It was an ugly night of soccer in Carson, California as the LA Galaxy won 5-1 on Saturday night. Maybe it was the close proximity to Hollywood, but the Union players seemed starstruck by the reigning MLS Champs and gave them all the space in the world to win. How did the Union make it easy for them?
1. Despite a solid start, they didn't capitalize on the chances.
Early in the game, the LA Galaxy players weren't clicking together. They seemed to have more turnovers in the first twenty minutes than the rest of the game, and it allowed Philadelphia to have their best period of the game. They forced a few corners, and nice play by Ray Gaddis and Zach Pfeffer forced LA goalkeeper Jaime Penedo into his best save of the night.
However, the Union didn't capitalize on these chances, and went on to pay the price for not doing so. Probably the most glaring miss was when yet another fantastic Cristian Maidana corner was headed over the bar by Maurice Edu. Edu was three or four yards out of goal with a free header, and he put the ball over. That goes down as one of the worst misses of the season.
2. Standing watching a ball come back off the post.
The first goal is often a major turning point in any game. On Saturday, it basically signaled the end for the Union as they gave up after that point. Would the Union have taken at least a point if the goal wasn't scored? No, probably not. Their record against LA is what you would expect for a poor team against a good team. It would have given the team more hope that something strange would happen, however.
Andrew Wenger had what would be nicely described as a "soft" challenge for the ball in the opposition corner. It was far too easy for Dan Gargan to get past Wenger after a bad touch; it should have allowed Wenger to steal the ball in a promising situation.
Then after a Stefan Ishizaki pass, Gyasi Zardes was through on goal. Richie Marquez had a chance to get a clearance but muffed the header. Zardes's shot hit the post, and there would have been a chance for the Union defense to clear before Baggio Husidic put the Galaxy ahead. However, it seemed the Union defense just didn't care. Who was the worst protagonist of the not caring? Captain Maurice Edu, who didn't look like a captain as he slowly strolled back towards the penalty box, just watching the play happen.
3. Players having no positional awareness.
When I'm watching the Camden Youth Soccer Club 4-6 year olds playing, I always laugh at everyone running after the ball, having fun and not caring about positional responsibilities. I don't expect the same to happen at a professional level. However, that's what happened for the majority of the game on Saturday. From early on, Zach Pfeffer decided to play in the centre of the park, meaning Cristian Maidana was forced on to the right wing where he is less dangerous. It also meant that Ray Gaddis had the whole right side to defend himself, and Gaddis was so far out of position for the second LA goal that the only reason for him being there was that there was no right winger.
Next up was the third LA Galaxy goal. It all came from a Philadelphia attack breaking down on the edge of the LA box, as the Union player failed to find a teammate and instead lost the ball. Zardes sent Robbie Keane away, and seconds later it was 3-1. You would expect that player giving the ball away so far up field was Maidana, maybe Pfeffer. No, it was Edu, our central defender, who was so far out of position that he wasn't in the picture when the ball hit the back of the net.
The defensive midfielders were also way out of position in LA goals two and four, as both were scored by the late runners into the box. In both cases there wasn't a midfielder within five yards of the goalscorer, and it was an easy finish. At the other end, the LA Galaxy midfield tended to be in position to stop any ball cut back (that and Andrew Wenger's inability to pick out a Union player contributed to less goals for Philadelphia)
The last thing to point out is all on Wenger. There were two or three times on Saturday that either Vincent Noguiera or Maidana had the ball on the left hand side, hoping for a nice run by Wenger to pass to him or create room. Instead of making the correct run, Wenger ran behind them both times, and was standing out of bounds. This led to the ball being turned over, and all because of Wenger's lack of positional/spatial awareness. Going forward, getting back to where everyone knows exactly where they need to play, and sticking to that will help Philadelphia win some games. Otherwise, unfortunately for the Union players there are no participation medals when you don't do well in MLS.
4. A lack of bite.
No, we don't want the Union players to go around taking chunks out of players like Luis Suarez. However, they have to show more bite than they did on Saturday night. When playing against good teams, you need to make sure they know they are in for a difficult afternoon. You make sure that Robbie Keane is tackled hard (but fairly if possible) early in the game. This isn't to hurt them and force them out, but just so that in the back of their mind they know a tackle is coming.
However, on Saturday it took until Fred was yellow carded in the 88th minute for the first tackle that an LA Galaxy player would feel. In previous games, Richie Marquez has been excellent about setting the tone early on with a good hard tackle. Whether it was being star struck at facing Robbie Keane (although he did fine against David Villa) or just that the Union were never going to go all out for the win, I don't know. However, to get wins in MLS you have to make sure the opposing team attackers know you are there. Nice guys don't win, and the Union have to stop being nice and allowing teams to play well against them.
5. Where are the youngsters?
The Philadelphia Union had gone 3-0 and then soon after 4-1 behind, yet young Raymond Lee and Jimmy McLaughlin both stayed on the bench when they could have been gaining experience. Instead, it was Fred and Fabinho who came on for the Union, who were 5-1 down at the time. While their performances weren't terrible, it made no difference to the game and you have to wonder about whether Jim Curtin made the right choice bringing them on in terms of the future for the Philadelphia Union.