Due to the weather, the Philadelphia Union had to cancel their fireworks night after the game against the Montreal Impact. It was rescheduled for after Saturday night's game against the Portland Timbers. Who would have thought the fireworks would start from kick off as the Union turned in their most polished performance in a long time? They continually cut through the Portland defense like a hot knife through butter, or was it a chainsaw through bread?
So, how did they manage to achieve such a convincing win?
1. A break allowing for a fast start.
Philadelphia's last game was the U.S. Open Cup game against D.C. United on June 30th. This meant a gap of 11 days between games. It allowed Sebastien Le Toux to recover and return from his injury, and Conor Casey to return to the bench. The aging legs of Brian Carroll got a break, and Andrew Wenger got some time to regroup after a rough start to the season.
What this allowed the Union to do is start fast out of the blocks. They continually harassed the Portland players when they had possession of the ball, and were making runs that they haven't been all season. Carroll was as accomplished as ever at stopping Portland attacks. Vincent Noguiera ably assisted in that department, was back cleaning up and stopping Portland while he also had the legs to get on the score sheet, twice. It was a very energetic performance from Philadelphia, and it helped to get three points
2. Portland playing backup full backs.
Early in the season when Nogueira and Cristian Maidana were missing games, it was a stroke of good luck for opposing teams, and they took advantage of players who won't usually play. This time, it was Philadelphia's turn to take advantage.
In goalkeeper Andrew Weber and full-backs Jeanderson and Taylor Peay, there were three players who played against Philadelphia that had played a total of 6 minutes of MLS this season. While there isn't anything that Weber could do about any of the goals, the two missing full-backs were a huge boost for Philadelphia's play. Le Toux was given the freedom of Chester to torment the Portland back line. This was especially evident in the first half as both Maidana and Noguiera continually found Le Toux with exquisite cross field passes, with a matter of inches being all that stopped Le Toux and others from putting the Union in a comfortable half time position.
Just like the Seattle game a few weeks back, all you can do is take advantage of when teams are not playing with their best eleven. Philadelphia have now done that twice against powerful Cascadia opponents.
3. Andrew Wenger being given room to run.
The sight of Lionel Messi running at you as a defender is enough to give you Freddy Kruger like nightmares. The sight of Andrew Wenger running at you, in this season's form, is as scary as your grandmother giving you candy. The majority of people watching Andrew Wenger pick up the ball on the right hand side and running towards goal would have thought the ball would end up in the river end. The Portland defense thought the same, and kept backing off. However, Wenger unleashed a stunning shot that flew into the back of the net, and there was as much relief as euphoria in the reaction from all at PPL park. Hopefully this is the moment that turns Wenger's season around.
4. Maidana to Nogueira.
At the start of the season a fit and healthy Maidana and Nogueira were vital for Philadelphia to have a good season. They were not healthy early, and Philadelphia struggled because of it. Now, the pair of playmakers are healthy and their importance was never more apparent as the two Nogueira goals.
For Nogueira's first goal, Le Toux sent Maidana away down the right hand side, and the next pass was going to be vital. Time and again this season the final ball has missed their targets. However, Maidana cut back the perfectly waited pass to the middle of the penalty box where all Nogueira had to do was think about where he was going to put the ball into the net at.
The second Nogueira goal was a thing of beauty, and if MLS don't have it as a goal of the week candidate they are doing something wrong. The goal started with Zach Pfeffer running at the Portland defense. He then gave the ball to Maidana, who looked at his options. A quick give and go with Noguiera, and the Frenchman was in to slide the ball past Weber and finish the game as a contest. The vital part of the build up was the quality of pass from Maidana to Nogueira. The slightly lofted ball was yet again perfectly played so that all Nogueira had to do is to get the ball past Weber, which he did brilliantly. One touch passing is always pretty to see, and to get a goal from such a move is fantastic.
Cristian Maidana has shown time and again what a fantastic, creative player he is. He is easily the best player the Union have ever had in the attacking side of the field and one the Union need to keep around long term.
In 2014, between July 12th and September 20th, as well as the U.S. Open Cup run the Union had a record of five wins, five draws and one loss from eleven MLS league games, bringing home twenty points in that time. If the Union go on a similar run, it may well bring them into the playoff picture. The East is very tight points wise, with only eight points separating the New York Red Bulls in 2nd place and the Chicago Fire in 10th. Although the Union have played more games than most others, they do have the points on the board which is better than having to win them. In that run last year, they were playing fantastically. On Saturday, they played just as well.
Up next for Philadelphia is a run of road games that may be difficult. They face Toronto, D.C. United and the Red Bulls in the U.S. Open Cup. They will have to balance getting into the playoffs with looking to win that first trophy in the USOC. If Jim Curtin can do all that, take advantage of a Toronto team minus Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore and get into the semi-finals of the USOC, they may salvage something from this season yet. If they lose all three, then it's another year of watching other teams play the important games.