This time last week, we were all on a high. The Union had their first win of the season, everyone was lapping up the John McCarthy story and the team was starting to get healthy again. A week later and all the negativity is back, the feel good story ended and the Union have had the worst first eight games in Union history. How did they throw away all the good vibes from the previous week, and was there anything to give hope for the future?
At Yankee Stadium
1. Half a Villa.
While there are lots of jokes you can make about the Frank Lampard situation (including a great banner at PPL Park last week) being able to play against New York City FC without the English star is a bit of good luck. Add in the fact that because of a reported hamstring injury, NYCFC had to be without their other star for the second half of the home/road double header at Yankee Stadium then you would think the gods were smiling on the Union.
With Mix Diskeruud missing due to international duty it was even less for the Union to worry about. Surely after beating New York last week the Union could win this one? Well not really. It may be that they are lucky those stars weren't around or it could have ended up much worse for the boys in blue.
2. MVP = Maidana sets up Volleys that are Perfect.
There are a few very common threads about these articles this year. Wenger and Le Toux are terrible, the team can't defend free kicks and giving up late goals. On the positive have been the play of Erik Ayuk, Fernando Aristeguieta and the guy that has probably been the team's MVP, Cristian Maidana. In the early games he was the only creative spark, and when he didn't play the team struggled to do anything. On Thursday night, he created a piece of magic that any Yankee would have been proud of when he sent an almost perfect cross into the box for Maurice Edu to nod on to CJ Sapong to get his first Union goal.
It was yet another late goal that the Argentinian DP helped to create. Yet again Philadelphia looked much better with him on the field. To keep picking up points, they need Maidana to be fit, healthy and on the field.
3. You mean goalkeepers can make good saves?
The start of the Philadelphia Union season has been plagued with Rais M'Bolhi making mistakes and not being able to make the big save when needed. After working so hard to score the equaliser on Thursday, it would have been a shame to throw it away quickly. That's what would have happened if not for the young goalkeeper, who had what undoubtedly is the best save of his MLS career with this save on Mehdi Ballouchy.
It was a save not seen by a Union keeper since Zac MacMath was in goal. If Andre Blake comes in from now on, it will be a nice save to show in McCarthy's resume. Not only did he do well reaching to his left to knock it wide, but the importance of the save in terms of the timing made it even better.
A 1-1 draw against NYCFC, and the fact the team took four points out of six is a great start to any rivalry with "Manchester City B." However, it will also be looked upon as a wasted opportunity to beat New York without their three best players.
Against the Revolution
1. Maidana's brilliance.
Do me a favor. Open this link. Do it multiple times. I'll never get tired of watching what may be the best goal the Union score this season. Even better, I could identify myself as the first person celebrating behind the goal. I had the perfect view at the time as the ball was perfectly placed to go in off of the post. As soon as he took it, there was only going to be one outcome.
Yet again Cristian Maidana showed during the game how important he is to the Union. He also showed that Sebastien Le Toux should never be anywhere near a free kick as long as Maidana is on the field. I'd extend that to corners as I am fed up watching Sebastien hit the first defender 8 times out of 10.
The other important thing was the timing of the goal. What was a frustrating first half was close to coming to an end. The Union had come close a couple of times, and the dreaded Union second half struggles were still fresh in fans minds. The goal gave the team a lift going into half time, and many fans had their impressions turned very positive.
2. Luckily unlucky.
As mentioned before, the Union had a few great chances to score and were unlucky not to. The first of these was lucky to fall to the foot of Fernando Aristeguieta. A well worked throw-in and dribble meant that Aristeguieta was through on goal, and since he was wide he tried to pick out CJ Sapong in the middle. Some good defending cut out the pass, but the ball bounced right to the foot of the Union's leading scorer. He took a shot that may have been heading to the corner of the net; however, Bobby Shuttleworth in the Revolution net stuck out a foot and deflected the ball on to the crossbar and away from the net.
Later in the first half, a free kick for the Union on the left was swung into the box by Sebastien Le Toux. It found CJ Sapong free at the back post, and the striker looked to get his second goal in four days. However, it somehow ricocheted back off his hand and the linesman signaled for a free kick.
Sometimes ricochets are lucky, sometimes they were unlucky. Sometimes you get lucky ricochets and unlucky ones in the same play. Unfortunately for the Union neither went in to the net, and it was only a 1-0 lead to defend in the second half. As has so often happened in the past, the Union sat back and gave up the lead.
3. Fitness and substitution issues.
The other five game-changing moments were pretty weak in terms of how much analysis went in to them. It was more recapping points instead of analysing them. Unluckily for you folks, and Manager Jim Curtin that's not the case with this one.
Philadelphia Union's three substitutions, and the time they were made were as follows :
63' - Andrew Wenger for CJ Sapong.
63' - Brian Carroll for Cristian Maidana.
(It was 1-0 Philadelphia at that time, and it was just after New England brought on Teal Bunbury and just before they brought on Diego Fagundez).
78' - Conor Casey for Zach Pfeffer.
First, let's discuss the double substitution. At 1-0 up, Curtin took off both Sapong and Maidana. In his post game comments, Jim Curtin mentioned that both Sapong and Maidana were not fit enough to go more than 60-65 minutes. This is a major problem for me. It basically meant that two of the substitutions were basically predetermined in that you are going to bring off Sapong and put on Wenger (who apparently was rested because he was tired and not because of poor play). Maidana was also going to be brought off, and you have to wonder what if there were some injuries during the game.
For me, it is a risk to start someone who doesn't have the fitness to go more than 70 minutes. It is almost idiocy to start two players who will be unable to go long in the game because of the limitations it places on the tactical substitutions you make.
Now for the players brought on. If you have time to do so - watch Jim Curtin's midweek press conference :
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When talking about Eric Ayuk, Curtin mentioned how well he had done as well as the fact "he has earned his place as a starter." Now, a few days after that, he was banished to the bench, and not played ahead of the very poor Andrew Wenger. He was also not brought on for playmaker Cristian Maidana, with Jim Curtin opting to park the bus with over thirty minutes left in the game. Now, neither goal was the fault of Brian Carroll. However, with Pfeffer and Lahoud doing a decent enough job at stopping the Revolution to that point, then maybe putting in Ayuk to torment what must have been a tired defense would have been the way forward. Instead Curtin changed the shape of the team, and even the mindset of the players. It was a very negative move and it backfired.
I have no complaints about bringing on Conor Casey. However, instead of bringing off one of the few creative players on the field, bringing off one of the three defensive midfielders you have (or even Raymon Gaddis) is the way to go. You don't score many without creativity, and the fact that Maurice Edu, playing in defense, was one of the more creative players was telling.
Yet again, Jim Curtin was found wanting on the substitution and tactics front. He is young as a coach so these are things to learn from. Hopefully he does learn unlike his predecessor--he is going to need to in order to turn around the worst start in Union history.
4. The defense were again standing and watching.
There was a joke I saw the other day where a Union fan, playing FIFA, had Rais M'Bolhi in goal and M'Bolhi didn't move when giving up a goal. That happened in real life on Sunday and it wasn't just the goalkeeper. For goal number one, Teal Bunbury beat Raymon Gaddis far too easily and played a ball into the six-yard area. The rest of the Union team were standing there ready to defend; however, Edu, Sheanon Williams, Steven Vitoria and John McCarthy stood watching as Charlie Davies tapped in at the back post. It was a goal that belonged in the M'Bolhi era and may have signaled the end of the McCarthy era.
At that point, just like against Sporting Kansas City, there was only going to be one winner. New England brought on Diego Fagundez, and as Andrew Wenger watched the ball bounce, Fagundez picked it up and broke, setting up Bunbury to score the winner. It was yet another sleepy performance from the defense and yet another three points dropped.
It doesn't get any easier for Philadelphia either, as they travel to take on high flying Columbus and Vancouver Whitecaps as well as welcoming big spending Toronto FC to PPL Park in the next few games. It's going to be a long hard season for the Philadelphia faithful, and one where patience will be tested.