Take Two: Union vs. Chicago Fire

A few thoughts after watching a replay of the Union's win Saturday night at PPL Park...

- Sebastien Le Toux's goal was set up by a potential Justin Mapp hand ball. This is another situation where we can debate the letter and the spirit of the law. From the right flank, Alejandro Moreno played a ball forward over a few defenders. The ball bounced, and Dasan Robinson headed it back at Mapp. The ball struck Mapp on the top of his left forearm, with Mapp's forearm extended about halfway out from his body.

If that play had happened inside the 18-yard box, I think the referee would have blown his whistle. You can say that it is a case of ball-to-hand, but we've discussed before the difference between when the arm is extended and when it's not extended. Another factor is that Mapp clearly took advantage of the deflection, as it helped him play the ball to Le Toux.

This shot isn't the best quality, but you can see fairly well where the ball struck Mapp's arm:

- Brad Knighton came within an inch of touching the ball outside the penalty area. In the 65th minute, Knighton chased after a loose ball against Fire midfielder Mike Banner. Knighton dove for the ball and was clearly outside of the 18-yard box as he hit the turf. Luckily for the Union, though, Knighton never appeared to actually touch the ball. I watched the play multiple times, and I don't think Knighton touched the ball. I did not see the ball's spin or trajectory change as it came near him.

It was extremely close, though, as you can see here:

Because of the blur, that shot makes the ball seem closer to Knighton's hand than it appeared watching the video. But as far as I could tell, there was no contact.

- The Union should have been given a penalty kick in the second minute. When I first saw Danny Mwanga go flying over Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson, I didn't think it was a penalty. But only after watching a replay did I see the contact. Johnson definitely got a piece of Mwanga's foot.

There wasn't much contact, but the reason why it was a penalty is that Johnson never touched the ball. Think back to the penalty that Chris Seitz gave up all the way back in April at Toronto. The ball had been played away from the point of contact before Seitz collided with O'Brian White. The same thing happened with Johnson and Mwanga.

Now, there wasn't nearly as much contact between Johnson and Mwanga as there was between Seitz and White. By the letter of the law, though, it was a foul.

- The Union could have been given another penalty in the 29th minute. Sebasatien Le Toux played a short pass to Alejandro Moreno inside the 18-yard box, and Moreno went down with contact from Dasan Robinson. You can call that a fair challenge, but Robinson gave Moreno another push after the two had hit the ground. That was where I thought the whistle should have been blown.

- Danny Califf had one of his best games with the Union. On many occasions this season he's been a step slow, or out of position against an attacker. Against a reasonably potent Chicago attack, Califf did not make any mistakes.

Here's a good example: in the 13th minute, Chicago's Freddie Ljungberg played a cross from the right side into the box, and Califf was marking Collins John as the ball came in. Califf effectively boxed John out as he came around John and trapped the ball with his chest, then cleared the ball away. There wasn't any extra roughhousing, just a simple move to win the ball in open space.

- Shea Salinas brought a spark in his return to the Union. Salinas hadn't played since July 10, and his return reminded us of the speed and inventiveness he brings to the midfield. He also brings real width to the Union's attack.

The best example on Saturday was a run down the right flank in the 90th minute which covered almost the entire length between the 18-yard boxes. Salinas beat Mike Banner off the dribble in very tight space near midfield, then capped off the run with a nice through ball for Fred.

Salinas' presence on the flank matters when Justin Mapp makes one of his trademark cutting runs. It also allows Mapp to create from the middle of the field, which can come in handy when Roger Torres isn't playing.

- I was disappointed by Fire star Nery Castillo. The Mexican midfielder is one of the most talented players in Major League Soccer, but wasn't much involved in Chicago's attack.

Fire coach Carlos de los Cobos said after the game that Castillo hasn't been with the team long enough yet to have really blended in. The absence of playmaker Marco Pappa also probably had an impact. But I expected the attack to run through Castillo much more than it did.

- There were not 18,563 fans in PPL Park. That was the announced crowd. Plenty of teams across sports report attendance as the number of tickets sold instead of the number of tickets torn - even the NFL does it.

But there were quite a few empty seats throughout Saturday's game - and it needs to be said that a far number of those seats were in the River End.

I'd put the actual attendance at around 16,000. That's still a very impressive number for an expansion club with basically no hope of making the playoffs. I hope, though, that teams across sports will have the guts some day to give us the real numbers.