Take Two: Union vs. San Jose
A few thoughts after watching a replay of Saturday's game.
Take Two: Union vs. San Jose
I made my main point from Saturday's game in my postgame writeup. But I do have a few other things to put out there, especially in light of Sunday's World Cup championship game.
- If Howard Webb had been the referee, the Union would have won. This was Abbey Okulaja's 97th Major League Soccer game in the center circle, and it certainly was not one of his best.
I am willing to give Okulaja some benefit of the doubt for playing advantage when Danny Mwanga's shorts were grabbed as he broke towards goal. I'm not saying I agree with it, because at a certain point you have to step up and give the foul - especially when it's a last-man-on-goal situation as this was. But Mwanga was able to keep going and get through the contact.
What was worse to me was that over the course of 90 minutes, Okulaja's calls and non-calls were very inconsistent. To me, inconsistency in refereeing is a bigger problem than uniformly calling a game too tightly or too loosely.
I would rather see a game refereed the way Howard Webb called the World Cup final. Webb was active with his whistle and yellow cards, as we all saw. He should have sent off Nigel De Jong, but at least he called everything that was a foul as a foul. At times on Saturday, we didn't know what was going to be a foul and what was not.
- One non-call stood out above the others: a possible handball in the box by San Jose's Ike Opara in the 84th minute. In real time in the press box, I could not see the play for certain because of how the players were standing. I have watched the replay many times, and it's not really any better.
There's no question that Opara put his arm up as the ball left Danny Mwanga's foot. What I can't tell is whether the ball actually hit Opara's hand. If it did, there's no question that it was a handball and a penalty kick should have been given. Perhaps a red card, too.
But as I said, I can't conclude whether the ball actually hit Opara's hand. Fox Soccer Channel did not show any replays, so there wasn't another angle to look at. Those of you with seats close to the field probably saw it better than I did. So I'll take your word for it.
- I liked the mix of offense and defense that Andrew Jacobson brought to the game. We hadn't seen Jacobson in a while, and with the Union playing four games in a week and a half I suspect we'll see more of him. Getting the balance of fitness and energy right over the rest of this month is going to be one of Peter Nowak's biggest challenges.
- Alejandro Moreno's reputation for going down easily might be preceding him. I don't doubt that he gets whacked around, but there are ways to hit the deck without making it look like you're exaggerating. I saw two instances Saturday where I thought Moreno sold things a bit too much: in the 27th minute and in the 40th minute. On both occasions, Okulaja told Moreno to get up, and I think both decisions were right. There was a little bit of contact in the first instance, but there was none whatsoever in the second - Bobby Burley got all ball.
I think Moreno is a great player, and he definitely knows what he's doing when there's a defender on him. As a friend said to me after yesterday's World Cup game, one of the main reasons why players go down on contact is to show the ref that there was contact. It's hard to argue against that, but there's a balance to be found when it comes to hitting the deck honestly.
- Bobby Convey is back. The Philadelphia native and former Penn Charter star was the orchestrator of San Jose's counterattacking offense, including the charge downfield that led to the game-winning goal. Convey really struggled last year when he returned to MLS from England. But talking to Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop after Saturday's game, it sounds like Convey has really settled in this year and is playing much better.
I was in the stands at RFK Stadium the day he made his debut for D.C. United as a 16-year-old, on the opening day of the 2000 season. A few months later, when I started covering games, my first ever interview was with Convey. It's amazing to think about how much he's been through since then. He had so much potential as a young player, but between injuries and the increasing depth on the U.S. national team roster, things just never quite worked out right.
- One thing not at all about the Union game. I watched the World Cup final outside at the Fado/Misconduct Tavern block party on Locust Street. There must have been at least 2,000 people there in a mix of Dutch, Spanish and all kinds of other jerseys. It was an amazing experience - and to be quite frank, one that I never thought I'd see any time soon in the United States. You can see the photos at the top of the post.
We've all seen the images from Amsterdam, Madrid, Berlin and other cities around the world of huge fan gatherings during the World Cup. Obviously, there's a huge difference between a crowd of 100,000 on Amsterdam's Museumplein and a few thousand on one block in Center City. But if yesterday (and the last month) proved anything, it's that there really are a lot of soccer fans in this city and around the country. It has been a great thing to see.