I was on vacation last week. The highlights? A nice trip to Florida to visit Mom, hours of spackling and wallpaper removal in my kitchen, and TWO thrilling Union victories!
The first in Colorado was one of those games common in soccer and extremely tough to swallow if you’re the loser. The Rapids led play for most of the game, but couldn’t get more than one in the net, while the Union made the most of their opportunities and walked away with a 2-1 decision. Last week, it was back home against the New England Revolution, a team that had never beaten the home town boys. They still haven’t. In this one, the Union played their best 90 minutes of the season, dominating most of the game in horrible conditions (okay, winter, enough already!) and cashing-in on a sensational goal by Jack McInerney who banged in his own rebound in the game’s later stage. Union 1, Rev 0.
Besides the obvious six point pick-up, there were many other positives over the Union’s last 180 minutes of play. Teams scouting Philadelphia have to be thinking long and hard about allowing the Union multiple free kicks, especially to the left of net. In two consecutive games, goals have resulted off of Sebastian Le Toux corner kicks from the far side. The first got the Union on the board in Colorado off a header by Amobi Okugo, his first professional tally. The second was last Saturday’s game-winner by McInerney, about the most athletic score you’ll ever see as Jack headed one shot and kept his balance for the kicked rebound. But honestly, it may not matter who the Union puts in front if Le Toux’s serves keep coming-in at the same angle. The forward curled both balls into the box at precisely the right spot between the pack and goalie, giving us great chances at conversions.
Another plus is the play of Philadelphia’s favorite Parisian, Antoine Hoppenot, who appears more than ready to resume his role as late-inning spark plug. It was Hoppenot’s beautiful set-up that gave McInerney his game-winner at Colorado. He wasn’t as effective last week, but every time the kid comes in, you can sense the energy level rising, team-wide.
In his own right, McInerney appears ready to claim his place as a legitimate offensive threat in the MLS. He certainly showed flashes of greatness when given a regular chance last season after Manager John Hackworth’s take-over. He’s running with the opportunity this season, netting two game winning scores in just three games. It’s getting to the point where you wonder how many minutes veteran forward Conor Casey will see if this keeps up (although Casey, an instant fan favorite despite barely any playing time, represents a nice alternative for Hackworth if things dry up). McInerney certainly made a case for playing time in Colorado, after not only scoring, but blocking a sure score on the goal line, defensively.
Zac MacMath looks mainly sharp in goal so far, continuing his development. He nearly muffed a ball late in the Rev game, but that’s to be forgiven considering the stone-faced stop he made earlier on a break-away. I’m still not sure how he pulled that off, other than planting himself firmly and refusing to give ground. It took nerve.
Overall, the team appears to be jelling far more quickly than in years past. And with the Freddy Adu situation apparently solved, we’re in better financial shape moving forward (for those who missed it, Adu has reportedly agreed to sign an international contract, removing a high-priced player with whom the Union had tired of and essentially shunned).
Moving forward, the team still needs more consistency at both ends. It would be nice to see a three-goal game some time soon; that could happen with 3 out of the next 5 league games occuring against arguably weaker opponents. But first, a training break with this weekend’s game against Mexico City’s Pumas Club, an international friendly scheduled for Saturday at PPL Park (5pm). More on that one later this week.
NEW FAN TIP: Remember, wins are bigger in soccer than in any other sport. They’re hard to get and so, the reward is rich: 3 points. You only get 1-point for a tie and nothing for a loss. That’s why these two early wins are so big. They provide breathing room in case of a stumble later on.