The Philadelphia Union were coming off a disappointing draw with the Chicago Fire. Since ending their CONCACAF Champions League campaign, the Montreal Impact have been on a roll, climbing the East standings and were giving a debut to new DP and star player Didier Drogba. However, it was the Union who came away with a surprise three points, keeping them in the playoff hunt. How did they do it?
1. Ignacio Piatti was unable to play.
All the pregame talk around the league was talking about Didier Drogba making his debut, with some discussion on whether or not All-Star Laurent Ciman would play. However, while Ciman would be able to play perhaps the biggest game changing participant (or lack of participant) was that Ignacio Piatti was missing from the game.
A lot of the improvement in Montreal's play stems from the Argentine playmaker. Just like the Union would sorely miss Cristian Maidana if he was unable to play, Montreal missed their playmaker. There was never any danger to the Union defense, as they easily kept Montreal to taking long range shots making it a very easy afternoon for Andre Blake, who was making his season debut after multiple knee operations. If Piatti was on the field, I would guess that it would have been much harder for the defense and Blake.
2. A lack of defensive mistakes.
While a lot of people are likely putting a lot of praise on to Andre Blake, all of the credit really should go to the defense along with Brain Carroll and Michael Lahoud. The Union season has been full of errors giving away easy goals, including all three goals the previous week hanging John McCarthy out to dry. This week, however, there was only really one mistake by any of the defensive players, when Lahoud lost the ball cheaply giving Dominic Oduro a chance which he screwed wide of goal.
With Maurice Edu being out for the foreseeable future having made his groin injury worse by playing against Doctor's orders (which is a Jim Curtin mistake), it should allow a defensive core of Blake, Ray Gaddis, Richie Marquez, Steven Vitoria, Fabinho, and Brian Carroll to play together for an extended period of time. If they build some understanding, and the full backs get back to playing consistently well then the defense may turn out to be a positive for Philadelphia. However, they will have to show this against better performances than they did on Saturday night.
3. Didier Drogba being harassed and harried.
Earlier in the season, the Philadelphia players tended to be star struck and give their quality opponents far too much room. On Saturday night, Fabinho in particular didn't let that happen with Didier Drogba. They were all over him, making his debut a difficult one. The only time that Drogba really did something positive he took a free kick Drogba which Blake had no clue where it was going. Luckily for the Union it went wide.
In the future, i'm sure that Drogba will have easier games to influence in a positive way. However, if his performance in his debut is the norm, the signing won't have the on-field impact that a highly paid DP should have. He will certainly sell tickets and merchandise, however.
4. Eric Ayuk bringing energy to the Union attack.
While the Union defensively did very well, attacking wise there wasn't a lot going on. Tranquillo Barnetta is still struggling to settle in, and Cristian Maidana had a quiet game. This meant that C.J. Sapong didn't really get many chances to add goals to his tally and Sebastien Le Toux didn't get any chances until later in the game.
However, when Eric Ayuk came on it suddenly revitalized the Union attack, and they suddenly were far more dangerous looking as his skills gave the Montreal defense trouble. It was also his acrobatic shot that sent the ball towards Le Toux giving him another assist in an impressive first season, especially for an 18-year old.
5. Sebastien Le Toux being in the right place at the right time.
I don't know if it is a tactical change from having Barnetta and Maidana as part of the three attacking midfielders with Le Toux, but the Frenchman has been finding himself in the middle, almost playing as a second striker more often in the last few games. It may be that reason that has meant Le Toux has suddenly came alive, being involved in most recent Union goals. Last week, he was in the right place when he should have scored a tap in from a rebound. However, this time Le Toux got just enough of a touch to deflect the ball into the back of the net after Ayuk's shot headed right towards him.
Other than in the 2010 season, where he was hot all year long, Le Toux has been a very streaky player in terms of goals and assists. This seems to be another hot streak from the talisman, and if the Union can ride that to a few wins in the next set of games, maybe the playoffs aren't as out of reach as most of us tend to think.
So while it wasn't a very eventful game, it was an important win for Philadelphia as they continue to hope that their season is a winning season. The Union's playoff hopes were on life support, and now new life has been breathed into those chances. Where there's life, there is hope. I like having hope.