Thursday, May 28, 2015

Take Two: Union vs. FC Dallas

Sometimes, you have to be mean to the ball.

Take Two: Union vs. FC Dallas

With two weeks until the next Union game, we've got some time to think about and discuss what we saw Saturday. You can definitely count me in the camp of people who think it really meant something for the Union to get that late goal, for the team's confidence and for Danny Mwanga in particular. It would not have been good to go into a long layoff after a 1-0 loss with so many missed chances.

- Sometimes, the ball comes to you. Soccer player spend so much time running up and down the field away from the ball. They call for a pass or wave their hands, but to no avail. Then, all of a sudden, the ball appears.

But that doesn't just happen because of dumb luck. You can know where the ball's going, and that was the case with Danny Mwanga on Saturday. When Shea Salinas' cross came into the box, Mwanga had a sense that the ball might get headed back away from the goal. So he stayed back as the line went forward, and the ball came to him.

- Sometimes you have to be mean to the ball. In one of the great soccer books of all time, Soccer in Sun and Shadow, the famed Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano wrote the following about the nature of a soccer ball:

She can't stand getting kicked around or hit out of spite. She insists on being caressed, kissed, lulled to sleep on the chest or the foot.

There are moments, though, when there is no time to be polite. Danny Mwanga got the ball on the stroke of the 94th minute, the last minute of the game. All Mwanga could do was hit the ball as fast and hard as he could, which he did. And given the circumstances, the ball should have known that was coming. Galeano might have demanded that Mwanga apologize, but I hope the ball told Mwanga that no apology was necessary on this occasion.

On a more prosaic level, consider the quote that Peter Nowak gave about Mwanga's goal, and how much time Mwanga had to make his decision.

In Major League Soccer, you have five, six seconds before the window on players [passing] between the channels shuts down. In Europe, as we will see in the Champions League final next week, the window shuts down in two seconds. If you don't play [the ball], then you have to find other options.

Six seconds is a long time to make a decision, even if it seems like it's not. Danny Mwanga made the decision in two seconds, and he deserves credit for that.

- Sometimes your DVR works just well enough that you can pause a game at the exact point when a ball is played to determine whether a player was offside. And unfortunately for Sebastien Le Toux, he was indeed offside when he put the ball in the net in the sixth minute. The evidence is here.

- Sometimes a goal is made of small things as well as big things. Brek Shea's 13th-minute strike from the edge of the 18-yard box was tremendous, and there was no way Chris Seitz could stop it. But the best thing about it for me was a move that Shea pulled on the chalk line to create some space.

You'll see it on the replay at the bottom of the post. With a little switch from his left to his right foot, Shea went around Cristian Arrieta and blasted the ball into the top of the net. Telefutura's Jorge Perez Navarro and and Diego Balado both called the play a "golazo," and I think we can agree with that.

It was also Shea's first goal in his 27-game MLS career. So both goals in the game were the first ever for the players who scored them.

- Sometimes Chris Seitz doesn't make a mistake. He gambled quite a lot on Saturday, but he won each time. There were two especially risky moments, though, that deserve our attention. The first came in the 39th minute, when Jeff Cunningham raced past Danny Califf (did I not see that coming?) and Hartman came all the way to the edge of the 18-yard line. Cunningham really should have scored, but somehow put the ball over the open net.

The second play came in the 44th minute. Zach Loyd played a long ball out of the back line, and Cunningham ran toward it. Seitz came all the way out of the box and jumped almost over Cunningham to head the ball away. Had Cunningham jumped, he probably would have beaten Seitz to the ball, or at least deflected it toward the net. But the veteran forward didn't jump at all, and hopefully Seitz took his luck to Atlantic City.

- Sometimes the Union don't get a player sent off.
And you thought Chris Seitz not making a mistake was surprising. The Union had to deal with a red card in their first, third and fifth games of the season. This was the seventh. Before kickoff, a few of us were joking around in the press box about which player's turn it would be today.

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Lo and behold, the Union played all 90 minutes with 11 men. They also played their smartest game of the season, in my opinion. That's not a coincidence.

- Sometimes soccer just doesn't make sense. My good friend Chris Vito of the Delaware County Times posted on Twitter during the second half:

Is it possible for one team to completely outclass the other and still lose? @Union2010 certainly the better team right now at the Linc.

The Union took 21 shots and 10 corner kick, but needed 94 minutes to score one goal. That's the game. It's capricious, and sometimes it just drives you nuts. But ask any Barcelona fan about the second leg of the Champions League semifinal against Inter Milan.

Barcelona played the kind of wonderfully attractive soccer for which it was famous. The players completed exactly 666 passes and had countless opportunities on goal. But they only scored once, and the goal came too late to overturn Inter's aggregate goals advantage. So Barcelona were eliminated.

At other times, though, when you keep pushing forward, things all of a sudden go right. That's what happened for Danny Mwanga. And it brings to mind another soccer adage: you make your own luck. It seemingly took forever, but the Union made themselves some luck in the last minute on Saturday.

- Sometimes you have to wait 35 days between Union home games. That was the case from April 10 to May 15. This time, 43 days will have passed between the Union's last game at Lincoln Financial Field and its first at PPL Park. It's a long time, but I think it will be worth it in the end.

And I'll say this too: the Sons of Ben were incredibly loud on Saturday. So loud that I could hear them in the glass-enclosed Lincoln Financial Field press box at the other end of the pitch. I'm looking forward to being able to actually hear them at PPL Park, where the press box windows will be retractable.

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The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, the National Women's Soccer League, the U.S. men's and women'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.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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