The Philadelphia Union went down to Texas after what was considered a pretty successful overhaul during the offseason and a decent showing during the brief preseason. They left with questions about everything that was done in the past few months mixed with some feelings like it could have been much, much worse. So what were the game changing moments?
1.) The opening day lineup featured a back line that had three of four players with zero MLS minutes. The only player on the back line with any MLS minutes was Fabinho. Center back Anderson was decent in his debut, as was right back Keegan Rosenberry. Harrisburg City Islanders alum Ken Tribbett was Anderson's partner in the middle, and he had a bit of a rough day - as did Fabinho. Many fans were puzzled as to why Tribbett started over Richie Marquez, and in hindsight perhaps Marquez would have been better, but according to a tweet from Matthew De George:
Curtin said Richie Marquez had a hamstring injury in preseason, missing some time. Curtin saw something with Tribbett-Anderson combo— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) March 6, 2016
Tribbett was clearly outmatched by Mauro Diaz and Maximiliano Urruti - a tall order for any center back. Fabinho was also routinely burned on the outside by the pace of Michael Barrios - again not an easy assignment. This was most evident on the first goal, when Fabinho turned the ball over to Carlos Gruezo. Gruezo quickly sent it to center, where Kellyn Acosta then played it up to Diaz, who has slipped behind Brian Carroll and Vincent Nogueira. Diaz put a great through ball to Fabian Castillo, and the rest was history.
Watch the video, though. Tribbett had committed to covering Urruti on the Union's left because Fabinho was still upfield and left winger Chris Pontius hadn't gotten back quick enough. Anderson was caught a step behind Castillo and on the wrong side of Castillo when the pass was sent, and there was little either he or Andre Blake could do.
2.) Only five of eleven starters and six of 14 players that saw playing time were with the Union in 2015. While the Union certainly improved their squad over the 2015 version, there's no doubt that the lack of time playing as a unit hurt the team. Communication wasn't always there, runs were missed, and FC Dallas was able to exploit these weaknesses. The aforementioned play was a great example of that - Pontius didn't drop back when Fabinho was so far forward (one of them was in the wrong here, depending on if Jim Curtin gave Fabinho the green light to press as far up as he did). Either way, a team that has played together as a unit more than a handful of times gets someone out to cover the Union's left flank, leaving Tribbett and Anderson to handle Castillo.
3.) Fabinho had a really bad game. FC Dallas was also able to exploit what had been one of the Union's strengths - Fabinho's penchant for dribbling out of trouble and going forward. The first goal was a great example, as was the second.
He did well to intercept a pass by Mauro Diaz, but instead of putting the ball upfield to a breaking Leo Fernandes, he tried to dribble past Diaz, who just out-muscled him. At that point there was no one back to assist, and a quick flick from Diaz to Urruti was all that was needed to put the final nail in the Union's coffin.
4.) Andre Blake was as solid as can be. Even though he gave up two, neither goal was his fault. If it wasn't for him, it could have been a lot worse. The Union conceded 18 shots, 10 of which were on target. Blake did well to make the eight saves that he did, prompting this observation:
So Andre Blake is on pace for 272 saves this season. The current MLS record is 184 by Scott Garlick of the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 2000.— The Brotherly Game (@BrotherlyGame) March 6, 2016
Let's hope the Union defense gets itself sorted out in time for the next match, otherwise Kei Kamara and the Columbus Crew SC offense will eat them alive.