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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Saturday, March 30, 2013

NYRB 2-1 Union: Post match analysis

For a game that started out quite dull, the Union’s 2-1 loss to the Red Bulls Saturday certainly livened up late. Once again that old adage about a goal opening things up proved true, and that’s exactly what Dax McCarty’s opener in the 55th minute did.

So beyond the nuts-and-bolts gamer and some notes, a few stray observations from the game:

One moment of class by New York's Thierry Henry, left,
undid a day's worth of good defending from Sheanon Williams
and his Union teammates Saturday
in a 2-1 loss to the Red Bulls. (Courtesy of Philadelphia Union)

- It was the focal point of the postgame press conference, but I’ll be honest: I didn’t see the foul John Hackworth thought should’ve stopped the build-up to Thierry Henry’s game-winning goal. Neither did anyone else in the press conference, it seemed. And the replay of the goal on starts with the referee appearing to wave on play after some kind of infraction. Let’s just say it was a physical game all around; one physical collision doesn’t really stand out.

- I take that back: Conor Casey’s physical play stands out. Apparently he has a thing with tall central defenders with shaved heads; he tussled with Sporting Kansas City’s Aurelian Collin in the opener and Jamison Olave today. And then he undercut goalkeeper Luis Robles late to earn a yellow card. Physical.

- Casey also did a bit of scoring, getting the Union’s only goal. His emergence – and return to health, first and foremost – gives the Union another striking option. How to fit him in with Jack McInerney, Sebastien Le Toux and super sub Antoine Hoppenot is a complicated puzzle.

- Can't believe I got this far without mentioning one of the best non-goals you'll see, this bicycle kick effort from Henry. Had this gone in, it would've broken Twitter.

- I tweeted at halftime that I against a tall defense like Olave and Thomas Holgersson, the Union could either go for a tall sub or a fast sub in attack. They did both, and Hackworth’s instinct proved to be right on the money. But the question has to be asked why the Union came out of the break so flat. The same thing happened against Kansas City where they couldn’t get a foothold in the game after the break. Hackworth joked about his team talk then; maybe it’s something to revisit.

- The announced attendance today was 15,824. Most must have been dressed as empty seats. The upper bowl (of two) was about 1/3 full, and there were empty seats downstairs, too. So unless the luxury boxes were packed like clown cars, don’t think that number was actually present in Harrison.

- There were plenty of man of the match candidates – Olave, Henry and Casey were obvious ones for each side. But one that flew under the radar: Jonny Steele. He set up Peguy Luyindula for what should’ve been a goal in the first half, then almost scored later in the stanza. It was his shot-cross that McCarty redirected for the opening marker, and Steele also lofted the ball into Luyindula that became Henry’s goal. (He was credited with a secondary assist, which apparently is a thing in soccer now.) He was very busy down the attacking left and was the kind of incisive midfield presence that the Union lacked.

- In one moment, over 80 minutes of good work went out the window. Amobi Okugo got caught ball watching on the Henry goal, as central defense partner Jeff Parke went to cover Luyindula’s run and Henry peeled back with his nearly unrivaled striking instincts to find space off Okugo’s shoulder. It was the first time he’d put a foot wrong all day. Within the first five minutes of the second half, with New York dominating play, Okugo used his head to clear a half dozen dangerous crosses. He’s not the tallest defender, but he always seems to get his head to the ball. He has outstanding instincts, and the positives far outweigh the negatives this year.

- Oh yeah, the Union used the same four defenders – Sheanon Williams, Parke, Okugo and Ray Gaddis – all 90 minutes gain. It’s good for Hackworth that they’re healthy, since the closest thing to a recognized defender on the bench is converted midfielder Greg Jordan, he of 0 MLS games and a loan to USL side Harrisburg City. This will be a problem at some point this season.

- Has to be said: Brian Carroll played his best game of the season Saturday. He was crisp in his passing, composed in possession for large stretches and much more authoritative in the center of midfield. I thought he outplayed his opposite number, Juninho.

- Nine corner kicks for the Union and very little to show for it. At some point, this alone has to put Roger Torres in the selection picture, right?

- I’m conflicted on the role of Danny Cruz. He’s a hard worker who is as tough as nails – see three straight games with some type of injurious head contact – and the kind of blue-collar guy who can make a midfield tick. He’s great at making long runs with the ball. But it seems like when he slows down, he’s not sure what to do with the ball, not crisp in his passing and not strong on the ball. That willingness to run at defenders is valuable when utilized properly. It wasn’t Saturday. With a statuesque defender like Holgersson (who was supposedly marking Casey on the goal) the Union – via Cruz, McInerney and/or Hoppenot – should’ve been running at him at every chance, getting him moving and putting him under pressure. What Cruz did well was draw Heath Pearce out wide, opening spaces for McInerney and Le Toux in the center, and a couple of times, those two came agonizingly close to connecting in the final third. Making the most of Cruz’s talents is a major challenge for Hackworth moving forward.

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