Saturday, November 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Rank and File: Union vs. Houston Dynamo

Plus an explanation of why it's not surprising that the Union didn't make the playoffs.

Rank and File: Union vs. Houston Dynamo

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.


Now for your player ratings from Saturday's Union game against Houston.


Goalkeeper

Brad Knighton: 5.44
- "Should have done better on the punch-out that lead to Houston's goal.  Not the long-term answer in goal for the Union." (Erik L.)


Defenders

Juan Diego Gonzalez Alzáte: 5.33
- "I think it was his best game of the season." (Steve O.)

Jordan Harvey: 4.56

Michael Orozco Fiscal: 6.11
- "Gambled big with his tackle on Dominic Oduro but made the play; also slid in well to deflect a cross by Brad Davis." (Jeff)

Sheanon Williams: 5.78


Midfielders

Andrew Jacobson: 5.45
- "Has a cannon shot, but unfortunately he hardly ever gets it on target." (Erik L.)
- "Deserved the start and played well until he appeared to tire at the end. A very underrated player." (Jeff)

Kyle Nakazawa: 5.11

Shea Salinas: 5.38

Roger Torres: 6.89
- "Doesn't do much in the game, then BAM - provides a perfect ball to Le Toux for the goal. The Union need to keep him next year." (Erik L.)

Nick Zimmerman: 5.11
- "Understandably rusty." (Steve O.)
- "Has good size and good speed, not sure why he isn't a better player.  Just doesn't seem to get it done." (Erik L.)


Forwards

Sebastien Le Toux: 7.89
- "Forget the arguments from Toronto, Los Angeles and San Jose: Le Toux is the 2010 MLS MVP.  Were it not for his efforts, not only would the Union not have stayed in contention for a playoff spot until this juncture, they might not have earned more than 5 or 6 points in the standings." (Peter N.)

Jack McInerney: 5.29

Alejandro Moreno: 4.78

Danny Mwanga: 5.14

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
About this blog
The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, U.S. national teams and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

Reach Jonathan at jtannenwald@phillynews.com or 215-854-2330.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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