Just when it looked the Philadelphia Union might shake itself free from the doldrums and start scoring goals, along comes a rain storm. Saturday’s match (March 29, coverage starts at 3:30 p.m. on 6abc) will probably be played at the same time a wave of low pressure is creeping through the region and that could mean a pretty soggy afternoon. Bad news for the offense, right? I mean, when it pours rain, goals in soccer almost have to dry up; it’s simple logic. The pitch is wet, it’s harder for players to plant their feet and the slippery ball can be harder to control. In fact, there’s recent evidence supporting this theory. Only two goals were managed in a driving rain in Portland on opening weekend (that excruciating 1-1 draw conceded by Philadelphia in the closing seconds).
But it may be hard to sell the idea to the Union and Montreal Impact this weekend. These same clubs combined for a whopping 8 goals in a cold, somewhat damp match last year up at Stade Saputo in Montreal, a game the Union dropped 5-3. That was the day veteran Montreal forward Marco Di Vaio caught young Philadelphia upstart Jack McInerney in the MLS goal-scoring race with a hat trick. The less than ideal conditions may have played a role in one of the goals, a long centering pass by Union sub Antoine Hoppenot that seemed to get away from him, but ended-up knuckling into the net.
In case you’d like to re-live to goal barrage: http://www.mlssoccer.com/matchcenter/2013-05-25-MTL-v-PHI/highlights
Adding to the adventure for goaltenders in the rain is that wet soccer balls are harder to trap. In fact, in Portland, both goal keepers repeatedly went for the punch-away option rather than the catch, as if it was part of a wet-weather game plan. The downside is that this safer approach increases the chance of rebounds. And should a situation arise where a goalie is forced to try for the catch, the odds of the slippery ball squeaking free increases.
The Union Impact
It would be nice if the Union’s offense got ample chances in the rain. In their first three matches, the 1-1-1 club has managed only one goal per game, although each week the quality chances have multiplied. Last week’s 2-1 loss in Columbus took the cake. Philadelphia managed nearly 20 chances at net and two of them missed the far post by only inches. Several others wound-up in the gut of Crew net minder Steve Clark.
The Union players believe the goals are coming soon and they may well be right. The team controls the ball exceptionally well compared to last year (or any other year in the Union’s brief five-season lifespan, for that matter) and there are enough marquis players with scoring pedigree, a prolonged drought would appear to defy logic. The players also seem loose and confident on the subject, based on published comments this week. But a few more 1-goal games with another loss or two mixed in and it’s not hard to imagine a sizable monkey climbing onto the Union’s back, especially as the media focus on continued struggles intensifies. Again, maybe rain and Montreal is just what the doctor ordered.
As for Montreal, the young club is entering its third season and was the early surprise of last year, charging to the top of the Eastern Conference standings and holding that slot for much of the first half. They fell back to earth a bit in the second half, a slide that coincided with a drop in scoring from veteran Di Vaio. This season, Di Vaio hasn’t played a minute (thanks to a disciplinary suspension dating back to a post-season brawl), the Impact have been shut-out twice, are 0-3 and have been outscored 6-2. The best offensive players so far have been youngsters Andrew Wenger and Sanna Nyassi (the club’s only goal-scorers) and old Union fan favorite Justin Mapp who, at 29, still plays with the energy of a teenager and has been cited by impactmontreal.com as one of the bright spots in a very dim start. Ripe for the picking? Maybe. Maybe not. Di Vaio is back on Saturday, claims he’s been training hard and is anxious to get on the board (he scored 20 last season). But the Union has been fairly good at playing keep away so far this year and ought to have the upper hand at home against a team that has put themselves squarely behind the eight ball.
Who Wants To Play?
Manager John Hackworth has some hard choices as he fills-out his line-up card on Saturday. Does he start Leo Fernandez, the energetic, unexpected youngster who’s had perhaps the hottest boot and the biggest heart over the last two games? Or does veteran Conor Casey finally get the nod? He’s apparently healthy now and he carried the Union offense for portions of last season. The addition of either Casey or Fernandez, one could argue, might jolt the club out of its one-goal-per-game haze. But if they play, who sits? And what about the defense? Forward Aaron Wheeler ended-up carrying his 6’ 4” frame onto the back line last week with Austin Berry still nursing a gimpy leg. We’ll see whether Berry makes it back this week. We’re also still waiting for injured Sheanon Williams’ first appearance of the new season. Williams, a defender, would actually be a boost to the offense with his patented long throw-ins. It will interesting to see which cards Hackworth decides to play.
Adios, Senor Edu!
The downside of signing big stars onto an MLS roster is that you may have to share them occasionally with their national teams, especially when the World Cup is around the corner. Case in point: former USMNT and English Premier League denizen Maurice Edu. One of the primary reasons the big midfielder wanted to return to the states, in fact, was to get more playing time—and get noticed by the national side. So far, so good. The U.S. team has called-up Edu for a friendly against Mexico next week. This won’t be the last call if he trains and plays well. The good news for the Union is that Edu won’t leave until after he’s finished tangling with Montreal at PPL on Saturday and should be back—still sound, hopefully—for the Union’s next match in Chicago the following Saturday.
My Friends Call Me Fred
For those looking for a little Union nostalgia, show-up early for the Impact game and see if you can spot our old pal, Fred, the single-name Brazilian midfielder who was a much-used member of the Union back in season one. He was signed a week ago and is hoped to add a nice veteran presence in the locker room. Fred may also come in handy on the pitch at some point, particularly if the Union start losing midfielders to national team call-ups. And by the way, his parents call him Frederico Chaves Guedes. But yeah, Fred works.