It feels like one step forward ten steps back for the Philadelphia Union as they prepared to take on Toronto FC. People start to get healthy, and others get injured (or worse). The Union get a win and draw against New York City and follow that up with two straight losses including the abysmal performance in Columbus last week. In press conferences, Jim Curtin mentioned he had a better idea about his team. But things only went from bad to worse for the Union as they suffered yet another defeat in a game where they were yet again shut out by one of their ex-goalkeepers. So how did it get worse?
1. A DUI even before a ball was kicked.
Everyone has had their comments about the situation that CJ Sapong found himself in over the weekend, however, in terms of this game it was a big blow for the Union. CJ and Eric Ayuk combined well for the Union goal last week, and it was hinted that both would start on the wings instead of Andrew Wenger and Sebastien Le Toux. The biggest (sporting) issue of the DUI may just be that he allowed Andrew Wenger to continue to be a starter. As he has done all season, Wenger contributed nothing to the match, until he was substituted for Sebastien Le Toux in the second half.
2. Michael Lahoud's injured muscle.
Fernando Aristeguieta was ready and Vincent Nogueira was supposed to be not far from being ready to play, as was Andre Blake. To offset that, Steven Vitoria was out injured this week, meaning Ethan White regained his starting place. And just a few minutes into the game, Michael Lahoud pulled up injured with an apparent muscle strain.
On came Richie Marquez, the 22 year old defender who spent all of last season on loan at Harrisburg. He made his MLS debut, going up against American super striker Jozy Altidore and fellow DP Sebastian Giovinco. You would think that would spell trouble for the two young central defenders, but both played well with Marquez having a great debut and White turning in the best 90 minutes of his season. It was a move that may have also increased Philadelphia control on the game, as Maurice Edu is far better in midfield as a link than Brian Carroll or Michael Lahoud (Philadelphia had an 80% pass accuracy and 65% possession). If Marquez, White and Vitoria can continue their improvement defensively, keeping Edu in his preferred midfield position becomes more of a possibility.
3. "Special advantage" to big name DPs?
Giovinco won a free kick that seemed to be very soft. Maurice Edu was challenging for the ball, and Giovinco ran in to Eric Ayuk. Worse for Philadelphia, it allowed Giovinco to do what he does well and score a free kick goal, and what a screamer it was, although it seemed to take a slight deflection McCarthy had virtually no chance as it dipped and swerved its way into the net. As a player, he is going to light up MLS. His first touch is of the quality that Union forwards only dream of being able to get close to.
The one question about the goal is whether or not there was too much respect shown to the Italian. It wasn't just 20-25 yards from goal, but a good 35 yards. The ball went directly over the wall, and in to the near post corner, the opposite corner that McCarthy would be defending. However, what would have happened if there was no wall set up, and McCarthy stood in the middle of the goal ready to go either way? When free kicks are a long way away, I always think it is worth not having the wall, as all that can happen is that it may get in the way. It becomes easy to get the ball up over and down, rendering the wall a useless defensive tactic on free kicks of 35+ yards out.
4. A matter of inches stopped Maidana being involved in 3 goals.
As has been throughout the year, Cristian Maidana was the brightest part of the Union play. He was within inches of playing a part in three Union goals, and without him the Union would have had no chance.
In the first half, Maidana's perfect cross found the head of Aristeguieta, only for the Venezuelan to head over (having not realized how much time the cross gave him). The way Fernando has started the season, you would have bet your Kentucky Derby gambling money on him burying it. Later on, Maidana was sent through on goal, and volleyed a bouncing ball towards goal. Unfortunately for him, the powerful drive came crashing off the bar, and was cleared to safety.
Finally, in the second half, the Union thought they had equalized, smoke bombs went off, but unfortunately for Aristeguieta, the goal was waved off for offside. It was hard to know for sure from my seats and the replay shown on screen, however a quick check Twitter suggested the officials were right in calling it was offside. Then a few minutes later, there was this from Taylor Twellman:
This got some people looking, and TBG's Andrew Stoltzfus found this:
In that image, it seems that Colin Warner (at the bottom right of the image) was playing Fernando onside. However, it must be said that the angle looks weird (check how the 6 yard box and penalty box don't seem square to each other).
Another point to remember that this is a single frame, and it is still too difficult to tell. I don't think either team would have been able to successfully argue a different call no matter what call was made.
Sometimes soccer really is a game of inches, and a total of probably about 10 inches cost the Union three goals. Hopefully Maidana keeps his head up and doesn't let the issues with the rest of the team get to him. I'd even go as far as it would be great to see Maidana demand the ball from the rest of the team, as he really is the only creative force on it.
5. Jozy who?
This isn't as much a game changer as a shocked statement. I was shocked at how little impact the big striker had on the game. Both White and Marquez had him in their back pockets throughout, and it was a performance that had Sunderland fans glad he was gone when the trade was made official back in January.
In fact, the first time I really noticed Jozy was when he fell over from a Zach Pfeffer challenge. The referee didn't give him the benefit of the doubt, and the striker then sulked for a few minutes. After he got up, he went straight over to Pfeffer and kicked/tripped him up.
A few minutes later, the ball was in the corner, and little Eric Ayuk managed to pick up big Altidore, and throw him to the ground. That is at least how Altidore made it look, with a pretty pathetic screechy scream when it happened. However, it fooled the assistant referee, who refused to listen to common sense from the fans and Toronto had a free kick with which waste more time.
I would have expected a lot more from a striker that I, like most other Union fans, wished they had as the number 9 for the Union. Maybe fortunately for the Union that didn't materialize. Ultimately it was a narrow defeat with a lot of positives to take from the game (Marquez, White, Gaddis and Maidana specifically).
Up next for Philadelphia is a nightmare trip to play the Vancouver Whitecaps, before DC United come to PPL Park. It is a long way before there looks a "possible three points" for the Union. Let's hope some of the new decisions from Jim Curtin mean they steal three points, or else lowest points total in MLS looms larger and larger once Montreal Impact return to MLS play following a near month-long hiatus for the CONCACAF Champions League.