Last week I had wondered how much importance Jim Curtin would put in this game. Indeed, it turned out he sees the league as a priority. Jim Curtin re-introduced Carlos Valdes in defense, and other than the injured Cristian Maidana, Amobi Okugo was the only key player to not start, benched for Brian Carroll. Despite Curtin's trend of not playing Okugo as much as John Hackworth did, it is clear that the Union believe MLS game to be a priority.
As for the game itself let's be honest, it was a snoozer. However, there are still some talking points.
1. That Rais M'bolhi is some keeper.
Yes, I know, it was Zac MacMath in goal for the Union. Despite the Union's declaration a week ago that MacMath's last start would be last week against Sporting Kansas City, MacMath started again Saturday night and Rais M'Bolhi was not in the starting XI.
Curtin says Mbolhi "had business to take care of away from the game." Why he wasn't in the 18 tonight.— Dave Zeitlin (@DaveZeitlin) August 10, 2014
Hopefully the issue is nothing too serious and M'Bolhi is able to re-join the Union shortly. Enough about the Algerian keeper though, let's talk about Zac's performance.
First, it was Zac's long goal kick that sent Sebastien Le Toux scarpering off after for the first goal. The speed of getting the ball back into the field of play took everyone except for the French star by surprise. There was a huge mix-up in defense, and Montreal's Krzysztof Krol nodded the ball to the side of Troy Perkins, and allowed Frenchman Sebastien Le Toux to get a goal against the French Canadian side.
Looking at both goals, if there was going to be only one Union assist, it should have gone to MacMath. Other than that piece of quick-thinking, Zac was a commanding presence in goal, and had another good game in goal. Whatever happens in the next few months, Zac can be happy of the progress he has made for the Union and hold his head high.
2. Carlos Valdes and Ethan White could make a fantastic center back pairing.
With Carlos Valdes back in the team, one big question was who would play with him. I hoped that Ethan White would be the choice over Maurice Edu or Amobi Okugo and it was indeed White who got the chance to play with Valdes. While the passing out of the back wasn't that great, both defenders were solid enough having never played together before and gave ex-Union favorite Jack McInerney hardly a sniff at goal (just one header he put off-target). Both players are young, physical and strong enough to be one of the best central defensive partnerships in MLS. Let's hope that promise comes to fruition.
In general, the Union defense appears far more confident and strong than they did under Hackworth. The only blip yesterday was Sheanon Williams not tracking the run of Maxim Tissot who finished off a fantastic Andrew Romero cross with ease. The more that these four defenders play with each other, the better things will be as White's play continues to make us wonder what Hackworth was thinking for playing Aaron Wheeler over him.
3. The Union play counter-attacking football even against the worst team in the league.
The Union continue to play counter attacking football. That even happened against the team that is currently the worst in the league in Montreal. Curtin is taking the approach that not giving away goals and hitting teams on the break is the way to win games in MLS. There's not necessarily anything wrong with that, however the team gave Montreal far too much room to play. After a first half where nothing really happened apart from Le Toux's first goal, there was a lot of Montreal pressure. McInerney headed just wide/over the bar, there was a shot that came off the post and back into MacMath's arms and then the Montreal goal. The defense passing to midfield was poor, and even the midfielders gave the ball away trying to start a counter too quickly and inaccurately.
They played poorly, and got the three points. That is the kind of result that can get you into the playoffs. However, I wonder if Saturday was a good time to play Brian Brown from the start giving Casey the day off, and perhaps even starting Fred instead of Carroll. Two defensive mid Sticking to the same tactics against everyone can lead to things going wrong quickly. Let's hope this was just a poor performance instead of tactical sitting back.
4. The substitutions are as automatic as they were under John Hackworth.
In the Hackworth era it would way too frequently be Antoine Hoppenot coming on in the second half no matter the scoreline. Now, Hoppenot has been banished to Harrisburg City Islanders. That being said, while the people coming on have changed, Saturday's substitutions were identical to the substitutions used against . First, Andrew Wenger for Danny Cruz. Second, Brian Brown for Conor Casey. Third, Fred for Vincent Nogueira.
In terms of the subs, Andrew Wenger picked up an assist..... when his pass for one Frenchman (Nogueira) was so bad that it went nowhere it ended up at the foot of another Frenchman (Le Toux). Le Toux poked the ball under the legs of two Montreal defenders, and past a wrong-footed Perkins for his second goal of the game.
Brian Brown, on the other hand, was fairly anonymous. In his three games he has came on for less than 20 minutes each time and that isn't enough time to make any real impression. In the last game, he got the equalizer. This game, with time running out, he completely missed the ball when all he had to do was tap the ball home for a third goal to put the game away. Hopefully the nice headed finish last week is the real him, and not the poor attempt to score on Saturday.
Fred had little chance to really do much on the field. He held the ball well enough in the corner, although he should have been yellow carded for a deliberate hand ball. I wonder if he could have been used far earlier to give Vincent Nogueira some extra rest for Tuesday's game.
5. Sebastien Le Toux is always going to score goals when he is up front. Leave him there.
Seba now has 10 goals this season (all be it four from the penalty spot). Everyone knows that he can finish when given chances. However, for some unknown reason Le Toux gets played on the wing frequently. The Frenchman with the Polish nose is back playing where he plays best, and could be the one to propel the team to the playoffs (and hopefully US Open Cup final which will be at PPL Park).
So that's it for this week. I hope you enjoyed this enough (or hated it enough) to discuss the points raised in the comments section (no pun intended?). If not, at least answer the poll question.