Let me say something before we even begin. There were three Union games over the space of seven days. That's a lot of soccer, and it is unlikely any team will win all three of them. If there is one of those games to lose, it is on the road against Houston. the Union have to beat the worst team in the league at home, and being able to host (and possibly win) the US Open Cup final is a can't miss opportunity. Therefore, it was a very productive seven days for the Union. With that said, here are this week's game-changing moments.
1) Three Games in seven days is a lot of soccer, 2) Two games in four days in the heat and humidity of Texas is almost a punishment, and 3) Jim Curtin didn't take this into consideration.
It is a lot to ask anyone to play all out soccer for 90 minutes 3 times a week. When you add in extra time, it's even harder. It may sound like excuses, but it's true. When Sebastien Le Toux, the guy that seemingly can never stop running is asking to be taken out of the game, you know it's been very tiring.
When you look at the players who played in all three games:
- Maurice Edu - all 3 games, 300 minutes (plus injury time), plus the All-Star game and travel to his schedule.
- Ray Gaddis - all 3 games, 300 minutes (plus injury time)
- Vincent Nogueira - all 3 games, 278 minutes
- Sebastien Le Toux - all 3 games, 264 minutes
Those guys should not have had to play all three games. Jim Curtin was a lot more sensible with Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okugo, Brian Carroll and Carlos Valdes who played two games each. Conor Casey and Danny Cruz started two games, but were subbed out of both of them.
That is a lot of playing time. Add in the heat and humidity (with no water breaks) of playing 210 minutes in Texas for Edu and Gaddis, it is no wonder that they looked out of breath and gassed towards the end of the game. The first Houston goal was a breakaway, the second was a breakaway, and Gaddis was so tired he couldn't do anything other than deflect the ball into the back of the net.
While those guys played all those minutes, Zach Pfeffer, Leo Fernandes, Aaron Wheeler and Austin Berry got nowhere near the team. Brian Brown didn't play in the last game (not even on the bench) and Fred had only 22 minutes of play. Jim Curtin underused his squad in the Houston game. The following line-up may have been a better idea:
Blake; Gaddis (subbed for Williams), Valdes, Berry, Fabinho; Carroll, Okugo (subbed for Edu); Wenger (subbed for Cruz), Ribeiro, Pfeffer; Brown have been so bad in a game you were likely to lose anyway?
That's not even taking into consideration that Curtin could have used Wheeler and Fernandes instead of Brown and Wenger. There may well have been some injuries that meant those players couldn't be used, but there was absolutely no reason to play Gaddis and Edu for every minute of all three games. While resting the tired players may not have got any points from the Houston game there is also the next few weeks to think of. Tired legs tend to carry on to future games, lets hope that's not the case from a losing game anyway.
Another time that "tired legs" hurt apart from the two Houston goals was when Le Toux couldn't race through on goal when an Andre Blake punt found him clear of the defense. Instead of racing closer, getting a better shot, Seba decided to shoot from distance and it was an easy save for Tally Hall. Le Toux has plenty of confidence right now, but just perhaps the legs were too tired to run the extra 5-10 yards for an easier shot.
The first half in Houston was a pretty decent showing. The second half wasn't. Tired legs obviously showed, and considering it was 0-0 at the half, the tiredness, heat and humidity all had as big a game changing effect than anything else. Even Vincent Nogeuira wasn't able to find passes that usually are easy for him.
4) Pedro Ribeiro not knowing when to "dive".
Early in the first half, Pedro Ribeiro took a tumble that Danny Cruz would be happy with. There was some slight contact, not enough for a free kick, and he fell over. Baldomero Toledo didn't fall for it, and there was no free kick. Fast forward 20-30 minutes, and Ribeiro was sent through on goal and hauled back by David Horst already on a yellow card. This time, instead of falling down, Pedro kept on going and lost the ball. While diving itself is something that shouldn't be tolerated, falling over when you are actually fouled seems to be the only way to get a free kick. Guys like Alejandro Moreno knew this, and were masters at winning free kicks. Not only would this have led to a dangerous free kick, but Horst would have been sent off. This was a moment where more experience would have led to a big change in momentum in the Union's favor.
In time, Ribeiro will learn when to stay strong and keep going, and when to fall over. Playing out of position as the main striker, he had a strong start but faded quickly as the Union sat further and further back. The future is bright with Ribeiro, hopefully these aren't his only minutes of the year.
5) Andre Blake
If you were going to pick one player to have played all three games, it would probably be the goalkeeper who doesn't run as much as outfield players. However, it was also a good time to give Andre Blake a start and let the majority of Union fans see their #1 draft pick for the first time.
Overall, Blake had a good game. His distribution was solid, and he seemed confident enough. He also made all the easy saves comfortably, as well as managing to make a few great saves.
At the same time, he is also a young keeper. While older than Zac MacMath, he doesn't have as much big game experience. This also showed in some of the decisions he made coming for balls. There were some crosses he decided to try and catch instead of punch clear, and there was a few breakaways from Houston that he didn't come out to stop, when maybe he could have.
For Houston's first goal, it was all too easy as the ball into space behind a high line was run on to by Giles Barnes
, and he easily picked out Will Bruin
in the middle to tap home. When you think back to the FC Dallas
game, there was a lot of similar balls played behind the Union defense. That time, other than the FC Dallas goal, MacMath was always in a position to come out and play sweeper. Blake didn't seem as confident doing that.
Would Blake have got to the ball and cleared it for the first goal? Who knows. It is difficult to pinpoint his starting position on replay. However, he was never in a position to do anything to stop the goal in reality.
These are all things, like with Ribeiro, that Blake is going to learn the more he plays. However, he is big, will learn to be intimidating, and he showed he knows how to make saves. The Union have a lot of goalkeeping talent, let's hope they know what to do with them and if they make any trades, they get something worthwhile in return.
Up next for the Philadelphia Union
is the San Jose Earthquakes
and the return of Shea Salinas. Keep an eye out for my preview of that game, as well as some other special articles I have lined up for you.