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Match report: Union 1-1 Galaxy

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

For the fifth straight match Landon Donovan scored for the LA Galaxy. But Danny Mwanga had the answer.

Led by the powerful play of halftime substitute, Union picked up an important home point with a 1-1 tie against a strong western conference opponent.

Early struggles

That the Union nabbed a point is a surprise for anyone who tuned out after the first thirty minutes. Philadelphia was bossed around the pitch by a methodical and patient Galaxy side. Donovan was all over the pitch and Juninho had enough time and space to enjoy an espresso while considering his options.

After beating Union players to a number of aerial balls, Donovan released Lopez in the 8th minute. Only a full-sprint slide from Danny Califf kept the striker from breaking in on goal.

The Galaxy were only getting started, and they moved the ball around the compact Philadelphia defense with little pressure. It was the 13th minute before Philly saw the ball again. But with Keon Daniel looking to spring Carlos Ruiz, the striker faked four runs before choosing a near side sprint. Daniel had already lofted a ball across the pitch and threw his hands up in confusion.

Jordan Harvey and Daniel exchanged exasperated words as they tried to figure out what their strikers were trying to do.

The entire Union side was similarly vexed about their poor play. The midfield duo of Carroll and Nakazawa were almost holding hands with the back four and the normally calm Sheanon Williams was opting for long clearances rather than using his footwork or speed.

In the 17th minute there was a glimmer of hope when a deflected Nakazawa pass fell to Mapp at the top of the box. He adjusted to his left foot and saw his shot deflected for a corner.

Who else?

It was the last the Union would see of the ball until after Donovan’s 24th minute goal. Lopez made a darting run through the center backs and found a soft through pass slightly behind him. Losing control, he merely backed Califf away from the ball, which spun agonizingly around the six yard box. Making a late run, Donovan arrived ahead of Valdes and scuffed his shot, plopping a slow roller just inside the near post with Mondragon wrong-footed.

LA played keep away for the next five minutes, which was just enough time for Keon Daniel to decide enough was enough. The winger began checking back to Harvey with purpose, starting possession from inside his own half and looking to play Nakazawa through the middle instead of lofting vertical balls to the strikers. To his credit, Nakazawa emerged from his slumber to play a major role in lifting the team.

Daniel on the ball

In the 30th, the two midfielders combined through the left channel but Daniel’s final ball was too far ahead of Naka. The move was the beginning of the Union’s resurgence, and when Daniel was fouled a minute later, Nakazawa hit a beautiful free kick to the penalty spot that was headed away.

In the 38th, Nakazawa was influential again when he played wall balls with Le Toux, sending the striker on a run through the heart of the defense. Le Toux was caught between passing and shooting and lost out to Dunivant.

In the next minute (notice a pattern here?) Nakazawa hit another pretty free kick into the box. Daniel was first to it but headed well wide.

The Galaxy were on their heels when Carroll sprayed a ball wide to Williams. The defender turned his man and played a checking Ruiz. He let it run for Le Toux who took a touch wide and backheeled it back into Williams’ path. The LA defense barely cleared from deep within their box.

The half ended with a fantastic crossfield ball from Daniel to Ruiz that the striker could not control. It perfectly summed up the Union’s fifteen minutes: Smart offensive play with nothing on the end of it.

Halftime change

John Hackworth, wearing the head coach pants with Peter Nowak in Poland for a very prestigious charity match, had a feeling that Danny Mwanga was in good form. He put the young striker in for Keon Daniel at halftime and the effect on LA’s defense was immediate.

In the 47th, Mwanga dove in front of a Dunivant clearance, setting the tone for an aggressive half that would leave the Galaxy defense trembling whenever they spotted number ten.

Williams was coming into the game himself, and when he saw Le Toux checking back he played the ball and took off towards the box. Le Toux touched Nakazawa through the middle and he dropped it for Williams. The shot spun wide of the net and inches in front of Ruiz at the far post.

Nakazawa’s strong play continued. With Donovan dropping deeper, he began falling into Naka’s sights. With renewed confidence, the Union midfielder had no qualms about going in hard on Donovan who took several tackles as invitations to crumble onto the turf.

Calls for penalty

There was controversy in the 56th when a Lopez cross found Angel in alone. His first touch was terrible, however, and he collected the ball on the right side of the box. Mondragon came out to challenge and Angel immediately hit the deck. Reports from fans indicate it might have been a penalty, but the ref waved play on without a second look.

In the 61st it was Mwanga on the ball. He held off multiple challenges before slipping it wide to Ruiz. Willliams eventually put the cross in but a foul was called on Carroll’s aerial challenge.

The Dragon’s big save

The Union were pushing hard for the tie and it almost cost them when the strong play of Lopez put Birchall through alone. He angled his shot far post but The Dragon made his best save as a Union player to get the right fist on the ball.

Any doubts about John Hackworth’s intentions were silenced when he pulled Nakazawa for Roger Torres in the 65th. Naka was spent and Torres was not in there to play defense.

But Torres struggled to influence the game and it seemed as though LA was finding their defense shape. After Mapp failed to check hard to a ball, Valdes screamed at him to pick it up. The entire team took notice, but no one more than Mwanga.

In one smooth move, Mwanga collected the next clearance and powered through two defenders. A last ditch tackle in the box kept him from shooting, but Torres put the loose ball into Ricketts’ body. It was the Union’s first shot on net.

Hackworth pushes the captain

Hackworth was preparing his final sub – McInerney for Harvey – when Mondragon pulled up lame. He signaled for a sub and MacMath stripped and readied, but the Union’s temporary head coach had different plans. When an LA player went down injured, Hackworth sent a trainer over to see Mondragon. The trainer had a message: If you can play, even less than 100%, we need you to stay in. We are going after this game.

With a captain’s smile, Mondragon remained in the match and McInerney entered in the 80th.

Already in fine form, Danny Mwanga hit another gear. Suddenly he was unstoppable. Two, three players would bounce off challenges as Mwanga held possession and forced the Union forward.

Mwan-genius

The Galaxy noticed. In the 85th minute, with Mwanga bearing down on him, defender Sean Franklin misplayed a back pass to Ricketts. Mwanga was on the ball before either Galaxy player could react. His rollover around Ricketts was sublime, and he cut inside the prone goalkeeper to ease a calm finish around a desperate LA defender and inside the back post.

After the match, Amobi Okugo would say that Mwanga had a big celebration planned for his first goal, but that he got lost in the moment. The Chester Cheetah ripped off his shirt and shared a giant smile with over 19,000 fans who had chanted his name since early in the first half.

McInerney had a chance to get all three points in the 89th but Ricketts was down well to save his low shot.

A tough home point for the Union, and one that both the team and the fans that kept them going can be proud of.

13 Comments

  1. Excellent game from the U!!! Mondragon showing his quality and the team showing great fight to come back!!! Great game management from Hackworth!!! Great result considering going down early…felt like a win!!! Mwanga to start against FC Dallas?! Please?!

  2. 65 minute futility………Torres and Danny Wags are introduced, we look like the club from last year…..

    Its time…..Fat Chooch needs to go…….slightly obvious to all. But its pretty obvious why he is still starting…
    A) If Nowak sits Fat Chooch, it will be clear as day to all that he should not be starting, thus putting even more pressure from the fanbase to sit him
    B) By sitting him, the club’s management will look terrible w/ this huge investment on a bust
    C) Can anyone actually envision Ruiz coming off the bench and actually adding energy or production to the club ?

    Yo Nowak……Its time……And, w/ our BL and its much stronger player vs YA, lets roll w/ a 4-4-2 and some positive futbol…

    Daniels Carroll Torres Mapp
    Le toux Danny

    Fat Chooch…………Fat A@@ hits the pine
    Nags………………Hit the pine.

    Lets entertain some fans, actually be able to enjoy those 90 minutes at PPL Park and roll the dice….B/C its slightly obvious we have little chance at anything w/ that line-up last night for the first 60 minutes and Fat Chooch up front….

    Nowak…………Make it happen……….ASAP. GS

  3. I’m so hoarse today from screaming at PPL last night. The atmosphere was electric. I was hoping for a 0-0 draw, thinking that if LA scored the Union would not be able to equalize. The difference when Mwanga stepped onto the pitch was palpable. It is amazing what the presence of one player can do. Seeing the offense on the attack was so great and long overdue. If they can play with that kind of intensity for an entire match, we’ll see more than 1 goal per game. DOOP! DOOP! DOOP!

  4. I’m worried that the lack of offense may lead to dipping ticket sales(and losses) . Fans who are not used to watching soccer matches are going to be turned off by the Union’s starting offensive lineup’s inability to get a shot on goal.

  5. Matt Kirk says:

    It was a decent game, in that decent I mean that, sure we compacted into a shell defense and did not get forward much, but that is how the Union seem to be taking the more powerful offenses this year and it worked until we got unlucky and Landon Donovan just happened not to dive that time. I am quite astounded at wussy play by Donovan, and the whining of the whole Galaxy team. I cannot stand their little whines after every single call whether it was for them or against them, it was just terrible to see that lack of sportsmanship towards the ref, regardless of their consistently inconsistent calls.
    Other than that, I think our midfield did a pretty decent job. Naka, especially on his set pieces, he whipped them in like a professional soccer player should. Daniel took sometime to get going but he did eventually and he is definitely a presence on the field that I would like to see more of.
    I think we learned what Ruiz is finally good at, heading the ball off six kicks, when he wants too and thats it. PhillyHotspur really nailed it about why Ruiz is not coming out or not starting. And as young as Torres is I think he deserves more than one start as does rookie of the year candidate Mwanga. Nowak needs to fess up to wasting money on Ruiz, he slows down the offense and its so blatantly obvious.
    And the Dragon definitely came up huge this game and should shut up any doubters about his physical ability if there were any.

  6. Andrew D says:

    I simply can’t fathom how the coaching staff can justify playing Ruiz when it’s obvious he just doesn’t fit in with this team. Not only does Ruiz show no desire to work hard and makes runs that open up space for the rest of the offense, but essentially he pushes Mwanga to the bench and causes Le Toux to be played out of position. Ruiz’s salary is a sunk cost, and while it may show a bit of misjudgment on the part of management you can’t sacrifice an entire offense simply hoping a poor acquisition will look so-so down the road.

    The problem with the Union last year was the defense. In the galaxy game Mondragon proved capable of being more than just a leader and calming presence in the back with several key saves. The defense issues of last year appeared to be solved. Le Toux and Mwanga have a good feel for each other on the field as was clearly evident in the small sample size Wednesday in the second half (along with all of last year).

    My optimum lineup would be the Dragon along with the regular back four. I think Keon and Carroll all but locked up there rolls in midfield. There is where it starts to get tricky. I would prefer Carroll partnered with either Okugo, Nakazawa, or Torres depending on the game and circumstances. I would give M. Farfan a run at RM as I am not a fan of Justin Mapp and his dead right leg. (How easy is it to mark someone who virtually refuses to use his right foot?) This leaves Le Toux and Mwanga up top. They both play best as forwards running off each other and it was clearly against the Galaxy that Mwanga is the missing spark this year’s offense needs. Thoughts?

    • PhillyHotspur says:

      Andrew D………Naks seems to be more of a CDM then a holding Mid which carroll is better at……I would roll w/ Torres as the holding/CAM in the middle. W/ Naka and Carroll in the middle, we basically have two CDMs out there which results in some poor linkage w/ our FL……I hear ya on Mapp….he clearly needs to play LW only and should never be used on the Right…..

      In the end….were two years into the MLS…immediate success is a few years away. So, if the U are smart….make that futbol attractive to keep the fans coming to the PPL Park. That first 60 minutes was deplorable vs LAG…..Time to give what the fans want……In the end, I think our BL is strong enough to handle the pressure.

      The FatChooch signing is looking like Seattle’s disaster w/ Ljunberg…..If your gonna go old, at least grab a big name from Europe, not the MLS..IMO

      • My only concern is Torres’ durability in the middle…I think he was down and grabbing his ankle within five minutes of entering against LA…but there is no denying his vision, passing ability etc…I was basically just saying Naka s/b be thrown in the rotation (Okugu should be higher on the depth chart) when regulars need rest in the center as I think he is ineffective on the outside

        Good analogy to the Ljunberg trade ( at least Ruiz isn’t making DP money, also compare it to Castillo for Chicago)…It really bothers me that simply dropping Ruiz and shifting Mwanga and Le Toux up top would solve a good portion of the U’s issues IMO

      • Mr Blue 55 says:

        Carlos Ruiz has nothing left. He can’t target for a ball and hold it. When he does get a first touch it always like he is anticipating a run from someone else and he loses the BALL. He has no speed. We havn’t played a final pass behind the D that he has run on to yet.
        I also take offense to any Chooch reference’s. He hasn’t earned that respect so don’t even go there. I call him Crotch. You figure out why. He is soccer’s version of Chris Weber, clearly stealing Union money. Retire dude.
        Offense in soccer is generated with runs to open space and checking into open gaps in defenses when the ball is available to you. It takes effort, work rate,vision. Sebastian clearly has the will and committment to make offense happen. He is not free to do anything right now because of the Cone playing a Central position.
        Peter you promissed us attacking entertaining soccer, now are respecting a cooked player. All the continuity we developed last year is stifled. You solved the defensive problems and ruined our attack. Do the right thing and sit him.

        GO UNION

    • We have now scored six goals in eight games, which is the lowest toal in the MLS. That’s pretty clear evidence of a problem on the offense to me. I don’t want to start blaming people, but I will say that if we keep doing the same thing, we are going to keep getting the same result. What is the harm of trying a Le Toux/Mwanga combination up top for just one game? Could it really be that much worse?

      If the problem is really Ruiz’s salary, then Nowack needs to go. The sunk cost analysis is dead on. So far, it is seems pretty clear that the Ruiz signing has been a mistake. There’s nothing that can be about that at this point. I understand why we took a chance with him and no one can expect the team not to make some mistakes with roster transactions. However, if Nowack is willing to keep starting him to the detriment of the team in order to avoid admitting that the signing was a mistake, then that’s a wholly different and much more severe problem, IMHO. If you can’t trust the coach to do his best to win, how can you trust him with anything else?

      In regards to the MF, I think a number of different combinations can work. I personally appreciate Nakazawa’s work rate and would start him in the middle and move Torres to the outside (assuming that Torres is durable enough to play 90 minutes every week).

  7. Only thing I can say is, “Ohhhhhhhh Danny Mwanga!”

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