Commentary

The “Philly Sports Fan” needs patience with the Union

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Four matches into the season, and five points accumulated for the Philadelphia Union.

That’s the tale of the tape so far. Heading into the season, that was probably a realistic point haul from the first month given all of the new pieces. Most of us expected some learning moments back in January and February as the acquisitions of Cristian Maidana, Maurice Edu, and Vincent Nogueira came to light.

But this is Philadelphia, and it’s not easy to lend any local team that kind of leeway. This city demands results, and one can look at the scorelines thus far and be quite disappointed. But things are far from over.

The product looks good

In the preseason, the general consensus was that the midfield would take time to gel. The move to a new tactical system, and on-the-deck, quick-passing style, would need several weeks to hatch.

Boom, the Portland game happened, and it was there. It was beautiful. It was like the entire team had been playing together for years, not for only a couple of weeks.

That extremely pleasant surprise failed to yield three points at Providence Park, with Timber Joey getting his buzz on late in stoppage time to disappoint. But the signs were there that a little more luck in the final third would mean a team challenging for the top.

Conceding while leading a carryover

If there is something that irks Philly sports fans, it’s when things fail to change. The Flyers for years have had suspect goaltending, so that’s a constant sore spot. The Phillies have long been abysmal at situational hitting, with former manager Charlie Manuel being a proponent of the no-out three-run homer rather than “small-ball” tactics to increase the odds of at least one run.

The Union’s carryover trend is giving up late goals — especially when up a man.Β The salt was rubbed into this particular wound on Saturday against the Montreal Impact.

Marco DiVaio’s equalizer brought a sense of deja vu, as memories of the midsummer home loss to F.C. Dallas stirred. That time, it was a mistake by Zac MacMath that gave opportunistic striker Blas Perez the chance to steal a point from what seemed a salted-away victory. (Je-Vaughn Watson had been sent off in the 68th minute.)

Like that Dallas match, and the Timbers match in Week 1, Saturday’s draw came down to a crucial mistake.

But mistakes are understandable in the early going, when players are still getting back into the groove. If it wasn’t for the clear parallel to last season, maybe it would be easier to just write it off as bum luck. Yet that parallel exists, and it leaves a bitter taste when one realizes just how weak the early schedule has been for Philadelphia. Aside from the surprising Columbus, the Union’s other three opponents have combined for one solitary win.

Luck has to turn around, right?

So let’s try to take a clear perspective on this. In other words, try to take off the “Philly Sports Fan” glasses for a second.

The Union have been the recipient of some pretty bum luck in these first four weeks:

  • Missed chances: The front four of the Union (primarily Jack McInerney, Maidana, Nogueira, and Le Toux) have “just missed” goals or chances to set up goals an unbelievable number of times. They would have redefined snakebitten, if not for…
  • Clinical finishing for their opponents: Aside from Diego Fagundez failing with two glorious chances in Week 2, the big mistake has resulted in an opportunistic — and well-taken — chance for the opposition. In MLS, those chances often go begging. Not so for DiVaio, Anor, and Fernandez.

Chalking this up to bad luck is probably the right course. The question turns to when this streak will start flipping over to good.

Time

I often like to strike up “closed door” conversations with my colleagues here at PSP. One of them had called me out for some of my cynicism about this first month, and he’s right. While it’s acceptable to criticize, the growing pains were forecast. Is it acceptable for the team to have major gaffes like the ones seen so far? Of course not. But there needs to be trust that the coaching staff and squad leadership are working diligently to correct these deficiencies.

Everything thus far points to brighter days ahead as the summer approaches. If things start bouncing the Union’s way and they ascend the table, this first month will be remembered fondly.

Think about it: 5 points in a month where half the backline was out due to injury and the team relied on a lifelong center forward at center back.

That’s not disappointing at all. Instead, it’s quite an accomplishment.

22 Comments

  1. I admit to being guilty of this to a degree, even after thinking on the way into the season, “I love the pieces they got, but it may be ugly early, as there is no guarantee (or even likelihood) of a quick gel.”

    But it’s still frustrating to watch flub finishes, lack of linking to Jack, and conceding late while down a freaking man. (while standing in the rain).

  2. JediLos117 says:

    The product looks GREAT!
    .
    From personnel to tactics…its the next level!
    .
    Really can’t understand the harsh comments I’ve read lately.
    .
    Take your emotions and personal opinions out of it and process the team realistically…you’ll see quality and direction.

  3. John Ling says:

    Patience? How long is *that* gonna take?

  4. scottymac says:

    I don’t think the tone from the fans is negative. It may not be to the kool aid level you’re prescribing, but overall the fanbase is excited at the new midfield, understands we’re missing some starters, generally delighted at the lack of Keon and Cruz. But I think to say the Union have just been unlucky might be oversimplifying matters. I’m not convinced one striker is going to turn that lack of scoring around, and each week I’m less convinced Jack’s the guy to do it in this formation. Not negativity, objectivity.

  5. Great One says:

    I never understood the point people try to make about not being negative. You don’t have to be considered negative for reviewing the games and seeing potential problems, its just like seeing potential positives. I think there has been much more positive than negative this year so far.
    .
    That said…up a goal…up a man… wrong time to write this column.

  6. james lockerbie says:

    have you listened to any sports radio channels they’re talkin all kinds of stuff about the eagles/philles and up to three days ago neither team was even in season. I agree with scottymac and the great one. We’re just using this forum to talk tactics, player performance with other dedicated fans and we don’t have call in radio shows to phone into YET !

  7. AMEN! Give it time and some patience. I’m tired of seeing “They need to fix problem A! Those cheap-o’s in the FO aren’t willing to spend the money to fix it!”
    .
    Then they fix problem A.
    .
    “They need to fix problem B! Hack isn’t a good manager until he fixes it!”
    .
    Then they fix problem B.
    .
    “Well what about problem C(arroll)?!”
    .
    C’mon guys…

  8. james lockerbie says:

    Edu, said, something along the lines of lets make the mistakes now, learn from them so later in the season we’ll be good to go. Kinda like the U.S. Navy they get a new ship. They take it out to sea and do a shake down cruise the captain and the crew have to find how the ship behaves. its strengths and weaknesses. So consider these past four weeks as a shake down cruise it’s time to turn this ship into the wind a sail away to the promise land

  9. OneManWolfpack says:

    My only real issue is the manager. Hackworth has to be better in selection, formation, and substitutions. Right now he is holding this team back. I’m not ready to fire him but I’m not happy either.
    .
    And maybe another wrinkle is MacMath too. He has to be better and one thing he does oh so “well” is let the other team convert on their only chance. I know they aren’t all his fault, but he rarely, if ever, makes that save that saves the game and earns us points. I’m not mad at all that Blake is waiting in the wings.

  10. MD Jessup says:

    I do not really understand all of the complaints about MacMath.

    The last minute goal by Portland happened because no one except Brian Carroll was even close to being in position, and he shanked the clearance. Zack was not out of position, he just could not cover the whole goal by himself.

    The goal this past week by DiVaio was pretty clearly on Okugo, it seems to me. He did not put himself between the shooter and the goal and DiVaio hit a difficult shot to the top corner of the back post, if Okugo steps toward the end line there, he has help closer to the middle of the box to cover any pass, it seems to me.

    But overall, I tend to agree that the Union have 5 points instead of 9 because the other team is scoring difficult/lucky shots on their only chances, which, it seems to me, is not really about poor goalkeeping.

  11. I think the source of fan frustration this year is just what you started to say, Earl, but didn’t carry through: the midfield looked so. Freakin’. Awesome in the Portland game. This was against a tough squad, for their home opener, in a fortress. So even when we blew the win at the end, all of us said, “Hot damn! We got a team!”

    Since then there has been offensive mediocrity. You are right that considering the facts or being without one of MLS’ best fullbacks and having a converted forward in center D, the U’s defensive performances have been pretty amazing. But on the attacking side we haven’t seen enough of what we saw in Portland. Nogueira has been the only one who’s been consistently excellent. So I think we’re all wondering, “Is that team gonna show up again? And if so, how soon?”

  12. Anthony Pasquarella says:

    I like your write up and I’m glad that you still believe in management. I don’t though, I feel like this team is treated like a business instead of a sports team. Yes they went out and shopped at JC Penny’s instead of Walmart for players this year. No I didn’t need the team to shop at Sak’s (like Toronto did), but Pete Sak is the real reason why I don’t like how this team is ran. Instead of Pete stepping back and not blasting Toronto’s front office for going all out on the players they wanted, he should’ve just worried about his own fans here. Yeah Michael Bradley would’ve been a killer acquisition and the fans here would’ve been really excited, but Pete you have problems here at home. Stop worrying about everyone else. Next is the biggest problem, DEFENSE!!!! In no sport and I mean no sport can you win a championship without some kind of defense. No one can tell me Okugo is a central defender either. He’s a CDM or at worst L/RFB. You can’t expect this team to go far without having credible players at the right positions. The Union have had 4, count them 4 good to great CB’s. They all play somewhere else now and that leaves us with 0, count it 0 CB’s. One plays in Chicago, one plays in Columbia, one I don’t think is playing anymore but was our original Captain, and lastly one was traded for a bag of chips to D.C. United. Management can kid themselves all they want and they can think that people from Philadelphia know nothing about soccer so they can get away with dumb moves and mistakes, but sadly we are a sports city like you mention. We know when you’re stringing the fans along and we know when we have a competitive soccer team and we don’t. Hackworth is a decent coach, but he’s been tainted by Peter Nowak. He plays favorites and he plays people out of position. Add that to a team with no defense and you ultimately get a team that has no shot at ever winning anything in the MLS. While this team may get hot at some point and start making a run for the playoffs, it will ultimately fail like it did last year, because this team doesn’t have what it needs to compete with all of the other teams in the East. Still like your write up and wish someone in the Union front office would read this and get a clue or at least get someone in the front office that has some type of actual Sports knowledge. As for now I just laugh and usually just check up on the Union from time to time now.

  13. Anthony Pasquarella says:

    Oh I would like to add I’ve only seen highlights from each of these games, because I really haven’t wasted too much time this year on them. At the beginning of the year I knew what was going to happen to this team and really didn’t want to get my hopes up like I did last year. I really thought this team would make a splash here or there to get our team into the playoffs last year and management has constantly made the wrong moves. When you have a pool of players around the world to dive into like you do in soccer and you come up with no defenders it’s pretty sad. There are great players in all parts of the world and you’re telling me that this is what we have? Just makes me sad and shake my head. Unlike most teams in the MLS I wouldn’t look to the offense as much as looking towards getting great defense and commanders (mid-fielders) on my team. Just a suggestion for the other fans on here. P.S. Edu was a nice pick up but still not enough to help out on the lack of a central defense.

  14. joeliejoel says:

    what I need to do is make sure I watch the Union game each weekend before I tune in to the DVRd Juventus game. I tend to do it backwards and then get all bent out of shape when I see 30 yards between teamates and only one legitimate passing option half the time or see a midlfielder or DM meandering next to his mark and not coming open for a pass. Certain players can meander because they play the game in the future. I do not know of many players here in the states that play the game in the future, so lets get some more hussle in presenting usuable options for the man on the ball. Against Portland there were 2 or 3 passing options almost every time and now its like last year all over again. Pass it sideways. Pass it sideways.

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