A much better commentator than I once said that "Football is a funny ol' game". The perfect example of it being so transpired on Saturday night, at the Avaya Stadium in San Jose. A red hot San Jose Earthquakes were beaten by a struggling Philadelphia Union, who were missing Cristian Maidana for the first of a two game suspension. How did the Union manage to get an unlikely win?
1. The Union stole the Chelsea bus
During the second half of the last English Premier League season, Chelsea walked away with the title by parking the bus effectively. When done correctly it is a great way of winning games, although entertainment-wise it isn't very pretty. This season, Chelsea have struggled so far, and the last two road games the Philadelphia Union have played perfect "Park the bus" soccer. They made sure that as soon as they lost the ball they had two banks of four, with Sebastien Le Toux and Eric Ayuk making sure that Fabinho and Ray Gaddis were not isolated. This meant that San Jose didn't have room to play through the Union and lumped the ball towards their strikers - something that played into the hands of Steven Vitoria and Richie Marquez. The two defenders kept Chris Wondolowski and Quincy Amarikwa quiet and frustrated throughout the game. The tactic led to a pretty dire game of soccer, but that is ok when you take three points home with you. I know that John McCarthy would have been happy to have such an easy game shot wise.
(A note for the San Jose commentators - Erik Ayuk was the Philadelphia #14 who played on the wing. Michael Lahoud is the #13 who played as the defensive midfielder. Next time, maybe learn who the opposition players are.)
2. Victor Bernardez injuring his hamstring
San Jose hadn't let in a goal for over 400 minutes of Soccer until Conor Casey scored the equaliser. This included games against three of the best teams in MLS - a full strength LA Galaxy, Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United. A big part of that was the central defense pairing of Victor Bernardez and Clarence Goodson.
Therefore, perhaps the biggest game changing moment of the game was when Bernardez and CJ Sapong went up for a header, the San Jose defender came down awkwardly, overextended his leg and injured his hamstring. It was a big blow to San Jose, who brought on youngster JJ Koval to replace him. While Koval may be a great player in future, he isn't a rock at the back right now, and the change almost turned into immediate disaster as Koval got caught out by CJ Sapong minutes after coming on.
3. A tale of three and a half penalties.
When CJ Sapong caught JJ Koval out right after the young defender came on to the field, It led to the first of three (and a half) penalty shouts during the game. It was therefore a very busy evening for referee Ismail Elfath. Elfath let a lot go throughout the game, allowing the players to be more physical with each other than some other referees would have. Sapong used his experience to slow down enough, and Koval may have tripped him up. The referee said no penalty however, which I don't necessarily agree with. However I wonder what captain for the day Tranquillo Barnetta was thinking, as it was a very similar play to the one he got called for in his first few seconds of MLS play.
The second shout was a much stronger case for a penalty. Just before the San Jose goal, some fantastic build up play led to Vincent Nogueira being sent through on goal. Nogueira touched the ball past goalkeeper David Bingham and seemed to be brought down. I don't know if Elfath thought that the touch came from Bingham, or there was no contact but he waved away a second claim for a penalty. In the post game comments Jim Curtin said that Elfath "half admits to me that he made a mistake", and I wonder if that was the call he made a mistake with.
For the third penalty shout, the only one that was given, it was a clear penalty. I would hope all the Union complaints about it were about the one not given to Philadelphia, as it was a clear hand ball by Fabinho. I only hope that Fabinho forgot where he was, as there can be no excuse for the "brain fart" of handling the ball. It was either a brain fart, or he may have been thinking that since Diego Maradona got away with it in 1986, maybe he would have last night. It wasn't to be however, as the officials saw the infringement and Chris Wondolowski made no mistake from the spot.
The last "half shout" wasn't a shout at all really. Soon after the San Jose goal, Sebastien Le Toux was driving into the box, initiated contact with the San Jose defender and "fell over". It was a complete dive from Sebastien, probably to try and have the referee even up the penalty calls. Elfath didn't get fooled however, but he really should have yellow carded Le Toux for diving. The Frenchman is lucky that it wasn't Ted Unkel refereeing, who yellow carded Osvaldo Alonso for diving in the Seattle Sounders vs Toronto FC game. While a yellow card in the game would have meant nothing, since Le Toux was subbed off right after then, it would have meant a one game suspension for yellow card accumulation, something really not needed when Maidana is already out.
4. Jim Curtin making a substitution that Sir Alex Ferguson would be proud of.
One of the major criticisms of Jim Curtin's coaching is his in game substitutions. I (and many others) think they are often the wrong substitution to make and may even be pre-planned. However, I don't think anyone who looked at the box score only would have guessed Curtin would bring in Conor Casey instead of Fernando Aristeguieta as the first substitution.
That's exactly what Curtin did however and it was a genius move, as the veteran repaid that faith by scoring the two Philadelphia goals. While it wouldn't be a substitution that makes sense every week, Curtin obviously saw that Koval was struggling a bit defensively, and isn't as strong as Bernardez. Casey is the perfect guy to take advantage of that, as he is not only a strong physical presence but experienced enough to know how to take advantage of that. All that was then needed was the right delivery, and for the second goal Tranquillo Barnetta did that perfectly with a fantastic free kick that Casey got a touch on, sending it into the back of the net for the winner. The free kick delivery should be a sign of things to come for Philadelphia, as with both Barnetta and Maidana there should be the deliveries to score goals from set pieces many times a game for the rest of the season.
5. The Earthquakes not respecting Raymon Gaddis.
Hands up those of you who thinks that Raymon Gaddis is a danger going forward? Anyone? Probably not many of you. It seems the San Jose Earthquakes defense also don't see him as a threat, and gave him all the time in the world to send in the perfect cross for Conor Casey's first goal.
The ball was played perfectly over the head of Clarence Goodson, and Casey made no mistake with the header. It's the kind of cross that Sheanon Williams is always a threat to deliver, so if Raymon Gaddis can add that to his arsenal, maybe other teams will take him more seriously going forward.
So another road game, another three points and Philadelphia are maybe not as easy a team to beat now that the defense is becoming settled. Up next are two home games, against Columbus and the Houston Dynamo. Can the Union figure out a way to win those two games, and give themselves something to play for in the last few games of the season (other than the US Open Cup final).