The wind was gusting near the windy city, as Philadelphia played yet another frustrating game of Soccer in their 1-0 loss to the Chicago Fire. So, what were the moments and decisions that meant the Union came home with empty pockets from their trip to Illinois?
1. Missing players.
The Union were missing two key players in Cristian Maidana and Sheanon Williams. Like last week against FC Dallas, the Union missed both players in this game. Williams is far more important to the team than Gaddis going forward and that isn't even taking into consideration the effect of having to play Fabinho. Cristian Maidana is still the only Union player with an assist. Maidana and Williams are two of the Union's most valuable players and their loss was felt on the pitch.
Of course this also goes two ways. Chicago were missing two of their DPs as well as Mike Magee. It should have been a game the Union looked at as a great chance to win their first win of the season. Unfortunately it wasn't to be as the loss of Maidana and Williams was too much for the Union to overcome.
2. Slow slow slow slow to release the ball (and take the shot)
When you are trying to win a game away from home missing your most creative players, it is often better to play counter attacking soccer. I assume that was the plan for the Philadelphia Union. However, every counter-attack either took ended with a Union player offside or Chicago managed to get back and stop the attack.
One reason for this was the lack of a creative midfielder. As good as Vincent Nogueira is at getting the ball and redistributing to others he is not very creative. He makes a great compliment to someone like Maidana. Without that linker, he just doesn't have the quickness of thought to make that perfect pass without taking that little bit too long. Neither Maurice Edu or Michael Lahoud could help him out in that respect. Sebastien Le Toux and Andrew Wenger continue their battle for who could be the worst player on the team.
It wasn't even being too slow to make an important pass that became frustrating. Perhaps the most symbolic moment of the first half came when Andrew Wenger made a good run to the box, had an opportunity to shoot, didn't, then had another opportunity to shoot and didn't again. Then he passed the ball to Fernando Aristegueita who was making a run. However, by the time Wenger tried the pass Aristegueita was almost on top of him, and the pass was easily mopped up. It should have ended in a goal somehow and there wasn't even a shot on the play. The Union have to start taking shots when they have the chance.
This issue also happened during the Maurice Edu chance later in the game, when he was played through by Aristegueita. Instead of getting a goal or at least shot on target, he seemed to get stuck in two minds and tried to pick out Sebastien Le Toux at the back post. Of course Le Toux was nowhere near it.
3. Defending a set piece.
It's as common as the sun rising and the tide coming in. Another Union game, another poorly defended set piece and another goal against. This time the blame goes on both Rais M'Bolhi and Andrew Wenger. There's also possibly some blame for Steven Vitoria.
It was another free kick given away that probably shouldn't have been. It was in a dangerous area for Harry Shipp to send in a great free kick. Adailton got his head on the ball and it was a goal. That sounds fine, however, what wasn't mentioned in that description is the fact that the Adailton header was a free header from inside the six yard box.
As with many times before in this young season, confusion reigned in the marking assignments. When you see the replay, you are never sure who is marking Adailton until the ball is in the air, and you know it isn't Vitoria because he is tracking his runner. It seems that nobody told Andrew Wenger it was his job, as he stood and watched his man score a goal. There has to be better marking in future, and whether it is M'Bolhi or Vitoria that takes control, someone has to.
As for M'Bolhi, it can certainly be said he was hung out to dry by his defense. However, you can clearly see in the replays that he takes a few steps forward, a few steps back and then rushes out only to be beaten and made to look bad. Where he has to improve there is in the initial decision making to come out and make the ball his. The ball was delivered into the six yard box. He has to make that his ball. As soon as he dallied and hesitated there was no real point in going out to the ball as he was never going to win it. Maybe at that point it was better to stay on his line and try and make the save there. Let's hope Curtin can figure out a solution because this problem has troubled the Union for much too long.
There was no reason for Fred react in the way which he did. It wasn't even just the slap as he also appeared to kick out at Harry Shipp. Yet again another player who had a chance to get extra minutes throws it away in a moment of madness. After that, I wouldn't be upset if Fred never saw a minute on the field for the rest of his Union career, and I hope that any coaching he is doing is not going to be how to slap a player on the field and get away with it, because he didn't.
5. Jim Curtin decisions.
There have been some games where Curtin made the right decision. We have also had some decisions that are clearly wrong. From Maidana being dropped in game one, to how he treated Amobi Okugo last season the wrong decisions are starting to become more numerous. For this game, he decided to play Vincent Noguiera out of position instead of going with Fred. In last week's article, I asked who should start and the great tBG readers picked Fred. It was the move I would have made too. You need someone who can be creative with the ball, even hold on to the ball. The Union attack was missing, and I blame that on having no creative players on the team.
As for the substitutions, while Nogueira didn't have a very good game being played out of position, bringing him off instead of Michale Lahoud was a mistake in my opinion. Nogueira is a far superior player to Lahoud. The decision to bring off Ethan White for Eric Ayuk Mbu was a good one. The Union needed to go for the equalizer, and it was good to see that move. However surely another move should have been to bring on Dzenan Catic, a striker with a goalscoring record wherever he has played. Well Catic is playing for Harrisburg City Islanders, leaving Antoine Hoppenot who came on for the wrong winger. As often happened in the past, it didn't make a difference to the Union attack, and yet another game where the team were unable to score passed.
In 2010, the Union started Loss-Win-Loss-Loss-Loss-Loss-Draw-Win in a road trip heavy start to the season and the first year of existence. In 2011 they started WWLWDWLD and they made the playoffs. In 2012 they started LLLDWWLL and Piotr Nowak got sacked. In 2013 they started LWWLDDWL and stayed with Hackworth for the whole year. In 2014 they started DWLDDDLD and Hackworth got fired. This season they have started DDLL so far, and have got games coming up against Sporting Kansas City away and New York City FC at home and away, then the New England Revolution at home. That isn't an easy run. Could the Union be on their way to the worst start in team history? They will be unless they get 5 points from those games. At that point you have to ask if Curtin can't get the team through that, can he manage to hold on to his job? He has certainly came out and said that the performances are not acceptable, however it is one thing saying it and another doing something about it.
Let's hope he can turn the season around before it is too late.