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

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Rapids 1-2 Union: Postgame thoughts

It took almost three years to get there.

But when the Philadelphia Union used the sixth and seventh overall picks in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, the first in the team’s existence, on Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney, respectively, games like Sunday’s 2-1 win in Colorado is what they had in mind. (The fact that the opponent was the Rapids, the third team in less than 12 months for the No. 1 pick in that draft, Danny Mwanga, well, just put that in the win-some-lose-some file.)

Okugo and McInerney each scored, the former picking up his first MLS goal, in earning the win. Considering the conditions – the game was postponed from Saturday due to snow – and another herky-jerky performance from the Union, they were fortunate to get three points in a tough venue.

Some observations from the game:

Union defender Sheannon Williams, left, and Colorado defender Brian Mullan do battle for a ball in the first half of the Union's 2-1 win Sunday. (Associated Press)

- Is there a more deserving goalscorer than Okugo? Not only was he a rock in defense, he provided a strong downward header in the 34th minute to put the Union ahead. The fact that it came off a set piece, a recent weakness of the Union, is all the more impressive. Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens should’ve done better to read Sebastien Le Toux’s back-post, corner-kick delivery, but it was a textbook header from Okugo, who rose over Marvell Wynne and finished astutely.

- The second Union goal was a tremendous finish by McInerney, calmly slotting one past a committed Pickens after being played through by substitute Antoine Hoppenot. The play was made, though, by Hoppenot shrugging off a defender and showing the most poise in the middle of the pitch any Union player had all day.

- The Union almost had a second goal off a set piece when Brian Carroll beat Pickens but from an offside position. Had those two rarities coincided – Carroll, who has just six goals in over 250 MLS appearances, scoring on a set piece, which the Union are notoriously ineffective on – I shudder to think the ramifications. Think tornado during a blizzard during an earthquake.

- Speaking of firsts, Sunday was Le Toux’s 64th game in a Union shirt. It’s the first time he failed to go the full 90 minutes, having picked up what looked like a knock to his ankle in the 71st minute.

- He gets a lot of flak for when he plays poorly, so let’s give credit where credit is due: Zac MacMath showed the aggressiveness that's been lacking in the last 15 minutes of the game. There was nothing he could do when Colorado scored in the 68th on a clinical finish from Jamie Smith, whose introduction at halftime changed the face of the game. But MacMath had three crucial interventions in as many minutes at one point, highlighted by coming out to challenge a Deshorn Brown shot that went just wide in the 82nd. It was part and parcel of the Union’s ability to step up and gut out a big win away from home.

- OK, now for the drawbacks. Look at the chances Colorado had – Smith’s goal, Brown’s near miss and several other opportunities – and they all originate down the attacking right. That means they all ran by a confused or out-of-position Ray Gaddis. The second-year player brings a lot energy and some lung-busting runs forward. But his defensive abilities are lacking. On the Smith goal, for instance, he got sucked into the middle of the pitch, leaving way to much space. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gabriel Farfan was back in that left back role next week.

- That said, the central defense pairing of Okugo and Jeff Parke looks to be developing nicely. Parke is a veteran of obvious class, and Okugo is developing that ability. Where Bakary Soumare fits into that is a question I'm tired of asking. 

- Speaking of energy without results, that’s pretty much what Danny Cruz brought Saturday. His ability to pick out passes and retain possession was severely lacking.

- The invisible culprit in the Smith goal, though, was at the other end of the pitch. Gabriel Farfan had a chance to shoot from inside the box. Instead, he opted for a high-risk pass, which launched a swift and effective Colorado counterattack. McInerney had a similar situation a few minutes earlier. With possession so scarce, the Union attackers need to know to take those chances, maybe earn corners, and at least give the defenders a chance to exhale, if nothing else.

- It all goes to an alarming lack of midfield cohesiveness and chemistry. Carroll’s distribution from the holding position is absolutely dreadful. Keon Daniel’s main contribution was a first-half free kick off the post; after that, he was ghostly. Michael Farfan was a complete non-factor, which you’d expect when a team can only manage 36 percent of the possession. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle: The Union sit back deep because they can’t get possession, then can’t keep position in the midfield, then launch long balls forward with too much frequency and not enough accuracy, then get hemmed back in deep with wave after wave of pressure.

- Here’s the bottom line: The Union picked up three precious points. For a team that didn’t get its first win until April 14 last season, it’s important. They have a less-than-intimidating New England team at home next week. It may be a chance to experiment – perhaps Roger Torres in the midfield somewhere, maybe Chris Albright in the back – and make some connections in terms of selection.

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