Philadelphia Union dominated Chivas USA on Saturday as they set a team record for biggest win with a 3-0 victory at PPL Park.
Alejandro Moreno, Fred and Sebastien Le Toux scored, and the Union allowed only two shots on goal to secure their second shutout of the year. The three-goal margin of victory was the largest ever for the Union.
Each goal for the Union came off a set piece, flipping what has been a major weakness for this team all season. Justin Mapp sent in a perfect corner kick from the right side that Moreno headed home in the 25th minute. On the next two goals, Chivas USA gave away two fouls deep in their own territory that were clearly driven by frustration, and the Union made them pay. Sebastien Le Toux’s free kick just before halftime bounced off a diving Zach Thornton’s hand, and Fred was there to put away the rebound. Then in the 69th minute, Chivas center back Michael Umana kicked out at Sebastien Le Toux after a clearance, drawing a yellow and setting up a free kick. Le Toux sent a low free kick through a hole in the Chivas wall, deflecting off a defender and wrong-footing Thornton before going into the net.
Meanwhile, the back line of Danny Califf, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Jordan Harvey and Sheanon Williams closed down the Chivas attack. When it mattered, goalkeeper Brad Knighton was perfect.
Here’s what else stood out.
- The Union didn’t waste their set pieces.
The Union have been wasting their corner kicks all season. Le Toux had been handling most of them, and despite being all-league in most other departments, he’s clearly fallen short on corners.
Enter Justin Mapp, who sent in a perfect corner. The Union crashed the box, and Moreno was there to score the first goal.
On the other two goals, the Union had a bit of good fortune. Le Toux sent in low free kicks on each. On the first, the Chivas defense let the ball come through without a clean touch, forcing Thornton to make an awkward dive, and Fred cleaned up the rebound. The third goal owed itself to a sloppily lined-up wall, with Chivas midfielder Paulo Nagamura leaving the gap that Le Toux sent his shot through.
Nobody expects the Union to get three goals a game on set pieces, but if they can do more with them, like they did today, this team will win a lot more games.
- Brad Knighton gave the Union good field position all night.
In American football, the punter can be one of a team’s most important players. By sending deep punts, he can set an opposing team much deeper in their half and aid his team in the process.
Like so, Knighton really helped his own team by blasting goal kicks deep into Chivas territory and giving the Union, to use an American football term, great field position all night. Rather than taking the goal kicks out of the air at midfield, the Union forwards were getting these kicks fairly close to the Chivas 18 all day. It helped put the Goats’ defense on their heels all night.
- Danny Califf and Michael Orozco Fiscal are the best center back pairing the Union have.
Califf and Orozco played together most of the season’s first half before manager Peter Nowak began shuffling his defenders around. Now the center backs are back where they started and back where they belong. The difference, in some ways, may be that they now have a fast and reliable right back in Sheanon Williams, but it’s not just that. With seemingly more confidence in their goalkeeper, they can play with more confidence.
And after two-thirds of a season, their communication is very good, and the trust is there, two huge components of a good center back pairing. There was a moment late in the game when Califf crossed over to the left side to run down a Chivas attacker . (It was Braun, I believe.) Califf was in a tough spot, in a one-on-one with no one behind him, but he played smart and chose to play contain. He knew Orozco would come flying back, and sure enough, he did, put on the double team, and took the ball from Braun. Great plays by both players.
One last key note: Chivas USA was called offsides seven times. That’s a great job of playing a smart offsides trap by the Union, and the discipline for holding that line falls on the center backs.
- Do we know what to do when up by three goals?
Le Toux should have come out of the game after the third goal. He was taking hits, Chivas USA was playing angry and dirty, and it’s clear they were perfectly willing to go after Le Toux. Sure, Fred and Mapp were probably more tired than Le Toux, who could probably run to California and back without getting winded, but when you have a star player, sometimes you have to protect him. The game was over. Get him out.
- Gotta love Tommy Smyth.
I watched the game on TV today because I gave my tickets to my club team’s goalkeeper after he stopped a penalty shot today. I was feeling generous, and I was pretty wiped out (I’m carrying about 247 injuries, and we gave up the game-winning goal on the game’s final play), my game ended around 3 p.m. (not long before the Union game), and I figured a shower and an afternoon on the couch might be a good idea.
So anyway, I turn on the game, and some dude with a Scottish nearly-unintelligible-Irish accent is going on about the Union. I’m like, “Is that Tommy Smyth?” And then I’m like, “That’s Tommy Smyth!” Joy. Euphoria. Scotland! Ireland! It was a (crazy Stephen in) Braveheart moment, to be sure, and I knew a Union win was at hand. Every party gets a bit more amusing when there’s somebody talking in a Scottish thick-as-Scottish Irish brogue. It’s highest comedy when they’re as understandable as Brad Pitt in Snatch, but I can understand Smyth.
And his commentary was real interesting, because he came at the game with a fresh set of eyes. Very well-called game, some great points, and hopefully we’ll get him again with the always good JP Dellacamera. Bonus comedy points for MLSsoccer.com using the Spanish commentary from Telefutura for the online video highlights. (“GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” OK, breathe.)
GK Brad Knighton: 9
Knighton didn’t get tested much, but when he did, he stepped up. He turned a big gamble into a great play in the first half when he made a sliding clearance well outside his box in the face of an attacking Justin Braun. Then he made a nice diving save late in the second half to secure the shutout. Just one more of those, and the Union can avoid the ignominy of tying the league record for fewest in a season. Right now, they have two. They have five games to get one more.
LB Jordan Harvey: 6
Harvey didn’t offer much on offense, but that’s OK, because he played a stellar game in defense. A 10-day layoff seems to have refreshed him. He had a nice slide tackle in the first half that gave up a corner kick but adeptly cut off an attack.
CB Michael Orozco Fiscal: 8
Orozco was terrific all game. He had a great sliding stop on a Chivas through ball that could’ve set up a one-on-one with Knighton. He played aggressively all game, and he seems much more at home back in the center of the park. Juan Diego Gonzalez is healthy, but with shutouts in two of their last three games with this back five, Orozco should stay right where he is.
CB Danny Califf: 8
Much like Orozco, Califf was in the right place at the right time all night. He doesn’t have the same flare for the spectacular as Orozco, but he puts himself in the right position constantly. Time after time, he was there when key clearances needed to be made, and he did a good job covering the right flank when Williams opened it up with attacks. Likewise, he ran a disciplined back line that got seven offsides calls against Chivas.
RB Sheanon Williams: 7
Not only does Williams give the Union their own version of the Rory Delap throw-in, but he’s probably the fastest guy on the field. Williams’s ability to bomb forward has given an attacking imbalance that allows Harvey to stay home more on the left side, which is the way it should be. Yes, that attacking nature puts Williams out of position sometimes, but Califf has been filling the gap. Right back was the hole in the defense ever since opening day, but Williams has finally filled it.
CDM Stefani Miglioranzi: 6
Miglioranzi had a good touch for most of the game and played a fairly solid game defensively as well. He’s still falling into the trap of walking occasionally on defense against counterattacks, but fortunately he didn’t get burned.
LM Justin Mapp: 7
Mapp’s corner kick was perfect. He dribbled through the Chivas defense most of the night. And whenever he lost the ball, he quickly got it back. Overall, a very good game for Mapp, who has cemented himself a spot in the starting lineup.
RM Sebastien Le Toux: 8
A goal and an assist, a consistent threat on the attack, winning fouls — yep, typical game for Le Toux. Where he stood out most to me though was on the plays he didn’t connect: two attacks down the flanks with low crosses into the box that no one got hold of — but which they should have, at least on one . He’s not just a scorer.
CM Fred: 7
Put Fred in the center of the field and, lo and behold, he plays fairly well. Rocket science at work. His footwork was excellent as usual, and he was opportunistic in poaching a goal. Still, there was the occasional dive and sloppy tackle, and the good showing probably isn’t enough to silence all the naysayers.
ST Alejandro Moreno: 7
Great job on the header for the goal. Good hold-up play. No diving. Good showing. Just missed net on a beautiful diving header in the 17th, courtesy of a perfect Le Toux cross. Could have scored on another of Le Toux’s crosses but hesitated in his run just enough to come up short of reaching the ball.
ST Danny Mwanga: 4
Mwanga was invisible most of the first half before coming out at halftime with a sore shoulder. The nagging injury may explain the lack of activity. Had trouble maintaining possession when he secured touches.
Andrew Jacobson: 7
Jacboson looked so composed on the ball after coming in to start the second half that it seemed like Chivas defenders were running around like rabid Charlie Browns after the ball, only to have Jacobson effortlessly pull it out of their way with his feet like Lucy snatching a football. He was also active on defense. Overall, a good showing. As usual, however, once Nowak sent in yet another holding midfielder, Jacobson was forced to move to a wing and went relatively quiet.
Amobi Okugo: 7
Okugo replaced Fred in the 74th minute but quickly made an impact on defense, with several very good tackles followed up by smart passes to start the counterattack.
Roger Torres: 5
Torres replaced Justin Mapp in the 76th minute and didn’t do much once he did.
(Photo: Paul Rudderow)