Saturday, November 28, 2015

Union set a new tone with season-opening win

Here are my thoughts on the Union's 1-0 win at Houston this past Saturday.

Union set a new tone with season-opening win


I didn't get to watch the Union's 1-0 win over Houston until yesterday evening, so I can't fairly call this piece Take Two the way I usually would.

But I figure I might be able to get a few of you talking today, especially if you're stuck at your desks looking for a lunchtime soccer fix. So here are my thoughts on Saturday's game.

- Danny Califf sent a much different message in his first game of 2011 than he did in his first game of 2010. Last year at Seattle, Califf was booked just 16 seconds into the match for landing an arm in Fredy Montero's face. This year, Califf pounced on a loose ball in the box to score a goal in the fourth minute. Califf only commited one foul in the game on Saturday, and in general seemed much more composed and positionally aware than he did last year.

- Faryd Mondragón proved his worth in more ways than one. That he kept a clean sheet has dominated the headlines, and should. But he also displayed a certain kind of confidence that we rarely saw from either Chris Seitz or Brad Knighton.

That is a function of experience, which both Seitz and Knighton lacked. There's nothing wrong with playing a young goalkeeper, especially one with the skills and athleticism that Seitz and Knighton possessed. But the mental edge that Mondragón brings to the field is a trait that derives from years spent between the sticks on fields around the world.

Mondragón's assertive presence was why he was able to clear his teammates away from an endline scuffle in the fifth minute, just after the Union's goal. He told Carlos Valdés to get away from the ref, and Valdes left the scene immediately.

That same assertiveness factored into his knowing when to come off his line to stop a breakaway, and when to not. We saw Seitz struggle with that on multiple occasions last year. 

- Carlos Ruiz hasn't changed much since he left MLS, and that's a good thing. The Guatemalan's hair is a bit longer, but his skill set remains much the same. It didn't take long for Ruiz to get moving in the Union's attack, as he received a pass in the third minute and pulled off a few fancy flicks before playing a pass.

- Ruiz is lucky he wasn't sent off for leaping into Andrew Hainault in the 21st minute. If he had been, though, I would have disagreed with it. I watched the play multiple times, and I never saw Ruiz look backwards to see where Hainault was.

I don't dispute that there was a foul. But from what I saw, I don't think Ruiz "led with his elbow," as veteran Houston play-by-play announcer Glenn Davis claimed on the Dynamo's broadcast. Ruiz jumped backwards to meet the ball, and I think his arm swung as part of that movement.

(The game replay I watched came from MLS' website, and they used the Houston broadcast. Unfortunately, the broadcast was beset with technical difficulties throughout the second half. Davis told me that a generator in the production truck failed. Condolences to the people at Fox Sports Houston who had to fight that during the game.)

- Brad Davis burned Sheanon Williams repeatedly on the flank. Davis is one of the best wingers in MLS, and is due credit for his performance. But it seemed to me that Williams would have kept Davis in front of him more had he not ventured forward as much. There are times when going forward is a good thing - and Williams' strong throw-ins are certainly an asset - but I think defensive priorities ought to come first.

- It would have been nice to see the Union attack more. They spent a lot of time absorbing attacks from Houston, but even so, there weren't many stretches of the game where the Union were able to sustain possession of the ball.

In particular, I noticed that the Union did not move the ball through the center of midfield much. On the rather rare occasions when they did move forward, the attacking thrust came from the flanks.

That's not too surprising given the central midfield pairing of Brian Carroll and Stefani Miglioranzi. Both players are holding midfielders and are not out there to go forward with the ball. But the lack of creativity was exacerbated by having Sebastien Le Toux at forward instead of in midfield.

Perhaps we'll get a more creative game this weekend, when the Union play at home against a Vancouver squad that isn't all that great. But the Whitecaps will come east with a lot of confidence after a 4-2 rout of Toronto in their home opener.

In particular, it appears that Vancouver discovered a gem in striker Eric Hassli. The French striker is the team's first designated player. Even though Hassli doesn't have the name recognition of countryman Thierry Henry, he seems to have fit in right away with the Whitecaps - as evidenced by the two goals he scored Saturday.

So we'll see what happens. For now, I'm sure most of you are pretty happy that the Union's defense secured a 1-0 win. The win got the season off to a positive start, and it was the kind of result that the Union almost never achieved last year.

Be sure to come back here tomorrow, when you all get to have your say in the season's first edition of Rank and File. And in case you didn't get to see the match, here are the highlights:
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About this blog
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
Lauren Green Inquirer Staff Writer
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