Due to the weekly nature of this column, this is a two for one game changers including the Philadelphia Union's U.S. Open Cup Final loss to Sporting Kansas City and the Union's road MLS loss to Toronto FC. Firstly, sorry that I have to drag your memories of the US Open Cup final back out. Secondly, due to what was probably some weather related interference, I was unable to view all of the TFC-Union match so we'll have to make do with what we can there. Without further ado, I'll get right to the points where the game flow and outcome were changed.
Cup Final Game Changer 1:- A very nice Noguiera Through ball was the only chance put away
The Cup Final was yet again an amazing experience for the fans who went to the game. Those sitting at home may have been saved some of the heartache of watching yet another team lift a trophy on home soil, but they definitely missed out on an amazing atmosphere at PPL Park. Yet again Philadelphia took the lead in the first half, as an incredible through ball by Vincent Nogueira found Sebastien Le Toux racing through. The Frenchman continued his incredible scoring record in the USOC and slotted the ball home, sending PPL Park into jubilant cheers.
However, it could have and should have been much better for Philadelphia in that first half. They had a fantastic chance earlier when the ball fell to C.J. Sapong right in the middle of goal, and the in-form striker's shot dribbled into a relieved Tim Melia in the KC goal. Later in the half, another excellent Nogueira through ball was picked up by Le Toux, only this time his touch took him wide and he couldn't finish. After the first Melia save, Tranquillo Barnetta had a chance that was fantastically saved by the keeper. If they went in two or three goals up, then I'm sure that the outcome is different.
Cup Final Game Changer 2: Jim Curtin's substitutions
In the post-game interviews, Jim Curtin made sure to deflect the criticism of his players on to him. While sometimes this is just a manager sticking up for his players, in this case it is probably exactly correct. A lot of the loss can certainly be put on Jim Curtin for his substitutions.
First, bringing off Cristian Maidana. Unless the Argentine is struggling with injury should never happen, particularly as early as the 77th minute. Secondly, it took until the 116th minute to make another substitution. That was a long time between substitutions. This is especially bad since SKC had used their subs due to injury. SKC were gassed in the first half of extra time, and that would have been the perfect time to bring on Eric Ayuk, who had been a US Open Cup hero along with Andrew Wenger to run at the tired KC team and win the game before going to penalties. The game was there to be won, Curtin chickened out and didn't go for it.
Instead, he waited to try and win it on penalties. He also made his third sub to bring on John McCarthy for the penalty shoot out only. While you can't blame McCarthy, I can't believe that Blake is so bad at penalties that this was the correct tactic. Yet again, watching the World Cup has put ideas in Curtin's mind that are wrong. Curtin went for the storyline of the "local guy" winning the cup for Philadelphia instead of just winning the game, and yes Jim, that's all on you.
Cup Final Game Changer 3: Penalty Heartache
Ask any Englishman, penalties are a horrible way to lose a game. It often comes down to luck, one bad miss or one great save takes all. There were some outstanding penalties taken, but there was also two very poor penalties. Going backwards in order, Andrew Wenger just was not confident at all. He went up with head down all the time, picked a side and placed his shot there with Melia able to make the easy save. I know many will have a go at Wenger for this, but I can't really blame him. When you are the 8th player to take a penalty, it shows you don't want to take one.
However, the biggest blame in the penalty shoot out has to go to Maurice Edu. Out of the five designated penalty takers, the score was 4-4. John McCarthy had made a save, and if everyone in the Union team scored then it wasn't a heartbreaking outcome for the 14,000+ Union fans there. However, for the second time this season I am talking about Edu taking a penalty, stuttering, not fooling the keeper and it was an easy save in the end. When the SKC players stuttered, they made sure they put the shot in with power. Mo didn't do that, and because of that the Union lost. Hopefully we never see Edu take another penalty for the Union again if that is how he will always take them.
Cup Final Game Changer 4/Toronto Game Changer 1: A missing player
This is a bit out of order, but has to be because it happened in both the USOC Final and in the Toronto game. To know what I mean, the easiest thing is to see this snapshot of the two games:
You'll notice that the attacks are coming from the Union left side. Raymon Gaddis has went inside to help out, yet where is the person who should be helping him out (the Union right winger). Both times, Le Toux was nowhere to be seen, and the ball ended up in the back of the net.
In the USOC Final, Krisztian Nemeth sent a fantastic shot curing into the corner of the net. It was the equalizer that had all Union fans going "oh no not again." When you are ahead in a Cup final, everyone has to do their job, Le Toux didn't here, and he has to be back there helping out Raymon Gaddis who was hung out to dry really.
In the Toronto game, it allowed for Toronto's game-clinching goal. Jonathan Osorio, a guy who had been fantastic all game got lots of room to send in a cross, which Richie Marquez unluckily sent into his own net as he got his feet mixed up underneath him.
Toronto Game Changer 2: a US Open Cup final hangover.
Last year, the Union were terrible after losing the USOC Final. This year, the same pattern seems to be repeating as the team looked disinterested all night against Toronto. The season was over at that point really, so players will be playing without the urgency they normally would. However, for some they should be playing for their spot on the team, so it should have been much better for the Union in terms of effort.
Toronto Game Changer 3:- a midfield with Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud is not going to be creative.
I would never thought Nogueira would have started after the U.S. Open Cup final. However, instead of both Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud maybe someone else could have given Philadelphia more of an offensive threat. While Carroll and Lahoud could have been able to stop Toronto, as soon as TFC went 1-0 up the Union was always going to do nothing. Toronto only had to mark Maidana out of the game, which they did well. Once Nogueira came on to the field, things changed for Philadelphia and it was also from a Maidana free kick they got the goal. Next time, maybe go for the win with players who can create, if even to see the quality of guys like Pfeffer in more games before decisions on their future are made in the winter.
In a week where the Union lost a cup final, as well as were officially eliminated from playoff contention it was nice to know that in between it all there was the good news about Nick Sakiewicz being fired. We just have to hope that he was the problem, and everything is going to be okay now, but I'm not so sure that it will. If it was up to me, this should really start a clear out as Jim Curtin hasn't shown me that he deserves to be a manager at the MLS level.