The Good: The second half
After the break, the Union controlled, if not dominated, the New York Red Bulls. The combination of first team players Sebastien Le Toux, Cristian Maidana, and Vincent Nogueira entering the game, subtraction of three of the fringe players, and the Red Bulls showing the signs of a packed schedule lead to a majority of the second half being played in the Red Bull half of the field. There were strings of the game where I wondered if Zac MacMath was still on the field because I hadn't seen him for such a long time.
Maidana and Nogueira took complete control of the Union offense, rotating around the field, moving the ball and then continuing their own movement to find different holes in the defense. They showed a touch and vision to send cutting balls down the line and lobbed passes behind the defense to set up their teammates. It was Nogueira with an inch perfect lob to the chest of Edu to set up one of the best chances to level the game from open play. Unfortunately, Edu could only direct his volley directly at Robles.
It is very obvious that the Nogueria-Maidana combination is better than most midfields in the league and the Union will go as far as those two stars take them this year.
The Bad: Two steps forward, one step back
With all of the talk about M'Bolhi taking over for Zac MacMath, the young keeper stepped up during the international break and gave two complete performances against Toronto, keeping a clean sheet in both meetings. If he was trying to make a statement and keep hold of his job, or trying to showcase his skills for any team looking for put together a trade offer, he did a good job. He looked like a solid veteran keeper and earned himself at least another start.
Now, I'm not blaming Zac for the penalty being scored. He's been superhuman when it comes to penalty saves and the kicker is always expected to score. It was the second goal though that falls squarely on his shoulders. The Union defenders did a good job all game of containing Red Bull attackers to long range shots and Henry's goal was no different. It was a shot at the top of the 18 arc, took a bounce a few yards in front of him and skipped over the diving keeper. It was a howler and a mental mistake to not make himself big to account for any additional movement from the bad weather. It put the Union in a hole that took until stoppage time to dig out of.
It is just one goal of the 43 that the Union have given up this season, but it could play a major role in the playoff chase and also in how much time MacMath sees the rest of the season.
The Ugly: Complete lack of depth
The Union survived Jim Curtin's lineup gamble. Just barely. If not for the Barry Bonds sized whiff by Ibrahim Sekagya that allowed Pedro Ribeiro to draw a game saving penalty, it would have been a wasted day and lost ground in the playoff race.
In preparation for the US Open Cup the starting line up was without Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams, Cristian Maidana, Vincent Nogueira, Conor Casey, and Sebastian Le Toux. Zac MacMath also continued his string of starts. It is safe to say the fringe players that were played in their spots failed to make a case for an upgrade in playing time. Fred and Fabinho were pretty much invisible on the field. Brian Carroll has an average day, but nothing to write home about. Danny Cruz whipped a fair amount of crosses into the box, but the only one that resulted in a dangerous opportunity was when Andrew Wenger made a drastic alteration to his initial run and caught the defender flatfooted.
Even Ribeiro who was named Man of the Match had a rather pedestrian game. It was just two plays that earned the honors for the rookie. His goal came off of a Red Bull clearance that his this foot and went into the goal. The second game changing play was when he stepped between Sekagya and the ball to earn a penalty that Le Toux would then finish. Beyond that, Casey in a wheelchair could have been more effective.
Knowing the other non-starters on the Union roster that have seen playing time are Lahoud, Berry, Brown, Fernandes, Hoppenot, and Wheeler it is time to start praying to the soccer gods to protect the starting XI from injury. The gap between the Union starting lineup and the fringe players is about as ugly as it gets. An injury or two plus a suspension could spell disaster in the lead up to the playoffs.