The benefit of watching a recorded game is that I can rewind the footage to watch plays multiple times.
The downside is that I got my hopes up for a while that Stefani Miglioranzi had actually kicked that ball into the Delaware River. Some day it will happen...
Alas, I have no great analysis to offer on what happened while the ball was lounging on the roof over the Union's locker room. So here are my thoughts on what happened while the ball was on the field.
- I'm not surprised that the Union won, but I am surprised that the final score was 1-0. Given the firepower in the Red Bulls' attack - and the chemistry Dwayne De Rosario has already developed with his new teammates - I figured New York would score at least once, so the Union would have to score twice.
But as happens every so often in sports, the team that made the biggest mistake lost the game. Tim Ream made an inexplicable and inexcusable clearance pass straight to Danny Mwanga, and the Union capitalized to score the game's only goal.
- There certainly should have been more goals in the game, as both teams had big misses in the first half. Danny Califf swung and missed at a loose ball in the box after a free kick in the 17th minute, though that was somewhat contested. The more shocking miss was Juan Agudelo shooting off the crossbar from just inside the box in the 31st minute.
I know that many of you have tried to ascribe superhuman powers to Faryd Mondragón. You would probably cite fact that he so easily got up after hurting himself making a save in the 49th minute. But as for Agudelo, I think you would admit that he should have buried that shot.
I would think that most of the fans at PPL Park on Saturday already knew about Agudelo. But if, for whatever reason, this was your first time watching the 19-year-old, he is going to be a star. He's already well on his way, in fact, having scored twice in recent months for the U.S. national team.
The biggest question about Agudelo for me is whether he will be able to convince the notoriously snobbish soccer fans of New York City to cross the Hudson and visit Red Bull Arena. Yeah, I just said that. It's true, and if you've ever been in Manhattan on a Saturday morning during the English Premier League season you know it's true.
I understand why people don't want to overhype Agudelo. Freddy Adu turned out to be a bust, and you can make the case that Jozy Altidore hasn't really reached the next level yet. But Agudelo has all the skills and physical attributes to be a big-time player. It would be in New York's interest, MLS' interest, and certainly the U.S. national team's interest if that happens.
- Peter Nowak pulled another round of surprises in his starting lineup. In the Union's first three league games, Nowak deployed lineups that I and many of you thought were conservative. This time, in a game where a conservative lineup may well have been called for, Nowak went for an attacking team.
Instead of deploying three holding midfielders, Nowak put Keon Daniel and Justin Mapp on the wings. Daniel has had quite the rise for a guy who only joined the team as a preseason trialist. Mapp's presence was not as surprising, but it was good to see him back and healthy after dealing with an injury in recent weeks.
- Nowak also scrapped the 4-3-3 for a more conventional 4-4-2. Some people (by which I mean some coaches and English newspaper columnists) like to complain about a 4-4-2 because it is the most simple of soccer formations. They know, though, that it is almost always the formation that works best.
A 4-4-2 does two things. First, it covers all areas of the field, from defense through midfield to the top of the attack. Second, it makes the forwards' jobs much easier. Moving the ball around three forwards n leave a team unbalanced, as we discussed last week.
Also, many 4-3-3 formations really only use one striker. There are very few strikers anywhere in the world who work well playing alone up top. Even the best goalscorers in the world play better when they have another forward to pass the ball to and receive the ball from.
This past Saturday, Sebastien Le Toux and Carlos Ruiz were the two forwards. Danny Mwanga was the odd man out, which wasn't all that surprising. There will be more than enough time this season for Mwanga to get minutes, and he may well flourish as a super-sub. But Le Toux and Ruiz are the Union's two best forwards, so it seems to me that they should start.
- Brian Carroll's pulled hamstring could be a significant injury for the Union. Carroll has made some good contributions so far this year, and the Union will definitely miss his workrate if he can't play against Seattle on Saturday. We'll see how long Carroll is out for, but a pulled hamstring is not the kind of injury you want to rush back from. Especially one that you know has to take you off the field as soon as you feel it.
So that's what I think of Saturday's game. The win was a big statement from the Union, and it will definitely get noticed around the league - as will be the Red Bulls' inability to score despite having so much possession.
Feel free to share your thoughts on the game in the comments. I'll be back tomorrow with your player ratings in Rank and File.