A very strange twisting and turning season continued to twist and turn for the Philadelphia Union on Sunday night. A week after a poor performance against Columbus Crew SC, Philadelphia welcomed Sheanon Williams back to PPL Park along with his new teammates in orange. A loss would have made for a difficult trip back to Houston, particularly for Sheanon. How did the game play out?
1. An early goal
For the last few years, the Union have been a team that plays their best soccer on the counter attack, when they allow teams to attack, soak up pressure and hit on the break. However, that only works if you can get the counter attack goal and stop teams from scoring against you. The best outcomes are always when Philadelphia score early. That is what happened on Sunday night. While the majority of Union fans and Sons of Ben were probably still watching the Philadelphia Eagles embarrass themselves, Sebastien Le Toux and Cristian Maidana were combining, and the Frenchman picked out a late run by Tranquillo Barnetta. The Swiss international finished with the quality he has, and within two minutes the Union were 1-0 up.
2. The return of Sheanon Williams
Philadelphia Union fans love Sheanon Williams, and I am one of those that think that he should still be the Union's right back (Gaddis' overall form since the Williams trade has been poor). However, perhaps the person who enjoyed Williams return the most was Le Toux. The Frenchman continually found himself in tons of room, and at times Williams seemed disinterested in tracking back. For the first goal, Le Toux started a few yards behind Sheanon and before the former Union player got in his stride, Le Toux was five yards ahead and crossing into Barnetta. It was also Williams who got caught flat-footed for the second Union goal, as Fabinho's cross was touched home by CJ Sapong just ahead of Williams. It wasn't the homecoming that Sheanon would have wanted, but it was just the thing for Le Toux to continue his good run of form.
3. The Union finally got lucky
A few weeks ago, Jared Young wrote an interesting article on how unlucky (or lucky) the Union have been. Often fans think about the unlucky moments and forget about the lucky moments. If this season were full of unlucky moments, then the Union's luck finally turned on Sunday. In the 35th minute, a ball was sent into the box between Maurice Edu and Raymon Gaddis, allowing David Horst a free header. Instead of ending up in the back of the net, the ball bounced off the post and John McCarthy managed to claw the ball away from the goal. These bounces are often a sign that things are going to go your way in the game, and it was certainly a good omen as if Houston had scored then, Union players and fans may well have been thinking, "Oh no, not again."
4. The Union's holy triumvirate on the field for together
That they haven't always been able to get their strongest team on the field is telling as to how the Union's season has gone. The biggest strength of the squad is certainly in midfield. Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud are doing fantastic jobs in the defensive midfield. That has allowed Vincent Nogueira to influence the game in the best way possible. Cristian Maidana is at the top of the assists charts, having played fewer games than his closest competitors. And in late July, the Union made their big signing in Tranquillo Barnetta.
However, shortly after the signing, Nogueira went down injured. When he finally regained health, Cristian Maidana decided he didn't want to chew gum anymore and had to miss two games. Now that they are all fully fit and raring to go, good things should happen for Philadelphia. If Jim Curtin can keep all three star midfielders healthy and in the team next year, they have the ability to be among the best midfield trios in the league. They showed that ability on Saturday, as they dominated the game, creating plenty of chances for their teammates.
5. A Houston Dynamo side waiting to hit the golf course
As a Scotsman, it was hard to watch the friendly between the U.S.A. and Scotland in 2012, which ended in a 5-1 U.S. win. However, there was a pretty major asterisk to be added to that game. The U.S. were using it to tune up for World Cup qualifying games, and Scotland were only in the U.S. to play some golf, as their season was over.
Fast forward three years and this time it is my team that benefited from a team just wanting to hit the golf course. While Houston would have enough points to get into the playoff spots in the East before this last round of games, they are six points behind the 6th place Portland Timbers out west. With Real Salt Lake being the form team out of those below the playoff cut line, it's unlikely that the Dynamo will find their way into the postseason. Therefore it perhaps isn't surprising that Houston was so lethargic on Sunday night.
The Union got a nice win, and tuned up for the U.S. Open Cup final with Maurice Edu getting 90 minutes under his belt in his return from injury. They will be hoping for a similar outcome next Saturday against the New England Revolution, though the Revs' Supporters' Shield contention makes that unlikely. The Union will be hoping that their tune-ups for the U.S. Open Cup final will be as successful as the USMNT tune up, as they finished first in their World Cup Qualifying group.