The FC Dallas match up got off to a rocky start as the Philadelphia Union pushed back kick off from Friday evening to Saturday afternoon. The postponed game time saw a limited crowd able to attend, but that didn't stop the teams from giving us plenty to talk about in the aftermath this week.
We are only three games in to a 34 game season. The season is a marathon not a sprint, and the Union haven't even played a team in the Eastern Conference yet. It is no secret that the Western Conference is considered stronger this year than the East and only the Union and the Chicago Fire have played exclusively cross conference games. Furthermore, of the 13 games that have been played East vs West this season the Eastern Conference has only mustered two wins, four draws, and seven losses for a total of 10 points out of 39.
Looking specifically at the match up with FC Dallas though, it wasn't all doom and gloom. Before the red card on poor Zach Pfeffer, the Union were dominating the chances to score. Pfeffer, Maurice Edu, Sebastien Le Toux, and Fernando Aristeguieta all had decent attempts to take the lead. Even with the thin squad the Union had to put on the field due to injury, they were going toe to toe with arugably the best team in the league right now. The red card and the injury to Sheanon Williams completely changed the game and gave Dallas the window to take control. Against a lesser team the Union could have possibly overcome the red card and held out for at least a draw, but Dallas is too good a squad for the Union to give them even a small crack and not expect them to take advantage.
This is the week though. Chicago is ripe for the taking and are really in free fall to start the season. Without a win this season and missing midfielder Shaun Maloney who is on international duty with Scotland, the Union will have a real opportunity to take advantage. Get a win against the Fire, Cristian Maidana and CJ Sapong are set to return from injury soon, Pfeffer's suspension ends, and the team will be moving in the right direction, gaining positive momentum as the schedule gets into the games against the Eastern Conference.
When it rains, it pours...or snows. Another game offering more disappointment than good. Just three game's into the season and each game seems to offer new reasons to be worried about the season. This week's poison was lack of depth compounded with an inability to score.
Even before the depth issue reared its ugly head, the Union were showing signs of a lack of ability to finish off chances. As mentioned above, there were more than a few chances for the Union to take an early lead, but none of them were really anything to get Dallas worried. A long shot from Edu, a looping header far over the bar from Aristeguieta, Le Toux's shots ending up all over the River End. The only one that really looked like being able to score was Pfeffer's one on one with Chris Seitz that the former Union keeper made a kick save to keep it out of the net. After the red card though it was all down hill from there. The chances dried up, and FC Dallas slowly but surely showed their dominance.
The depth issue is one that was lingering in the back of everyone's mind since the beginning of the season. Yes, the starting XI could be a competitive side in MLS, but it is roster spot 13 and beyond that are the real worry. Week 1 CJ Sapong goes down, leaving the Union without their depth at the forward position. Then after a promising performance in Week 2, Maidana goes down with an injury in practice. Throw in this week's red card suspension for Pfeffer and Sheanon Williams leaving the match early, the team is in desperation mode.
By my count there are currently 22 active players available for selection. Of that 22, there are nine starters in Aristeguieta, Edu, Raymon Gaddis, Le Toux, Rais M'Bolhi, Vincent Nogueira, Steven Vitoria, Andrew Wenger, and Ethan White. Outside of those solid MLS level players, the rest of the squad can be broken down into three categories. The first is the "old guard" of Fabinho, Fred, Brian Carroll, and Conor Casey who are well past their prime, and what they can actually offer the team is yet to be seen. Fabinho showed us this week just how useless he is. The next group is the "new guard" of players who have little to no MLS experience and just like the oldies, what they can actually offer at this level is still yet to be seen. Those guys would be Erik Ayuk, Eric Bird, Dzenan Catic, Raymond Lee, Richie Marquez, John McCarthy, and Jimmy McLaughlin. That leaves only Antoine Hoppenot and Michael Lahoud, who I'll categorize as "wild cards." They've had some good moments and some bad moments over the last few years and have definitely fallen out of favor with the current coaching regime.
Not exactly a pretty picture going forward. If Maidana, Sapong, and/or Williams aren't able to return in the near future, or their injuries turn out to be lingering ones that have an impact throughout the season the Union are doomed for a season of exactly what we've seen thus far.
Random Thought of the Week
Through the five year and three week history of the team, has there been a topic more discussed than the Front Office? While the dectision to move the game and change the time was bad enough the Front Office cannot be held responsible as it was an MLS decision, but the decision to not only refuse refunds or exchanges for fans who couldn't attend the game because of the change, and then to undersell people looking to sell their unused tickets by offering a discounted ticket code was low.
The fans have always been distrustful of Nick Sakiewicz and his alleged handling of the team on the field. The transfer dealings, contract sagas and coach "searches" have been infuriating. The one thing I have always thought though is that the Front Office has taken care of fans and encouraged a positive gameday experience. They have refused the American sports tradition of cheerleaders and guest national anthem singers, while bringing real local flavors into the stadium from Chickie's and Pete's to Dogfish Head beer.
The move to refuse refunds and exchanges followed by underselling fans trying to sell their tickets to get their money back was a major red flag for me. Maybe it wasn't intentional or done with any malicious intent (much like the Pfeffer elbow), but it wasn't right by the fans. It may not have hurt season ticket holders as much, but it sure was a slap in the face to any casual fans who bought one off tickets for a Friday evening game. Good luck trying to win back those fans with the poor start to the season.