It was a tough weekend for the Union faithful as they dropped all three points to FC Dallas. First the Friday afternoon snowstorm caused the postponement of the original time. This meant that fans who had been able to go on Friday couldn't on Saturday. Then when the match started the Union faithful were teased in the first 30 minutes before the team heaped on the misery from that point on. How did the team go from dominating early stages to losing the game?
1. Sheanon Williams injury.
Sheanon is an important part of the Union team. He has the attitude that the fans love, and always gives 100%. He also has his long throw, which is a major weapon. At the start of Saturday's game he was all over the place. He could have set up a Sebastien Le Toux goal and kept Fabian Castillo under control. Nothing exemplified his spirit more than about the 25th minute when he chased a ball into the corner, stopped it rolling out and kicked the ball off of a Dallas defender to win the Union a corner. It may have been that point, or it may have been earlier but Sheanon apparently felt his hamstring tighten and pulled himself out of the game. It is certainly better to miss one or two games than to miss three months with a pulled hamstring.
However, in terms of this game it was the beginning of the end for the Union. Fabinho came into the game and within a few minutes had one good tackle, gave away two bad free kicks, and many misfired passes that found Dallas defenders. It was his sloppy clearance that allowed Tesho Akindele to race through and score the game's first goal.
The other thing Sheanon's injury did was to switch Raymon Gaddis to the right hand side. Unfortunately for Gaddis, as much as he would try it was a very difficult afternoon as he was left to mark Fabian Castillo who always seemed to find himself in a lot of space. Though it must be said that Sebastien Le Toux did absolutely nothing to help out Ray on the defensive side of the ball.
2. No Cristian Maidana.
The Union have played 180+ minutes at PPL park this season. They have scored 0 goals. Cristian Maidana has been on the field for about 40 minutes total there. Away from PPL park, Maidana has created 3 goals in his 70 minutes or so on the field. The Union need Maidana to be playing and creating if they are going to do well. It's unfortunate that his injury has hit in a period where the Union visit Chicago Fire and Sporting Kansas City, and then home to New York City FC. Hopefully his two-to-four week prognosis ends up closer to two weeks.
In the first game without an injured Maidana, it was Zach Pfeffer who had the chance to impress. In pre-season the Pfeffer/Maidana battle was apparently the closest in camp. Pfeffer now had a chance to force Jim Curtin to make a difficult decision when Maidana gets healthy. The first 40 minutes he did that, having a good shot saved and being involved in most of the positive things the Union accomplished. Then came.....
3. The red card.
Here are Zach's own words:
It was an unfortunate situation where I was just looking to get my body in position to win the ball. With my momentum and a wet pitch, it— Zachary Pfeffer (@ZachPfeffer_27) March 21, 2015
made the incident seem worse than it was. Again, no intention what so ever! Will move on from here!— Zachary Pfeffer (@ZachPfeffer_27) March 21, 2015
Whether it was inexperience or the conditions he did go into Diaz, and even appeared to swing his elbow into Diaz's head. That should be a red card every time. It is also likely to be extended to three-game suspension meaning that Pfeffer may have missed his big chance to impress. I'm sure he will get chances later in the year, but it seems to be one step forward two steps back for the Home Grown star.
Zach is young and still learning, and even veteran stars like Steven Gerrard can make gross mistakes. The good news here is Pfeffer at least publicly seems to recognize his mistake. Hopefully his actions can back up his words and he won't do that again.
4. Lack of wing action.
For the Philadelphia Union to compete and challenge for a playoff spot in 2015 they are going to need a lot of positive play from the wing positions. The way the team has set up, Andrew Wenger and Sebastien Le Toux are key. Unfortunately for the Union, so far those two players have arguably been the worst two players in blue and gold and this was especially true in the game against FC Dallas.
Andrew Wenger was being touted as this year's breakthrough star by many, especially within TBG staff. Unfortunately his play has been get the ball, run towards the byline and either get tackled by trying to take on too many players or cross the ball over the top of the bar and out of bounds. Defensively he has tried and worked hard, which at least gets him more points than Le Toux. Wenger has the physical attributes to be a beast on the wing. Hopefully he starts to contribute more than he has so far soon, or else his new found position potential may soon be another false dawn in his career.
On the other side of the field, it has been ugly from talisman Seba. If the ball isn't bouncing off his foot to an opposition player, it is rolling over the foot and out of bounds. His shooting boots must have been lost as even the best part of his game is sorely lacking. The confidence doesn't seem there, he may have lost a yard of speed and is starting to bring his frustration out on opposing players (if you can find it - check out his yellow card that was very cynical). Maybe it is time to try out others on the wing, it certainly isn't working with those out there right now.
5. No depth.
It was a frustrating winter for fans, with a lack of signings having everyone worried. Towards the end of winter however there were a few signings, and it looked a solid enough team. Forward depth there was Fernando Aristegueita, Conor Casey, C.J. Sapong, Le Toux and Dzenan Catic. Le Toux, Wenger, Sapong could play wing and then Cruz and Jimmy McLaughlin could come in as well. Maidana could be backed up by Pfeffer and either could move out to the wing if need be.
However three games into the season, Sapong and Maidana are hurt, Pfeffer is going to be suspended, Le Toux and Wenger are in terrible form, and Danny Cruz is on loan. Suddenly, there is a lack of depth on the Union team. I am unsure whether Conor Casey was injured and hence not in the 18 or held out for another reason, but the attacking options off the bench were rookies Dzenan Catic and Eric Ayuk Mbu. And then there is Fred who may be the person asked to run the midfield against Chicago. That does not any inspire confidence and this could be a big problem leaving the Union in the same hole they struggled to get out of last season.
Looking forward, it wasn't a pretty last 60 minutes for the Union. Jim Curtin has to think about whether to drop Le Toux or Wenger to the bench and give Ayuk Mbu a chance (who at least looked lively in his minutes on Saturday). Will he bring in Fred to replace Pfeffer, or will he sit back with Michael Lahoud and play a more conservative approach against a Chicago team that is struggling. Who do you start?