Good morning everyone, after a long off-season and John Rossi's able deputisation of the article last week, I return. After last week's disappointing draw against Colorado, the Union were hoping for at least some goals as they visited a difficult place to get an away win. So what were the good and bad game changing moments of the game?
1. Cristian Maidana (and good substitution decisions by Jim Curtin).
Last week, Jim Curtin dropped Cristian Maidana to the bench in favor of a more physical side, playing CJ Sapong instead. It was a change that didn't really work out. The unfortunate injury to Sapong meant that Maidana came into the team for the second half then, and it was a much better performance. This week, Maidana started and paid back the coach for that faith by having a major part in all three goals. It was his cross that got the deflection that led to the first goal. It was his quick throw in that sent Fernando Aristeguieta free for the second goal. It was also his fantastic cross that Jamison Olave hilariously put into his own net for the Union's third goal. Maidana led the team in assists last year, and should do so this year as long as Curtin gives him the chance.
The other thing I feel Curtin did correct actually didn't work out, but not due to the decision. I thought that all three substitutions that the Union made were exactly what was needed. Zach Pfeffer came on for Andrew Wenger, who had not had his best game despite a lot of running. This allowed fresh legs and maybe someone who could hold on to the ball a bit longer to be on the field. The next sub was 100% tactical, bringing on Michael Lahoud for Cristian Maidana. Maidana had done his job, got three goals and was starting to look tired. Lahoud came on, and was there to plug more holes in the back, sit in beside Maurice Edu and help the Union hold onto the lead. The last sub was Conor Casey for a tired Fernando Aristeguieta. At the time this was going to be made, it was still 3-2. Casey would have been perfect for using his experience holding the ball up and running the clock down.
While in the end the result was a draw, it is still a good point at a very difficult place to play. All of Curtin's decisions were absolutely the correct decisions to make. It's definitely not his fault that three points weren't being brought back on the plane with the team.
2. The Ability to play on the counter attack (and Fernando).
Since Curtin took over, the best performances have always been with a counter-attacking soccer game plan. The poor performances have been when teams have sat back against the Union, not allowing the space to counter-attack. Last week against Colorado Rapids, the Union never had a plan B to break down a stuffy Colorado team. This week, with Real Salt Lake being at home they had that particular problem of breaking the Union down. This allowed the Union to break on the counter attack and they did so brilliantly. I will also say that it is unfortunate Real Salt Lake didn't have the same problems the Union had last week.
All three of the Union goals were from quick counter attacks. There was also a few other great chances on the counter attacks that the Union couldn't capitalize on, perhaps most obviously when Andrew Wenger did well in the first half to get past the defense and cut back for Sebastien Le Toux who blazed the shot over the bar (although the ball seemed to take a bobble just before it reached him). There was also a break in the last minute of the game, where Vincent Nogueira just took too long to send Pfeffer through and the chance was gone. As the season goes on, if these chances continue to come for the Union I would bet that the outcome will be far more clinical from both Frenchmen.
A lot of credit for yesterday must also go to Aristeguieta (and hope for the future). All pre-season fans were panicking that the Union hadn't signed a striker yet. Fernando was apparently the first choice and yesterday he showed why. His runs are clever instead of just running for the sake of running. He gets into position to score, and seems to be able to do that. He can hold the ball up and bring Le Toux, Wenger and Maidana into the game, and importantly doesn't give up on anything as he showed for the first goal. I feel he is primed to have a great season in front of goal, and that can only be good news for the Union.
3. Miscommunication at the back.
Now to some things that were not so good. Back when people were having a go at Zac MacMath, the main reason for doing so was his "not communicating" and "poor on crosses". One could hope that bringing in the experienced Rais M'Bolhi will change that. However, while still early, yesterday's game was not very comforting on an improvement in this score. In terms of the coming for crosses, M'Bolhi looked poor, punching when he should have been catching - and those punches weren't the best either.
More worryingly may be the lack of communication. Hopefully this is short term while they get to know each other, but many times there seemed to be either no or poor communication due to the panicked, rushed, even confused clearances by the Union defenders. At one point you could see Steven Vitoria and Rais M'Bolhi arguing with each other with M'Bolhi saying "It's not my ball." Unfortunately stating that after the fact will not help the team defend well.
While you could argue this didn't cost a goal, the defending for Real Salt Lake's second goal was not good, with defenders tripping each other up and three RSL players being free to "bundle" the ball home from just inside the 6-yard box. Should M'Bolhi have commanded the box more then? Maybe not necessarily, but he certainly didn't inspire confidence. The defense is going to have to step up its game, or it will be yet another long season worrying every time there's a set-piece around the penalty box.
4. Clumsy challenges.
When you aren't very good at defending set pieces, then giving away fouls with clumsy challenges are something you should really avoid doing. The first two RSL goals came from set pieces given away by clumsy tackles. They were tackles that really didn't need to be made. It was Sheanon Williams for the first goal, jumping into the back of the Salt Lake striker to try and win a ball he was never going to win. For the second goal it was Ray Gaddis with the rash challenge.
Not only did these unnecessary challenges lead to goals, it also led to yellow cards with Edu and Ethan White getting the yellow caution from the official. So far Vitoria has picked up yellow cards in both games he has played, and White and Edu have one each. These yellow cards build up throughout the year, and after five yellow cards a one-game suspension is incurred. With the Union's lack of quality depth at the defensive midfielder and central defense positions, this could be a problem.
5. Referee Allen Chapman
The single biggest game changing moment came in the 86th minute of the game. Luke Mulholland made a driving run into the box. He then fell over as he tried to get a toe on the ball as it was squirming away due to great defending by Maurice Edu*. Unfortunately, referee Allen Chapman decided that Maurice Edu had in some way fouled the Salt Lake midfielder. Whichever reason he makes up for what he saw that led to the decision, he was flat out wrong. There was no way it was a penalty, and that opinion has been backed up by Mulholland himself after the game.
*It should be noted Luke Mulholland did not dive nor did he make any effort to draw a penalty on this particular play, making Chapman's decision all the more perplexing.
The Union players gave their all on Saturday night in a difficult place to go. Jim Curtin got it right with all his decisions. It was a fun game (despite the strange fact that there were deflections accounting for most of the goals). In the end, it all came undone due to a bad decision by the one person from whom it should be unacceptable to make such a bad decision: referee Allen Chapman
In pre-season interviews, Don Garber has said that he will welcome the use of new technology in MLS, and will be happy to act as guinea pigs. There has to be a way to stop the referees from making incorrect decisions that have such a large impact on the game. One such way may be to have the extra "behind the goal" officials that have been seen in other competitions. If the other official had seen there was no contact and that no penalty was the right call, then do the Union have a 3-2 win, a first ever win against Real Salt Lake and a much happier plane trip home? I'd like to think so.
Another, more radical option may be to introduce instant replay officials at the games for these big decisions. Obviously it wouldn't be for routine action. However, any penalty, goals (i.e. whether offside or not - check out one of FC Dallas's goals on Saturday) and red cards can all be instantly reviewable and the correct decision made within the time it usually takes for arguments to be over. I know I for one would be happy to not have to discuss refereeing decisions in any future article.
In the end, if asked before the game the Union would accept one point, remaining unbeaten for the season and getting some goals scored they would be very happy. They will hopefully bring the same level of performance to the rest of the season, and it will be a happy season for Union fans.
Next up is FC Dallas and the return to PPL park of Chris Seitz. Let's hope the Union play it well and the officials do not make themselves a talking point for the third straight Union match.