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Match report: Union 1-0 Energy Drinks

Philadelphia Union brought in some veterans in the offseason to get the team to the next level.

With the Eastern Conference favorite New York Red Bulls in town, it was the teenagers that made the difference as Danny Mwanga set up a Roger Torres goal in the 68th minute to lead the Union to a 1-0 Union victory.


Peter Nowak must have been happy with the performance of his 4-4-2 against DC United in the US Open Cup. He installed Justin Mapp and Keon Daniel wide of Carroll and Miglioranzi. Carlos Ruiz and Sebastien Le Toux were on top of a very stable formation.

New York came out in what Nowak would later call a 5-0-5, with Henry, Agudelo, Lindpere, Richards and De Rosario playing high and checking back to receive distribution from the talented Tim Ream and Rafa Marquez.

New York also pressured high up the field, giving the Union’s defensive four none of the time afforded by Vancouver two weeks prior.

Early chances, early changes

And while the Energy Drinks had most of the first half possession, the Union had the first chance of the match when Carlos Ruiz turned and fired at goal from just over midfield. The floating dream of a shot fought gravity and drifted over Bouna Coundoul’s bar as the keeper desperately backpedaled.

Philadelphia was then forced to make the first substitution of the match as Brian Carroll departed with a hamstring strain. Amobi Okugo, fresh off the positive reviews of his performances for the U-20s, came on.

Okugo nearly made an immediate impact. After dispossessing De Rosario in midfield, he played a quick pass to Ruiz and took off upfield. The striker was not paying attention and the chance came to naught.

New York responded by turning the pressure up a notch. Richards and Lindpere pressed on the outside backs while Henry and Agudelo stayed high in the center.

The Energy Drinks were taking control of the match, and a beautiful combination play from Henry and Lindpere on the right skinned Miglioranzi and Sheanon Williams. Henry’s low cross was cleared from the box by an alert Jordan Harvey.

Henry was encouraging New York to switch fields with speed, but the Union’s tightly packed defense was proving difficult to break down.

The Union were operating primarily on the counterattack. A good break handed Justin Mapp a chance to spin a free kick into the box in the 16th minute. The ball bounced through the six-yard box to the back post, where four Union players kicked at it. Danny Califf found the ball on his left foot but scuffed the opportunity wide.

This spurred the Energy Drinks into action, and moments later De Rosario should have tested Mondragon when left wide open at the top of the box on a corner. But the man who celebrated a brace against Philadelphia last season could not settle the ball, and his shot stung hands in the supporter’s section.

That Agudelo kid

Agudelo was next to try his luck with a pretty turn in the box and a lefty shot that zipped across the grass and tapped the far post. It was a rare moment of space in the box for Agudelo, as the Union defense was at its best inside the 18.

In the 32nd, New York had their best chance of the match. Agudelo was released in the right channel, and he beat Califf first for speed and then held off the Union veteran to loft a delicate shot above Mondragon. Only a great save by the River End crossbar kept the match level.

The pressure from New York was constant, but Califf and Valdes controlled the middle while Okugo’s speed was vital in closing down the passing lanes to the strikers.

Finally, the Union were able to break in the 37th. Mapp strode forward on the right and looked off the defense to follow a great run by Ruiz. Le Toux curled into the space between the center backs, and Mapp’s through ball missed the French striker’s foot by an inch.

New tactics

In the second half, the Union came out in a 4-2-3-1. Keon Daniel played in the middle behind Carlos Ruiz, and Seba Le Toux stepped wide right. Nowak was counting on Daniel to cut out the passing lanes between the center backs and the midfield, and Daniel played the role with aplomb.

Le Toux almost put the Union on top as the half started. His bad angle shot was punched into the ground by Coundoul and hopped just over the bar.

A moment of painful comedy followed when a Lindpere shot rocketed back off the ad boards behind the goal and smacked Mondragon in the face. The goalie was down for a full minute before clearing his watering eyes and giving the thumbs up.

Possession numbers were beginning to favor the Union, and Justin Mapp had his skills on display when he beat four Red Bulls and slipped in Ruiz. The striker had drifted offsides while admiring Mapp’s moves, and Mapp was left to rue the missed chance on the sidelines, with Danny Mwanga entering for the midfield creator.


Mwanga stepped into the middle and pushed Daniel wide. For those who remember Mwanga’s poor turn as a midfielder against Seattle in 2010, it was a questionable substitution. But on this night, Nowak was playing chess while Backe played checkers.

Mwanga used his considerable strength to hold the ball in the midfield, providing the type of time the Union needed to break out of defense as a unit.

The new formation was allowing Amobi Okugo to find more space with the ball. Okugo has a unique set of skills that include both tackling and distribution. His passing range was on full display when the teenager lofted a ball over the defense to Le Toux, who played Williams down the wing and earned a deep throw in.

Minutes later, Le Toux blasted a free kick miles over the bar. It was the latest in a series of poor free kicks from the Union this season, but the resulting goal kick gave Nowak the opportunity to insert Roger Torres for Carlos Ruiz and push Danny Mwanga up top.

Torres tucks it in

Le Toux’s pressure on the right forced Roy Miller to play a pass inside to Tim Ream. The talented US International tried to keep the ball moving, but his left-footed pass to Marquez instead found Mwanga and the striker headed straight for net. Ream took out Mwanga’s ankles but Roger Torres ran onto the loose ball and, with his first touch of the game, blasted the finish near post.

Torres and Mwanga would dominate the remaining twenty minutes. Torres moved the ball with speed and purpose, rarely indulging his penchant for dribbling or lofting hopeful balls over the top.

Mwanga was nearly unplayable. His strength and speed made him dangerous every time he touched the ball, as no Energy Drink was able to slow him down. If the striker’s touch was more mature, he would have left Marquez in his dust on multiple occasions.

Final moments

The most notable incidents of the last ten minutes were Miglioranzi’s shot from the top of the box that actually left the stadium (a first, as far as PSP knows). Then Coundoul flopped around after coming out to cut off a through ball to Le Toux. The goalie was hoping to convince somebody that the Union striker had kicked him in the head. But since that didn’t actually happen, Coundoul was left to suffer the jeers of the Sons of Ben with no penalty to Le Toux.

As the final whistle sounded, Danny Califf leaped into the arms of his captain and goalkeeper. A boisterous and deserved celebration by a defense that has yet to allow a goal in open play this season.

(Photo:  Daniel Gajdamowicz)


  1. PhillyHotspur says:

    Good to see Nowak come to his senses and shift back to a 4-4-2 formation and add some width to the attack.

    Daniels looked good in possession and definitely looks a viable option for the front 6.

    3 clean sheets outta 4…..Backline and the White Dragon……….life is good.

    Those Deadbulls did bring the noise in their section and went home with a big fat L……….GeeeeeeeeeetSome

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