Apologies to younger readers; you probably have to be an older guy to get the joke in that title. The Philadelphia Union are at home on Sunday night (August 24, 8 p.m., CSN) for a match with the San Jose Earthquakes, the MLS Western Conference version of Houston, the club from the East the Union couldn’t crack last weekend. The Quakes’ record mirrors the Dynamo, slogging along in 8th place on the left side of the league with 25 points and towing a 6-9-7 record.
Naysayers will point out that the Union haven’t done much better, overall; Philadelphia’s 6-9-9 mark is only good enough for 27 points and 7th place in the East. But a large chunk of the Union’s points have come in the second half of the season and in the East, 27 points gives you a lot more to celebrate than 25 gets you in the West. The Union are currently tied with New England in points (they cede 6th Place only because they trail the Revs in wins) and they’re only a single thin point out of a play-off spot. The 2-0 loss at home last week stung, but it hardly took Philadelphia out of the post-season conversation. In fact, a couple of consecutive wins could get the club as high as third if everything falls just right.
The Earthquakes are coming off a nice 1-1 draw on the road against one of the better teams in the league, Seattle. But a few days before that, they were throttled 5-0 at home by FC Dallas and overall, they have not been a club that puts opponents away this season. Contain the dangerous tandem of star forward Cris Wondolowski (9 goals) and midfielder Shea Salinas (6 assists) and the Quakes don’t have a lot else to throw at you. What’s more, it’s the Quakes who will be entering their third game in a week this time, which should give Philadelphia a stamina edge.
The Union, on the other hand, had been spreading-out the offense well for the last couple of months before taking the collar last weekend. The effects of playing 3 games in 7 nights probably took its toll, although Philadelphia still looked creative on offense at times and streaking forward Sebastien Le Toux came close on several chances. This week, the club will be better rested and the weather more cooperative: less humid and not as warm.
Le Toux has become the clear, top goal-scoring threat for Philadelphia in recent weeks and is now sitting on 10 goals (7th best in the league) along with a couple of assists. That’s a complete reversal from last season when the Frenchman was near the top of the league leaders in assists for much of the year. Conor Casey has scored 6. But the beauty of the Union offense over the last two months is how multiple players are getting in on the scoring thanks largely to the improved, creative play of the midfield (most notably Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira) and frankly, the goaltenders. Both Zac MacMath and last week, Andre Blake, have found ways to launch long balls that find their strikers (Le Toux almost turned one of those bombs from Blake into gold last week). While Maidana is the clear club assist leader with 8, Philadelphia now has 15 players with at least one. This sort of wide production makes the Union a difficult club to defend.
There are only 10 league matches left in this long season. It’s crunch time. With a home and home set coming-up against 3rd Place Toronto, the Earthquakes are a club Philadelphia really wants to beat.
BAKED WITH LOVE
For those of you worn thin by four years of comments from the uninformed masses who like making fun of the Bimbo logo on the front of your jersey (remember what the bear says: it’s “Beem-bo”), tough luck. The club just extended it’s logo agreement with Bimbo USA for some additional years. To be fair, Bimbo has been a great sponsor, getting involved in the Union’s community efforts and charity work, as well as heavily promoting the sport. They actually sponsor 8 teams around the globe. So toughen up.
STORIES FROM THE LAND OF NORMANDY, ALSACE-LORRAINE, LE TOUX AND NOGUEIRA…
For those of you who missed it on Twitter and Facebook, I was recently on vacation in the land of Hoppenot, Nogueira and Le Toux (thanks for favoriting the Tweet of me outside the Palace of Versailles, Sebastien!), spending a great eight days touring France. You’ll see the overseas-doop-shots I did in the next few blogs.
Two fun soccer stories. 1) I was in Riems (the city where the French kings used to be crowned) and you could see the top of the local soccer team’s stadium from the hotel. They’re in Ligue 1 this coming season which made me wonder whether Vincent Nogueira ever played on that pitch. Anyone know? 2) At the end of the trip, I suddenly found myself driving through Montbeliard which is the actual home of FC Sochaux, Nogueira’s old team. I passed right by the “Peugeot City” car plant (FC Sochaux was started by the guy who ran Peugeot way back when). I could not see the stadium from the highway; it was get-away day and I was trying to make Zurich before dark. Anyway, I have to say that, even though it was just a quick drive-by, I kind of got the idea why Vincent may have been so willing to skip the homeland. France is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen and loaded with history and amazing architecture. But Montbeliard did not exactly look like its garden spot. No matter the reason, to Union fans. Most are pretty happy to have Nogueira on the Philly roster.