Archive: October, 2010
United States 0, Colombia 0: Kerith Gabriel | Kate Harman | Associated Press | Washington Post
More coverage: Soccer Insider | ESPN.com | SI.com | New York Times | Ives Galarcep | Michael Lewis
Here are my postgame thoughts from the United States national team's scoreless draw with Colombia at PPL Park last night. We'll get the bad side of the ledger out of the way first.
- The first half was incredibly boring. Bob Bradley's starting lineup produced almost nothing in attack, while Colombia made runs forward every once in a while but couldn't do anything with them. The only true attacking player on the field for the U.S. in the first half was Jozy Altidore, and he appeared stranded up top on numerous occasions.
- Bob Bradley's 4-3-3 formation was too defensive. It's not necessarily bad to play a 4-3-3, and there's certainly no shame in experimenting with different formations in a friendly match at the very start of a new World Cup cycle. But the midfield trio of Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu and Michael Bradley did not work. Stuart Holden contributed some to the attack, but Brek Shea didn't go forward much. Which leads to my next point...
- There was almost no width whatsoever in the first half. This was especially true in the midfield. In addition to the aforementioned lack of spark and creativity, the U.S. midfield had no width whatsoever. Brek Shea's positioning in particular left a big gap in the part of the field you'd expect a player in his position to occupy. As a result, Jozy Altidore had to cover even more ground than he was already assigned as the lone striker.
- The U.S. struggled to possess the ball. That's not news to anyone who's watched this team regularly, but it's still worth noting. Every once in a while, Michael Bradley and the central defensive pairing of Clarence Goodson and Oguchi Oneywu would string a few passes together across the back line. But once the ball started moving forward, it was almost always turned over right away.
- None of the U.S. players seemed willing or able to really take control and dictate the flow of the game. Clint Dempsey came closest, wich was no surprise given his talent. But the game would have been so different if Landon Donovan was on the roster.
That's not to say he should have been, because the U.S. Soccer Federation made a fair deal to allow MLS players to remain with their clubs for the playoff race. It's just a statement about how much Donovan matters to the U.S. team's success, because he is the one player on the squad who can really break through opponents and finish opportunities.
- Jermaine Jones and Eric Lichaj were impressive. I liked Jones' ball control and willingness to make runs with the ball both on the flank and in the center of the field. There were concerns for a while that the German-American wouldn't live up to the great hype that has surrounded him for the last few months, but Jones certainly seems worth a regular place in the U.S. rotation.
The same is true of Lichaj, a right back who got his first ever cap last night. He made good runs forward, but also never seemed to be completely caught out at the back. Lichaj also displayed a bit of gumption, cleaning up a Colombian attack by backheeling the ball onto his head in order to send a legal pass back to U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
- The U.S. back line as a whole played well. Yes, Colombia made a lot of dangerous runs forward, but the more I think about it the more I think that was a result of the space opened up on the flanks by the 4-3-3 formation. Clarence Goodson and Oguchi Oneywu both made strong but clean tackles at key times, and even left back Heath Pearce did a good job at closing down Colombian attackers.
- I thought Jozy Altidore played well despite the limitations he was dealt. Clearly, Altidore plays better when he has a second forward out there with him. Not all strikers can play alone up top, even among the great goal-scorers in the sport. Once Eddie Johnson got out there in the second half, Altidore looked livelier and was able to contribute more to the attack.
- Stuart Holden serves a pretty nice free kick. Holden sent multiple balls into the right places in the box, and it wasn't his fault that none of his teammates could head those chances in the right direction. Look for Holden to continue taking free kicks for the U.S., especially when he can swing the ball into the box from the flanks.
- Despite the poor attendance, the atmosphere was terrific. The attendance was announced as 8,823, and it actually looked the part. The River End was packed with red shirts, and their chants carried plenty loudly throughout the night. Alas, not everything they came up with was all that creative, which led to a lot of grumbling in the press box about the same foul language we've heard at PPL Park all year.
There were also a lot of Colombian fans in the stands, frankly more than I expected there to be. But they also helped liven things up as wide swaths of PPL Park were draped in the red, yellow and blue of the Colombian flag.
It certainly would have helped things if a goal had been scored. To me, a scoreless draw seemed the right result, as both teams were unable to convert their attacks into geniune chances. But it's clear that the U.S. and Colombian teams are works in progress, and they used this game to try new things as a new four-year cycle of international soccer begins.
As you've already noticed, there's a photo gallery from the game above as well as links to coverage from the Inquirer and Daily News as well as other media outlets that were on hand. There's also a video with some analysis from me and postgame interviews.
In the audio player below, you'll hear from U.S. coach Bob Bradley and players Jozy Altidore, Stuart Holden, Eric Lichaj and Brad Guzan. From the Colombian side, Faryd Mondragon gave a postgame interview in English, while coach Hernand Dario Gomez spoke in Spanish.
Union midfielder Roger Torres was also on hand, and he clearly enjoyed having his country's national team at his new home. Torres spoke through an interpreter with local reporters outside the locker rooms, and you'll notice that he's starting to pick up his English a bit.
The last track is a pregame interview I did with ESPN analyst and former U.S. national team midfielder John Harkes. We talked about his experience at the World Cup this summer and the investments that ESPN has made in broadcasting soccer over the past year.
Time: 8:25 p.m. EDT
Venue: PPL Park, Chester, Pa.
TV: ESPN2 (Adrian Healey, John Harkes and Julie Foudy in the stadium; Max Bretos, Alexi Lalas and Juan Pablo Ángel in the Bristol studio) and Galavision (Jorge Otatti and Fernando Clavijo); both broadcasts start at 8:00 p.m.
You can read a transcript of quotes from Bob Bradley's press conference yesterday here.
As Kerith Gabriel noted in this morning's Daily News, only around 7,000 tickets have been sold for tonight's game. Short of a ridiculously large walk-up crowd, there's nothing that can be done now to avoid there being a lot of empty seats when the TV cameras cast their gaze upon PPL Park.
We've already discussed the reasons for the low sales number on here: the expensive ticket prices, the relatively late kickoff on a school night, the glut of soccer games in the region over the last few weeks, and so on.
Here's another factor to discuss. It was pointed out to me by a friend last night that the U.S. Soccer Federation hasn't done much marketing and promotion of the game. I've since been told by sources that the amount of attention that the Phillies, Eagles and Flyers are currently commanding has been a factor in that, and that the USSF didn't want to waste too many resources if it didn't think there would be a great return on the investment.
With all due respect, I find that a weak argument. None of the three aforementioned teams are playing tonight, and we've known that would be the case for a while. The 76ers have a preseason home game against Boston, but for as small a crowd as will be at PPL Park tonight I suspect there wil be even fewer people at the Wachovia Center.
Obviously, most of the local attention right now is on the Phillies, who played Game 1 of their Division Series on the same night the U.S. women played at PPL Park. But we've known for a few weeks now that the Phillies' schedule had them off tonight no matter how the series played out. So it's been clear for a while that there would be a window for attention, even if it is a small one.
I would like to think that any national team game is an important occasion. Even if the U.S. Soccer Federation itself doesn't make all of its international matches seem like big deals, they are nonetheless are pretty rare compared to the rest of our sports landscape.
Speaking of windows, it should be noted that the U.S. game will be the only live sporting event broadcast on any of the Worldwide Leader's channels tonight. The main network has a 30 for 30 movie and the World Series of Poker, while ESPNU has college football analysis and ESPN Classic has a college basketball replay from last season.
Okay, that's enough ranting from me. It's not my job to be a cheerleader for the U.S. Soccer Federation or any of its teams, but I do feel that the lack of ticket sales for this game is a subject that needs to be discussed.
If you are going tonight, or if you're on the fence, you'll be happy to know that there will be a shuttle service from the Chester Transportation Center as there has been for Union games throughout the year. You'll find the train schedule at the bottom of the post.
Whether you'll be at PPL Park or not, I hope you'll join my live chat tonight. If you're on a mobile device, you can follow along and share your thoughts here. It would be great to hear from fans in the stands during the game.
U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley spoke with reporters at PPL Park yesterday, ahead of the game against Colombia tonight. Kerith Gabriel of the Daily News sent along some quotes that didn't make it into his story in today's paper.
On the national team's return to Philadelphia:
We are excited to be back in Philadelphia. As most of you know, we played our [World Cup] send-off game here, and that was a great event. Now we are back with Philadelphia, one of the cities that is a part of the [2018 or 2022 World Cup] bid. And for the national team, our first opportunity to play in PPL Park [comes] in the shadows of that. In all those ways, we are excited to be here.
Better late than never, right?
Brad Knighton: 6.40
- "Heck of a stop by Knighton against Donovan. Seitz wouldn't have made that save - he'd have been too busy falling over backwards." (Peter N.)
Danny Califf: 5.40
Jordan Harvey: 5.00
Michael Orozco Fiscal: 5.25
- "The next time the Union face the leading scorer in MLS, their defenders - collectively - may wish to consider marking him on corners." (Peter N.)
Sheanon Williams: 5.75
- "Williams absolutely owns the right back position (Myrie who?), and a good deal of pace makes him an offensive threat as well." (Andrew Dillon)
- "I gave Fred a 10, only because he bled so profusely for the team." (Andrew Dillon)
Andrew Jacobson: 5.40
Justin Mapp: 5.60
- "I really, really, really, really wish Mapp would take on the opposing players more. Where's the ball skill he supposedly possesses?" (Andrew Dillon)
Stefani Miglioranzi: 4.40
- "Had at least on good scoring chance early (off a corner) and did not deliver." (Steve O.)
Kyle Nakazawa: 4.40
She Salinas: 6.67
- "Two great chances late in the game. Again effective down the right side. Would like to see him start more in the future." (Steve O.)
Roger Torres: 5.75
- "Thought he could have been brought on a little earlier. Very dangerous in his limited time." (Steve O.)
Sebastien Le Toux: 6.40
Danny Mwanga: 5.40
- "Danny Mwanga has been a complete non-factor since his injury. Let's hope he gets well, soon." (Peter N.)
- "I find myself mildly surprised to remember that Danny Mwanga actually started this game. That probably says something bad about his play." (Osager)
After playing two games against China in five days, the U.S. women's national team got a night off on Thursday. They spent it at PPL Park watching the Union game, and that gave me a chance to chat wth coach Pia Sundhage and a few players during halftime.
Sundhage's team got a 2-1 win in the first game, this past Saturday in Kennesaw, Ga.; and a 1-1 draw Tuesday at PPL Park. Though the latter result was a surprise, Sundhage nonetheless came away pleased with what she saw overall.
"Overall, we got two good games, and we've got things to work on, which is good," Sundhage said. "I was good to have two games, because we tried a couple of players and we got some of the new players a little more playing time. And at the same time, we wanted the core of the team to play more minutes together."
China didn't qualify for next summer's World Cup in Germany, which you might not have expected given the nation's strong history in the women's game. But even though China has slipped a bit in recent years, Sundhage said the team should not be taken lightly.
"The team we played against [Tuesday] is a totally different team" from the one that didn't qualify for the World Cup, Sundhage said. "They got a new coach and they got some new players, and I really liked the way they played, because they have improved their game with different players."
The U.S. team has also undergone changes recently as it works to reclaim the World Cup. One of the new players in the fold is Independence forward Amy Rodriguez, who's had a whirlwind last few weeks with the WPS playoffs and national team duty.
"It's been hard to just sit back and relax and finally take a breath," Rodriguez said. "It's been go-go-go for me, and I've enjoyed it. I really have - I would rather have so many soccer things coming my way right now, rather than just sitting at home watching soccer on TV."
Even though Rodriguez has enjoyed being busy, that doesn't mean it's been easy to deal with everything. Perhaps the biggest challenge was the Independence's three-day turnaround from their WPS playoff semifinal in Boston to the championship game in the Bay Area.
"It was really tough, I'm not going to lie," Rodriguez said. "We really did mentally try to mentally prepare ourselves for it, and we did the best we could, but I think physically we weren't as sharp as we could have been."
The Independence weren't just challenged by the travel, of course. There was the burden of having played two straight overtime games, and to top it all off, they had to face Brazilian superstar Marta on her home turf.
For as great a season as Rodriguez as had, even she had to admit that Marta is the best player in the world right now.
"I'm glad I'm not a defender and I don't have to go against her very much," Rodriguez said with a wry smile. "Just watching her play is exciting, and she's one of those players that you don't want to play against. You always want her on your team."
Rodriguez should have an easier time of things in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament that will take place at the end of this month in Mexico. The U.S. will face Haiti, Guatemala and Costa Rica in group play. Mexico and Canada are in the other group, so the U.S. won't have to worry about them until the semifinals.
The top two teams in each group will advance to the semifinals, and the two finalists will qualify automatically for the World Cup. The third-place team will play a playoff against the fifth-place team from Europe for a place in the 16-team tournament.
The U.S. should win its group easily. Canada is a better team than Mexico, but Mexico is improving and will be playing on home soil. If Canada is able to avoid the upset and win the other group, the U.S. should have smooth sailing with a semifinal match against Mexico. A U.S.-Canada semifinal would have quite a bit of pressure in it for both teams.
Rodriguez's goalscoring skills are one of the reasons why the U.S. has been playing so well lately. Another is Rodriguez's partner up top, Abby Wambach. The 5-foot-11 veteran remains one of the most effective strikers in the sport, and has flourished under Sundhage's watch.
Although Sundhage has been at the helm since the fall of 2007, memories still remain of the U.S. team's struggles under her predecessor, Greg Ryan. Sundhage's team plays a much more attractive brand of soccer, and that has not been lost on Wambach.
"Pia just brings a different dynamic than most American coaches can coach," Wambach said. "She wants it to be a beautiful game and it's been a privilege to play under her."
From the moment the Los Angeles Galaxy took the field for pregame warmups, it was clear that last night was going to be a special one at PPL Park.
As soon as David Beckham was spotted coming out of the tunnel, all eyes among the record-setting crowd of 18,799 turned to Major League Soccer's best-known player. A chorus of preteen girls' cheers and supporter's section invectives rained down from the stands as Beckham made his way across the pitch.
Not long thereafter, attention turned to the second-brightest star in the Galaxy's constellation: Landon Donovan. The U.S. national team star was accorded one of the loudest ovations I've ever heard given to a visitng player in this city, and I even heard a few cheers from the River End.
But even though Beckham, Donovan and goalscorer Edson Buddle were the reason for the sea of camera flashes in the stands, they weren't the reason for the Galaxy's 1-0 win.
Instead, as Beckham's countrymen might say, it was Los Angeles' defense wot won it.
Buddle's header off a trademark Beckham corner kick will get the headlines, as it put the only crooked number of the night on the scoreboard. To me, though, the difference makers were at the other end of the field. For much of the game, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza and the rest of the Galaxy's defensive corps did not let the Union get the ball into good positions in the final third from which to set up shots. On the few occasions when the Union did break through the back line, L.A. goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts made spectacular saves to preserve the clean sheet.
Did the Union deserve to score? In the end, they probably did. But you can also argue that Peter Nowak's decision to replace Fred with Kyle Nakazawa after the Brazilian was injured didn't help matters. A midfield of Nakazawa, Justin Mapp, Stefani Miglioranzi and Andrew Jacobson is certainly serviceable, but it doesn't have much creativity. That foursome was together for 79 of the 90-plus minutes of play, lasting from Fred's departure 12th minute to Roger Torres' introduction in the 82nd minute.
Perhaps if Torres or Shea Salinas had come in earlier, it would have helped. Both players had positive imapacts on the game in their limited time on the field. Bringing in Jack McInerney and moving Sebastien Le Toux to midfield could also have helped.
In the end, though, credit is due tO Los Angeles for grinding out a 1-0 result. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena admitted afterwards that he was happy to take home a 1-0 result, and was much more concerned with preserving his team's lead than expanding it. It may annoy those of you who wished to see more attacking soccer, but it's a mark of a good team when it can grind out a win on the road.
There are video highlights below, as well as audio interviews with players and coaches from both locker rooms. You'll hear from Peter Nowak, Roger Torres, Danny Califf, Brad Knighton, Stefani Miglioranzi, Bruce Arena, David Beckham and Landon Donovan.
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Venue: PPL Park, Chester, Pa.
Television: ESPN2 (J.P. Dellacamera and John Harkes)
Los Angeles Galaxy
Questionable: D Gregg Berhalter (neck strain), D Leonardo (left quad strain), M Dema Kovalenko (right adductor strain)
Probable: GK Brad Knighton (left shoulder strain), D Juan Diego González (left groin strain); M Eduardo Coudet (right calf strain); F Danny Mwanga (left shoulder sprain)
Before we get to tonight's game, a bit of news. In case you didn't see it because of the Phillies game, the Washington Post's Steven Goff reported last night that only around 6,000 tickets have been sold for next week's U.S.-Colombia game.
I know I'm supposed to be objective about these things, but that number is not good.
Goff cited a number of plausible reasons why sales have been so sluggish. Among the most prominent are high ticket prices for the game, and the attention being paid to the Phillies and the region's other sports teams at the moment.
I can certainly sympathize with those who have complained about the ticket prices. This has been a recurring point of annoyance with many U.S. national team fans in recent months, going back to the U.S.-Brazil game at the Meadowlands after the World Cup.
I can also understand the point about how crowded our local sports landscape is at the moment. I am willing to excuse the poor attention at last night's U.S. women's game, because the entire region is transfixed by the Phillies right now. Even I have been caught up in it, as I hosted our live Phillies chat last night instead of going to the soccer game.
But the Phillies aren't playing next Tuesday. Nor are the Flyers. So the U.S. game will have a relatively high proportion of local sports fans' attention, as it will be the major live action in town that night.
I'm sure a number of you are going to the game. If you aren't, feel free to explain why in the comments. And if you're on the fence, give it some thought. I know the ticket prices are steep, and I know that as someone who gets in for free with a press pass I have no right whatsoever to tell people how to spend their money.
But the best argument Philadelphia can make to get the U.S. national teams here on a regular basis is to keep bringing big crowds to games. No city, no matter how many soccer fans it has, has any kind of right to host national team games. The U.S. Soccer Federation will only go to places where it thinks it can make a profit.
With that out of the way, I hope you'll join me for a live chat during tonight's Union game. It should be quite a spectacle with David Beckham and Landon Donovan in town. If you're on a mobile device, you can join the chat by clicking here. It would be great to have some interaction from fans in the stadium tonight.
Before we get to the ratings from Saturday's game, here's something to think about now that the Union are out of the playoff race.
I am sure there are plenty of people for whom this season has been a disappointment, including people at the club itself. But I never expected the Union to make the playoffs this year. So many other teams in the league had more talent or more experience.
There was also a lot of history working against the Union. In the 15-year history of Major League Soccer, only once has an expansion team starting from scratch made the playoffs in its first season of operation. Yes, that team was the 1998 Chicago Fire, which won MLS Cup with Peter Nowak as its captain. But eight of the league's 12 teams made the playoffs that season. Now MLS has 16 teams, with eight qualifying for the postseason. That's a huge difference.
What about last year's Seattle Sounders, you ask? They made the playoffs in their first year in MLS, and were much more successful on the field than the Union have been.
Seattle is the reason why used the phrase "starting from scratch." The Sounders as an organization had existed for many years as a second division A-League franchise before joining Major League Soccer. Because of that, the club already had a front office and fan base in place when it moved up to the big league. The Union had to start from nothing, especially when it came to scouting and player development.
And what about the Dynamo's first season in Houston? Remember that the Dyanamo were not an expansion team when they arrived in Houston in 2006. They were the relocated San Jose Earthquakes, which had finished in first place in the Western Conference the year before.
Here's a list of how MLS expansion teams have fared in their first seasons. I'll even include Seattle, because I think the list will still make my point pretty well:
1998 Chicago Fire
Regular season: 2nd in Western Conference, 56 points from 32 games
Postseason: Qualified, won MLS Cup
Playoff format: Eight of 12 teams qualified, top four in each of two six-team divisions
2005 Chivas USA
Regular season: 5th in Western Conference, 20 points from 32 games
Postseason: Did not qualify
Playoff format: Eight of 12 teams qualified, top four in each of two six-team divisions
2005 Real Salt Lake
Regular season: 6th in Western Conference, 18 points from 32 games
Postseason: Did not qualify
Playoff format: Eight of 12 teams qualified, top four in each of two six-team divisions
2007 Toronto FC
Regular season: 7th in Eastern Conference, 25 points from 32 games
Postseason: Did not qualify
Playoff format: Eight of 13 teams qualified, top two in each division then next four best overall (East had seven teams, West had six teams)
2008 San Jose Earthquakes
Regular season: 6th in Western Conference, 33 points from 30 games
Postseason: Did not qualify
Playoff format: Eight of 14 teams qualified, top two in each seven-team division then next four best overall
2009 Seattle Sounders
Regular season: 3rd in Western Conference, 47 points from 30 games
Postseason: Qualified, lost in first round
Playoff format: Eight of 15 teams qualified, top two in each division then next four best overall (East had even teams, West had eight teams)
2010 Philadelphia Union (as of today)
Regular season: 6th in Eastern Conference, 28 points from 27 games (can finish as high as 3rd and 37 points)
Postseason: Did not qualify
Playoff format: Eight of 16 qualified, top two in each eight-team division the next four best overall)
You can see from this data that what the Union have gone through is not unusual for a first-year club. If anything, it's a compliment to the Union that there have been so many what-if moments that could have made their record so much better.
I certainly did not expect the Union to play the quality of soccer that they have. Teams that play creative, attacking soccer do not just fall out of the sky fully-formed. It takes time and work to build that kind of form.
That won't stop many of you from wondering what could have been. But while there won't be playoff soccer at PPL Park this year, there wil be a very big consolation prize for local soccer fans: visits from the U.S. men's and women's national teams over the next week and a half.
It is a testament to the passion and loyalty of all of you that these games will be here instead of in Washington, Boston, or somewhere else. It was not that long ago that Philadelphia was in the proverbial wilderness, with fans forced to travel to New York or Washington to get their fix. Now our region is firmly established on the American soccer map.
The Gold Cup match here in 2009 was the U.S. men's national team's first game in Philadelphia since 1989. Next Tuesday's game against Colombia will be the squad's third visit here in 16 months. The U.S. women's team's game here tomorrow will be its fourth in Philadelphia since Lincoln Financial Field opened in 2003. Only Los Angeles has hosted the women more since then, annd only four cities have equaled Philadelphia's total: Washington, Chicago, San Diego and Portland, Oregon.
I won't be at PPL Park tomorrow night because of the Phillies game, but I hope you'll consider going to watch the women's game. The current U.S. squad has a strong mix of veterans and rising stars, and tomorrow's game against China will be the U.S.' last text before the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament in Mexico next month.
If you can't make it, fear not. PPL Park and the Linc have proven themselves to be worthy homes for big-time soccer games, so you can expect both U.S. national teams to visit our region even more in coming years. Take that to heart as the Union's season starts to wind down.
A few highlights and lowlights from watching a replay of Saturday's 1-1 draw at PPL Park...
- Sebastien Le Toux's goal will be remembered for a lot of reasons. Most notable among them, of course, is the way the ball seemed to stick to Le Toux's left foot as he received Roger Torres' pass. But the goal was built on much more than just the pass and finish.
Before Torres sent the ball into the box, he worked his way out of a challenge from Houston's Brad Davis. Torres was able to stay on his feet through the contact and recover the ball, and he had enough time to look up before delivering the pass.
That struck me as a real sign of maturity and confidence from the 19-year-old. Torres is 5-foot-5, 143 pounds, and Davis is 5-11, 175. I'd say there's a little bit of a mismatch there. Earlier in the season, when Torres was still getting settled in MLS, I'm not sure he would have fought to stay on his feet after contact like that. But Torres worked through it, and as often happens, he was richly rewarded for his effort.
- Here's a stat from the game that shouldn't get overlooked. Torres' 76 minutes played represented the most time he's spent on the field in a game this season. That performance did not go unnoticed by Union coach Peter Nowak.
"Roger played well," Nowak said. "He moved from spot to spot and played a great pass for the assist to Seba on the goal, so I was very happy to see that. Sometimes there's one pass like that, and then you try to do another one instead of doing the simple things and moving the ball left to right, but I was very happy with his performance.
- I was surprised that referee Kevin Stott did not stop the game when Kyle Nakazawa stayed on the turf after Andrew Hainault pushed him down. I also think it was a foul in the first place, though Stott let quite a bit go during the game. As for Nakazawa staying down, I counted six seconds that he was on the turf.
I would ask those of you who are referees: is there a certain amount of time that you keep in mind to decide how injured a player is? Obviously six seconds isn't a long time, and to pick any specific number can be considered arbitrary. But I'd like to know what you do when you're out there in the middle of the field.
- The Union were lucky that Houston did not score in the last 10 minutes. Peter Nowak's decision to play three forwards and Sebastien Le Toux opened up big gaps in the midfield, especially on the flanks, and the Dynamo served a couple of crosses into Brad Knighton's box that should have been converted to goals.
You can't fault Nowak for going for the win, but I think his substitution strategy put too many pastry chefs in the kitchen and not enough line cooks. The Union's midfield in the last stages of the game was comprised of Andrew Jacobson, Kyle Nakazawa, Sebastien Le Toux, with earlier substitute Shea Salinas moving to left back after Jack McInerney replaced Jordan Harvey.
That meant the Union had a three-player midfield, which makes it harder to occupy the entire width of the pitch. So it wasn't surprising to see Dynamo players with space on the flanks to send crosses into the box late in the game.
The most glaring example came in the 92nd minute. Lovell Palmer passed the ball to Corey Ashe, who was unmarked on the left side about 25 yards out. Sheanon Williams ran over to close Ashe down, but Ashe had more than enough time to deliver a great cross on to the head of Cam Weaver. Fortunately for the Union, Weaver's header went over the crossbar - as did Brian Ching's header off a cross from the right side just seconds later.
It's a short turnaround this week, and with the baseball playoffs starting Wednesday the next few days are going to be really busy for me. So I'll post your player ratings tomorrow, then that will be it until Thursday's game against Los Angeles.
There was a certain sense of inevitability in the air at PPL Park yesterday afternoon.
Despite the best attempts of fans and media to put the situation in a positive light, it had been clear for some time that the Union were not going to make the playoffs this season.
Yes, the team was still mathematically in the race at the start of the day, even after Wednesday's loss at Colorado. But there were so many clearly better teams to overcome in the standings that the task seemed all but impossible.
The last flickering embers of hope were finally extinguished when Seattle wrapped up a 3-2 win over Toronto during the second half of the Union's 1-1 draw against Houston. But the first admission of reality came an hour before kickoff.
When the starting lineups were announced, the Union's XI was missing four veterans: Danny Califf, Justin Mapp, Stefani Miglioranzi and Fred. Nowak said after the game that he wanted to give them a game off, because of the quick turnaround from Wednesday's game and the fact that it was played at altidute in Colorado.
Still, the names on the teamsheet were surprising. Juan Diego Gonzalez paired with Michael Orozco Fiscal in central defense, and the midfield was comprised of Kyle Nakazawa, Andrew Jacobson, Roger Torres and Sebastien Le Toux. With Danny Mwanga still nursing an injured shoulder, Nick Zimmerman partnered with Alejandro Moreno up front.
It was a statement not just about the present, but about the future. Yes, the Union are already looking towards next season, and the last three games of this year will go a long way towards proving who stays and who goes.
I'm sure that will disappoint the segment of Philadelphia sports fans who demand that the Super Bowl and Stanley Cup be won every five minutes. But with all due respect, Peter Nowak does not care what you think. He is of a firm believe that his task with the Union is to build a team that will grow towards success over time.
That's not news, to be sure. Nowak expressed his philosophy all the way back at the Expansion Draft, and reinforced it by not signing a designated player.
That doesn't mean Nowak doesn't want to win. The Union played the last 10 minutes of yesterday's game with four forwards, throwing as much as they could at the Dynamo in order to find the winning goal. That the strategy backfired - Houston had most of the possessin and almost all of the chances in the latter stages of the match - is beside the point. It was clear that the Union intended to give everything they had to win.
So where to from here? Fortunately for the Union, their last three games of the season will offer plenty of motivation. Los Angeles and New York will bring superstars and sold-out crowds to PPL Park, while the trip to Columbus will be the last chance for players to prove they should be here next season.
In the audio player below, you'll hear from Nowak and a number of his players about how they'll keep their heads up as the team plays out the stretch. There is every reason for Union fans to take them at their word.
Of course I wouldn't overlook the best moment of yesterday's game. Sebastien Le Toux scored arguably the Union's goal of the year, trapping an inch-perfect pass from Roger Torres with his left foot and calmly slotting the ball home with his right. A "golazo" if ever there was.
The finish further strengthened Le Toux's case to be this season's Most Valuable Player in MLS, and again showed Torres' potential as a playmaker. I'll get into this more in Take Two, but I thought Torres had the most creative license today of any game he's played this season.
Here's the video: