break). It didn't really change the outcome of the match, but will affect the Union going forward.
Bonus rant of the week - Who is the person coming up with the Man of the Match awards?
Ok. Who is it that decides who the man of the match is? Whoever it is, I want whatever drug they had taken before. Sebastien Le Toux came on in the 60th minute, so should never be the man of the match for 30 minutes of play. That is especially true when you have someone of the quality of Vincent Nogueira playing consistently high quality soccer, and scoring the best goal in a Union shirt this season. One can only assume that the decision to give Le Toux man of the match was due to confusing the two Frenchmen. If it is the same person doing the man of the match choice week in week out - quit with the PR decisions. If it is someone else - please make sure they are qualified to decide the man of the match in future.