This is an important week in Philadelphia Union's young history. For the second year in a row, they have a chance to win their first silverware, and at PPL park too. It is an exciting time, as you would expect with all the advertising that has been seen for the final. With this advertising, you wouldn't have been remiss if you didn't realize that there was a game in New England on Saturday night against the Revolution. If you missed it, the game ended 1-1, and it was played on an awful pitch.
While MLS has had to deal with NFL lines or College football lines in some cases, the field on Saturday at Gillette Stadium really was a special kind of mess:
If the Revolution make it to the MLS Cup, and end up hosting the game, i really hope that the field is better than on Saturday. While having the NFL lines be yellow isn't expected, it was really confusing for me when I saw this at kick off. It seemed like they were running after the ball and it should have been a throw in. I wonder how long it took for players to realize that they really had no idea where the lines on the field were. This was pretty disgraceful for the top league in the U.S., and I really hope that the Revolution and MLS make improvements in future. Forget Miami, get the Revs a stadium, Don Garber.
And now, here are this week's game-changing moments:
1. The starting lineup full of slighted players.
We all (or almost all?) wanted a weak line up put out against the Revolution. The playoffs have been all but mathematically impossible for weeks now, and the US Open Cup final has the chance to change the entire future of the Union. The fact Jim Curtin rested 9 out of 11* starters showed that the team didn't really feel this game was important. However, the one thing it does do is to give players who haven't been playing a chance to play for a place in the final. These players will also hate being called "back-ups". Fernando Aristeguieta is a DP level player who has lost his place to CJ Sapong. Steven Vitoria had been playing well, yet got dropped when Maurice Edu came back. Then there is Andre Blake - more on him later.
*The 9 of 11 was not including starters Fabinho and Maidana. However, maybe 8 out of 11 is now more accurate, given Blake's performance.
While it is unlikely that either Aristeguieta or Vitoria will break into the lineup on Wednesday, they both did well in Saturday night's game, and certainly will give Jim Curtin headaches over who makes the squad even for the final. It was Aristeguieta who got the Union's goal, a great strike from the edge of the box. Both Aristeguieta and Vitoria are internationals, and with Eric Ayuk, Cristian Maidana, Vincent Noguiera and Tranquillo Barnetta locks to make the team, only one of Vitoria and Aristeguieta will make the lineup. For me, I take Fernando, it's easy enough to shut down the game by adding more midfielders, and Aristeguieta can also help shutting the game down. Vitoria isn't going to come on and be a threat going forward.
The other thing that it may have done is make the Revolution take the Union for granted and perhaps not take the game as seriously as a team that would have been sealing their place in the playoffs should. The Union didn't care about the game, and it really should have been three points for New England. However, that's not how it always plays out and you always have to play the game until the end.
2. Did we find a position for Wenger to succeed?
Do you remember this article on Andrew Wenger?
I bet you were laughing at the absurdity of it. However, after his showing at right-back on Saturday night, maybe you aren't laughing quite as hard. Andrew Wenger was a number one pick, and had been a defender throughout his college career. The "size, physicality and athleticism" has made coaches play him as a forward, and let's face it Wenger has often struggled. This year, many thought it was going to be Wenger's time to shine. However, he has been pretty awful, that is until Saturday.
Wenger looked accomplished, did a good job defensively at right back having not played there and his distribution out of the back was 100x better than Ray Gaddis's. While Jim Curtin has often said that Wenger is not going to be turned into a defender, I wonder if that is a wise decision. I don't think Wenger starts in defense on Wednesday, but i'd love to see Wenger spend the rest of the season at left back or right back, just to see if he is really a Real Madrid quality defender.
3. A stupid foul from a starter.
Yes I didn't care about the result. I would have also not cared about giving up a penalty. The Union had three players in Vitoria, and particularly Ethan White and Andrew Wenger who had played very little this season, and may be rusty enough that they mistime a tackle. When that tackle is a stupid tackle, and it isn't a starter that is okay too. It happens. However, the penalty was from this foul.....
There was absolutely no reason to even make a tackle there. The defenders had done a good job forcing Lee Nguyen away from goal and the danger should have been over. However, for some reason, Fabinho dove in and clearly fouled the Revs' playmaker. Hopefully Fabinho doesn't try that on Wednesday when it matters, as it would be a terrible way to give up a goal.
4. Missed opportunity on a breakaway.
As well as scoring a nice goal, Aristeguieta should have had a winning assist. Late in the game, Aristeguieta received the ball and sent Sebastien Le Toux through on goal. The Frenchman would have buried the chance in 2010, in 2015 however he hit his shot straight at Bobby Shuttleworth in goal. Those are the chances the Union are going to have to take on Wednesday night if they are going to win the US Open Cup. In this game, it doesn't really matter as the playoffs are out of reach, but it sure would have been nice to get yet another road win in New England.
5. Mr Andre Blake.
A few weeks ago, Sean Johnson had an amazing game, with four or five outstanding saves. It was a performance that Union fans had never seen from one of their goalkeepers. That is until Saturday night and Andre Blake. At the time of the draft, Blake was the best player in the draft, so was picked #1 by John Hackworth although goalkeeper wasn't a need. From Hackworth keeping MacMath as the starting keeper, the Rais M'Bolhi mistake and then John McCarthy seemingly getting the nod ahead of Blake, it must have been frustrating for the Jamaican international. He showed that maybe all of those decisions were wrong with an incredible display on Saturday, which is surely going to earn many saves of the week nominations.
The performance will certainly make Jim Curtin think long and hard about who to pick in goal for the US Open Cup final. John McCarthy was fantastic getting the team to the final, especially against the New York Red Bulls. He had been getting games up until Saturday, suggesting he was getting the nod. However, can anyone really drop the guy that broke the record in terms of saves in a game for the Union? I would guess whatever Curtin decides, there will be some people who look like this (screencap courtesy of hunkleberryfinn):