After a pretty tough loss to FC Dallas in Week 1, it appeared as if some of the wind had been taken out of the Philadelphia Union's sails. The Union were heading out to Columbus to face the Crew at MAPFRE Stadium - a place the Union had never won at (no matter who held the naming rights). Fans couldn't really be blamed for looking forward to the home opener against the New England Revolution - let's just get past Saturday and hope the Union do better at home.
The Union of course beat Columbus 2-1, and the best part may just be how they beat the reigning Eastern Conference Champions.
1.) Andre Blake continues to amaze. Blake's positioning was sound all night. Sure he had to make a couple of diving, acrobatic saves, but more often than not the saves he made looked rather routine because he was in the right place. Check out this highlight, and watch Blake.
He read the play perfectly. He didn't overcommit on the cross and was in a perfect place to snatch Harrison Afful's header out of the air.
Here's another example at the end of the match to preserve the Union win.
Even after diving in anticipation of Cedrick Mabwati's shot, Blake had both the presence of mind to get back up immediately and he never lost sight of the ball. He quickly shuffled over to his left, ensuring Justin Meram's shot had nowhere to go but into his arms. Just a great sequence by Blake doing the little things right as a goalkeeper.
He also had some pretty awesome diving saves too. This one on Meram shows not only his positioning but his athleticism as well.
If this performance isn't enough to get him some sort of MLS weekly superlative nomination, I'm not sure what he'd have to do.
2.) Chris Pontius silencing the critics. If you were one of the many wondering where the Union's scoring was going to come from or if picking up Chris Pontius was worth it, you may now have your answer. On the first goal, Pontius timed his run into the box perfectly in anticipation of the Keegan Rosenberry long throw-in (more on that in a bit).
He broke toward goal late, slipped Waylon Francis (who should have been marking him), and was calm and composed in just tapping the ball in to give the Union their first goal of the year. This is not a goal that either Pontius or the Union score in 2015.
The second goal proves the adage that you make your own luck, as the Union again did the little things right in order to score a goal.
Ken Tribbett did well to win the ball from Federico Higuain. Tribbett got it up to CJ Sapong, who did well to get an oncoming Gaston Sauro to come around on his weak (left) side as he turned upfield. Sebastien Le Toux did well to trail Sapong, so that when Sauro forced Sapong to double back and lose touch on the ball Le Toux was able to continue forward with the ball. He then placed a perfect ball across to an onrushing Ilsinho, who was met just inside the box by Michael Parkhurst. Parkhurst did well to poke the ball away from the Brazilian, however Pontius was able to adjust his run to the outside and strike the ball with real power and put the Union up for good. Five different Union players on that sequence each did the little things right, and if just one of them doesn't make a run (or in Tribbett's case, get physical with a much older and experienced player), the Union most likely don't score there.
3.) Keegan Rosenberry's long throw-ins caught Columbus by surprise. It didn't look like the Crew were anticipating Rosenberry's ability to throw a ball into the box from touch, and it allowed the first goal to happen. Could it be that one of the reasons the Union were willing to part with Sheanon Williams is that they knew they had a similar threat at right back in the Academy? Perhaps. Either way, the Union (and Rosenberry)'s secret is out. Ahhhhh-WHOOSH!
4.) Vincent Nogueira out for Warren Creavalle might have been a good thing. Hear me out on this one. Nogueira was a late scratch for the Union, and the "next man up" was Warren Creavalle. Creavalle was able to act as another defender and help stymie the potent Columbus attack. Federico Higuain and Kei Kamara were relatively quiet, considering the last match against the Union Kamara scored twice. Now Creavalle wasn't the only one who went up against Columbus' heavy hitters, but he was called to action at the last second and did very well. Perhaps a healthy Nogueira would have done well against a physical Crew SC, but Creavalle's grit showed him to be a considerable asset.
I was speaking with someone close to the team before the start of the year, and something we talked about was the confidence of the team. While we agreed that the team (on paper) looked promising, the worry was that a slow start to the season would erode confidence and thus leading to another forgettable season. With the club getting their first win almost a full month earlier than last season, let's hope that this win helps boost the confidence and allows the club to live up to their potential.