The Union head to Denver for a tangle with the usually tough Colorado Rapids on Saturday (6pm TCN). As soon as the schedule was annoucned, in fact, it was obvious the Union had drawn a difficult one-two punch out of the gate. But while Saturday’s home opener against Sporting KC at (chilly!) PPL Park ended in a 3-1 setback, there are some positive things to keep in mind heading into this weekend’s Rocky Mountain rumble.
First of all, the Union controlled play during most of the first half of match one. In prior years, we often waited 6 or 7 games for that to happen, as newer players adjusted to each other’s styles. Returned scoring ace Sebastian Le Toux scored early and by his own admission should have gotten the home side up 2-0 on another chance pushed just wide.
Also, Colorado got nipped in their first contest 1-0 at FC Dallas, although the tally was thanks to a poor play by the Rapids goalie that the Union will be lucky to see in their match. The Rapids did a nice job of pressing the ball forward for most of their contest, controlling much of the play, but simply couldn’t finish. Like the Union, the Rapids have some new combinations up front who have not played much together, thanks to the shortened pre-season. Unlike the Union, the Rapids’ key weapons include a pair of rookies, Dillon Powers and DeShorn Brown.
On the negative side, the Union fell short on set pieces last Saturday, a big problem last year. On the defensive side, the Union left players unmarked in front, especially on KC’s second goal off a free kick and in the earlier equalizer where goal keeper Zach MacMath made a sensational reaction save, but the only player anywhere near the rebound as it trickled directly in front was Sporting’s Graham Zusi. On the offensive side, none of the Union free kicks or corner kicks came particularly close, although I thought new defender Jeff Parke played the ball in well a couple of times. Perhaps there’s room for growth there.
Manager John Hackworth was none too pleased with his team’s initial performance and had harsh words all around. Le Toux also seemed subdued and pensive after the match, despite that perfect start. No doubt, the desire will be there for the visiting side on Saturday, especially for new Union forward Conor Casey who spent a decade starring for Colorado before being traded to Philadelphia this off-season. The question is this: did that better than usual season-opening first-half show us that this year’s club is ready for a faster start, or is the problem marking potential scorers a sign that the Union has much work ahead of it before it can tighten things up and bring its best game?
A big statement is possible on Saturday.
NEW FAN TIP: Watch for ball control. Often, the team that controls play wins the day. The Union did well in this category in last week’s first half which ended in a draw. They gave up control almost completely in the second half and lost the period 2-0. Last season, it took many weeks for new players to get this part of their game down. With this season’s veteran core and expanded experience among the younger players, the Union should be able to get this part of their game together more quickly this season.