What the hell just happened? And,…. what happens next?
That’s how the boxscore of Union vs New England Revolution reads. Those who watched the entire match know that it’s something else. We saw 2 games in one night: one that finished 4-1 Revs, and another that finished 3-0 Union. Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities begins with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” and it’s that kind of either-end-of-the-spectrum night that Wednesday night was. The worst-of-times/age-of-foolishness first half saw Union unable to defend a set piece and allowing a guy (AJ Soares) to score his first ever MLS goal. From watching the play, you’d have thought he was their leading scorer. Soares knew that if he struck the header cleanly, there was no chance for Zac MacMath to keep it out of the net. There was a greater chance that Zac would have lost an appendage if he had made contact. Regardless of who is held to blame for Soares running free, it demonstrated a lack of defensive awareness, and the perils that can be immediately presented. The foul that lead to the penalty kick was another play where lack-of-awareness was the culprit. I don’t agree with the foul call at all. Be that as it may, the attacking player was running towards the corner flag, and Stefani Miglioranzi was in position to defend that. He was not, however, in position to win the ball off of the throw-in. He’s just not fast enough (must be those cement shoes I keep talking about, you know, the ones that should have him anchored to the bench). So, he makes the risky decision, and we know the result: 2-0 down to the the lowest-scoring team in the league, before the Sons of Ben could even break into “4 Leaf Clover.” The 3rd conceded goal was an example of what can happen when a midfielder is playing in defense. I like Gabe Farfan, but he, as everyone at this point knows, is not a fullback. It’s just not what he is naturally adept at. Therefore, I was not surprised when he was caught marking 2 New England attackers in the 6-yard box, and that play resulted in a goal. He is just not naturally a defender and tracking a cross in the air is not his strong suit. He underestimated the flight of the ball, made a great effort to change the cross’ course, but to no avail. He shouldn’t be in that position, and it showed on that play. Skipping over Roger Torres’ goal, we go to Benny Failhaber, I mean, Feilhaber collecting a failed clearance, and not having anyone actually close out on him so that he could chose which loop of the net to hit. As with the goal scored by Kyle Beckerman in the loss to RSL, chasing a player from behind IS NOT MARKING HIM! Note to Union players (not that I think any of them read this blog): if you see one of your teammates trailing the guy with the ball and he can’t seem to catch up, STEP UP AND WIN THE FUCKING BALL INSTEAD OF LETTING THEM SHOOT ON YOUR NET!!!
Now that I’ve vented the negative, on to the best-of-time/age-of-wisdom portion of the post. The wisdom was unearthed by Roger Torres. The diminutive playmaker used the unorthodox play to catch Matt Reis off guard and breathe life into a Union side on life support. The ball played into him by Sheanon Williams should have been played back to Williams with one touch. That play would have been a threatening scoring chance in itself. Roger, however, deftly turned on a quick pivot, and neatly bent his shot around Reis into the top far corner. The shame of the first 45 was that this was the only goal Union had to show for their solid play in controlling possession and creating chances. Half-time couldn’t have come at a better time. I thoroughly enjoyed the further “wisdom” of Coach Peter Nowak in getting Miglioranzi the hell off of the field, and removing Gabe Farfan. Even better, was the he replaced those two with Mike Farfan and Danny Mwanga, in effect forcing his team into playing a 3-4-3. That is a much better “kitchen sink” formation than in matches past. The old version of the desperate offensive tactic would have 4 forward trying to figure out how to not get in anyone else’s way. This version had 3 attacking mids (Marfan, Adu, Torres) balanced centrally by Brian Carroll, with 3 forwards (Ol’ Serby Bastard, Le Toux, Mwanga). It was a dream scenario, seemingly, to get both Adu and Torres on the field from the start, but it happened, and was a good move proven in the first 10 minutes of the latter half. The 3 forwards put more pressure on New England than they knew what to do with, and Danny Mwanga’s soft first-touch allowed him to turn on the ball and send a deftly-placed pass into the path of Freddy Adu. Adu may be a bust in the soccer world to-date, but his finish was confident and poised. It also let the audience know that the match was far from decided. Then came the Sebastien Le Two show. The first of his (Le) two goals was set up by his Academy Award-winning performance in framing Pat Phelan for tackling him in the box. Phelan was watching the ball going across the face of goal after the flick-on header. He wasn’t aware that Seba was where he was, and his own attempt to usher the ball harmlessly over the endline turned into the 3rd Union goal. Seba created the contact, like an NBA player would do to get to the free throw line. The thoroughly-confused referee bought it, and Seba finshed the play off with his 4th PK on the season. And the capper was a Le Two’s second goal of the game, and second of this week that he lashed in on a volley played to him perfectly off the Ol’ Serby Bastard’s Ol’ Serby Shoulder.
In the aftermath, the post-match headlines read that Union came back from two 3-goal deficits to earn a point. We’re lead to believe that this is a positive result. However, before the match began, all Union fans looked to this match as the cure-all for the rut they’ve been in where a draw is the inevitable outcome. They’ve fallen behind Columbus and Sporting KC in the Eastern Conference standings, and three points from this tilt would have been greatly welcomed. So, seeing O.S.B. kick a field goal over the crossbar, head a ball wide, shoot another point blanker even wider, among many other chances, makes me think that 4 goals was underachieving. The comeback was riveting, without a doubt. I felt pride in this team for overcoming the adversity. However, their adversity was self-inflicted (see opening paragraph). The best thing about this match is that the next one is only 3 days later. Speaking of which…
Saturday, September 10, Union vs Portland Timbers from PPL Park in Chester, PA, 7:30pm on The Comcast Network
The third of their 3-matches-in-8-days odyssey has them hosting the Portland Timbers. The Timbers handed Union their second loss on the season, way back in early May. Portland has won their last 2 league matches, but they haven’t played since 8/24 which was a 1-0 win over Chivas USA. I perused their schedule/results page on the team website and it shows that they still have trouble winning away from home. I hope this continues.
The other thing I hope continues is the midfield partnership of Freddy Adu and Roger Torres. They are so dynamic on the ball that scoring chances seem possible every time the team possesses the ball over midfield. The necessary change is to not have more than one defensive midfielder. It’s a match where three points are desperately needed. Not that it can be expected, but it would be nice to see a replica of the second half against New England on Saturday versus Portland. Union seem to play better with a fire lit under them, as would be the case when you trail a crappy team by 3 goals. Nonetheless, they played very well because they made runs into the offensive half that allowed them to spread the Rev defense out. This made it easier for Union to keep possession, and more importantly, keep possession away from their own goal. Having Adu and Torres together is the creative attacking quality this side can be at their best with, and will allow them to put on a better showing for the fans. I hope Freddy’s late-game cramping against New England doesn’t prevent him from starting in this match. Prediction:… fuck it, I have no idea anymore.
Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union