If you are reading this, thanks for doing so knowing that you will have to relive yet another very painful game-changer thread. The Union were minutes away from yet another surprising victory at Sporting Kansas City, though it turned out to be a shocking final ten minutes from the Union players.
1. Vincent Nogueira injury meaning Brian Carroll got a rare start.
If you had said before the game that Brian Carroll playing would be a good thing for Philadelphia then you would have been shipped off to the nearest insane asylum. However, that happened to be the truth on Sunday as Carroll helped protect a back line that seemed to be much better for the majority of the game. It was a vintage Brian Carroll performance as he was in the correct place to break up many attacks, and his use of the ball was simple but very effective. Many said that if Carroll could come in and give performances like the one we saw on Sunday, he could be an important piece of Jim Curtin's puzzle.
2. Playing the young guns can help as much as the experienced.
While the experience of Brian Carroll helped Michael Lahoud control the midfield area, maybe the most exciting part of Sunday's game (apart from Fernando Aristeguieta) was the play of youngster Eric Ayuk. He shimmied and twisted and turned the Kansas City defense for the 72 minutes he was on the pitch. In a season of disappointment, having the excitement from young players like Ayuk was an enjoyable break for fans. As well as the entertaining play, he also screwed Sporting Kansas City full back Marcel de Jong into the ground so much that he ended up getting yellow carded, and pulled from the game at half time.
The only thing I would like to request from Ayuk is that he improve his strength, and stop rolling around when he goes to ground. There were many times that he was hardly touched but ended up rolling over three or four times. Eventually, the referees will start to see that and may even stop giving deserved free kicks.
As for the end of his game, with only 20-25 minutes left, bringing on fresh legs that have more experience and could be more defensive was the correct move. CJ Sapong was able to get onto the field against his old team, along with his phantom of the opera-esque mask. Unfortunately for Sapong it did not quite work out as well as he would have hoped.
3. Fabinho crashing into the barrier may have pulled the Curtin on Union hopes.
While it may just be coincidence, but just before Fabinho was subbed off injured he went crashing into the advertising hoardings. Fabinho seemed to hurt himself in that challenge, and may not have been able to run off the pain to stay on the field. Jim Curtin now had a big decision to make. Would he:
a) Bring on Raymond Lee, a like-for-like change even though it would have been his first minutes on an MLS pitch, mere months after being picked up in the fourth round of the SuperDraft?
b) Bring on Ethan White, move Maurice Edu to midfield, bring Michael Lahoud to right back and put Raymon Gaddis in at left back?
c) Bring on Ethan White, move Gaddis to left back and Lahoud to right back but switch to a back 5?
d) Bring on Vincent Nogueira (if healthy enough) and move Michael Lahoud to right back and Raymon Gaddis to left back?
Obviously Jim Curtin chose option "a," and it may have cost the Union three points. Lee was easily outmatched in what was a very difficult situation for him to come in. Sporting KC are a good team, and were piling on the pressure at that point. Raymond Lee wasn't able to stop it, and it was his mark who scored the winning goal.
Instead of bringing on the inexperienced Lee, I feel that the correct decision would have been option "c.". While it may have still ended up with the same outcome, Ethan White has more experience than Lee, and if you are parking the bus it may as well be with five defenders instead of four.
4. Failing to take advantage of breakaways.
The first breakaway was half way through the first half. Sebastien Le Toux had the ball, and it was a four-on-two. Instead of finding a Union player and sending him through on goal for a shot, the Union talisman passed to one of the few Kansas City players that was defending the situation.
Later, it was the turn of Fernando Aristeguieta to waste a chance, as he allowed Roger Espinoza to track back and stop the breakaway. In the second half, Andrew Wenger shot weakly when he was sent clear from a nice Brian Carroll pass. Then there was probably the most pivotal moment in the entire game.
Some fantastic work by Fernando Aristeguieta saw him win the ball in his own half. Since he isn't Charlie Adam, he ran all the way with the ball to the penalty box. At that point, it was Espinoza again who caught up with Fernando, and then pulled Aristeguieta off the ball. However, both Sebastien Le Toux and Michael Lahoud were up in support so the referee did not blow the whistle. Le Toux took the ball, and had a clear chance to score yet he hit the post. At that point the ball fell to Michael Lahoud, and what happened next may have been the worst miss in Union history.
Not to bring Michael Lahoud's game into question because he was great throughout, but any player from lowly Sunday league or pub games to the World Cup Final would score that chance 99 out of 100 times. If you don't want to take on the volley, he had plenty time to take a touch and roll the ball into what was basically an empty net.
If the Union had scored then, it would have changed the score to 3-1. The pressure that Kansas City were piling on was lifted, and I would bet that they would have given up the chase. Instead, the ball went out for a goal kick and the rest, as they say, is history.
5. Set piece defending is not a piece of cake.
The Union have been playing soccer for more than five years now. Almost since game one, we have been seeing goals scored on the Union from either set pieces or immediately after set pieces. Never has this been more apparent than this season. There was a stat that Alexi Lalas pointed out during the early stages: the Union led the league in goals given up from set pieces with four so far. By the end of the game, it would be up to six. That isn't including the second goal from yesterday.
In goal number one, the corner kick was whipped in and Rais M'Bolhi was caught underneath the ball. To save face, he then decided to trip himself up with Maurice Edu's foot, hoping to get a free kick. Unfortunately the referee didn't buy his fall, and it was 1-1.
In goal number three, yet again another corner was whipped in, and Raymond Lee or Krisztian Nemeth bundled the ball in at the back post. As often this year, Rais M'Bolhi was found standing around.
The second goal wasn't directly from a free kick but instead from a recycled ball after a free kick was cleared. It is close enough to a free kick however, as it was an easy delivery to make into the box without any pressure. Jalil Anibaba got his head on the ball, and Rais M'Bolhi couldn't make the save.
Whether it is the goalkeeper's fault or the defenders' faults, it is happening far too many times for it to be random chance. The Union are just unable to defend free kicks. As a defender himself, I would guess this is driving Jim Curtin nuts. This is going to have to improve if there is to be any upturn in the Union results.
There are going to be three games in the space of seven days. A lot of players need to up their games, show the enthusiasm that Ayuk brings, and maybe just maybe the Union can jump-start their season. There is one major worry however, with Nogueira, Maidana, Williams and now Fabinho possibly carrying injuries, can the squad handle the stretch to come?