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Overlook the Union – WE DARE YOU

Photo: Paul Rudderow

With two weeks to think about Seattle’s late equalizer, fans were left to ponder some concerning thoughts.

What if the first three wins were an aberration?

What if the slip up against Seattle was a return to this team’s true nature?

Following the absurd red card to Jordan Harvey (a staple of last year’s team), nail-chewing and stomach churning could be forgiven as the team faced fifty minutes playing down a man.

But the Union didn’t break. Hell, they barely even bent.

Off the mark and it feels so good!

When Sebastien Le Toux thumped home the match winner in the 76th minute, the ear-splitting eruption was composed of equal parts jubilation and relief. This is not last year’s team—these guys are tough as nails.

What a great day to be a Union supporter.

Sure, this one wasn’t pretty either but even with ten men on the pitch, San Jose failed to mount any sort of offensive challenge and whether the penalty was rightly or wrongly given, justice was served. MLS referees tend to be infallible and Jordan Harvey will likely have to accept his suspension for the phantom red card, but on Saturday, the cream rose to the top and the Union were teeming with positive performances.

Keon Daniel

From unnamed trialist to mandatory starter in under a month, Daniel just keeps getting better with yet another complete performance. He provided width, he tucked in to maintain possession, he won the ball, he tracked back, he used his powerful frame to hold up and shield the ball.

He even served in some dangerous corner kicks.

Apart from scoring, Daniel did everything for which his coaching staff and fans could have hoped. Justin Mapp is going to struggle to get himself back on the field now that the Union have a player of Daniel’s quality. Oh, and he can also kick the ball with both feet.

Carlos Valdes

No chance, frobag.

Stephen Lenhart played like a scumbag. Whether he was throwing elbows, grabbing jerseys, clipping ankles or rolling around on the field holding his head, Lenhart did everything possible to disgrace himself and con the referee.

Carlos Valdes was unmoved.

While Lenhart won a cheap yellow card off of Okugo and earned a free kick here and there, over 90 minutes of play, Valdes did not give him an inch to breath once he got within 30 yards of goal. Lenhart, who tallied twice for Columbus last year at PPL, seemed a shadow of that player on Saturday as he was checked by Valdes at every turn. Without losing his cool, the Colombian gave as good as he got and it was surprising to see Frank Yallop leave Lenhart on for the duration, considering how thoroughly Valdes had him in his pocket.

Through six games in this young MLS season, Carlos Valdes is as good as it gets around our league. Let’s just hope Colombia can get themselves sorted out so that we can see Valdes captaining his home nation in Brazil 2014.

Amobi Okugo

Saturday’s performance may represent the greatest amount of ground covered by any Union player, ever. Left to fend for himself without Carroll or Miglioranzi by his side, Okugo proved that he can handle the heavy lifting on his own. While it took an unfortunate injury to Brian Carroll to get him off the bench, Okugo has grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Perhaps it is a function of his youth, but fear plays no part in Okugo’s game, whether its going all out to win a tackle, or exhibiting veteran poise on the ball.

Every time he appears destined to be dispossessed, he opens the eyes on the back of his head, nimbly dodging and shielding away from would-be tacklers. And with the confidence of increased playing time comes the deeper forays, joining the attack and creating chances, ultimately yielding the decisive penalty in the match.

Faryd Mondragon

Anyone else want some? Didn't think so.

It is rare that a goalkeeper can make approximately one real save per match and be considered an MVP candidate, yet how can you discount Mondragon’s influence after he did it again? Four clean sheets through six games, with a whopping two goals conceded. It’s amazing what a little confidence in a goalkeeper can do for a team’s chances.

You watching this MacMath? Because it’s a masterclass.

As Chris Wondolowski learned, you come into Mondragon’s lair at your own peril, and when the Dragon got half a ‘fro with a late punched clearance, one was left to wonder whether he was intentionally sending Lenhart a message while calmly clearing his lines.

Does Mondragon have world class reflexes or leaping ability? We honestly don’t know because between his positioning, speed off his line, courage in traffic and defensive organization, he has barely been tested.

And with his fire and intensity, its hard to see that changing any time soon.

Obligatory Mark Geiger commentary

Since I don’t want anyone thinking I’ve gone soft with this out and out lovefest, here is some ranting about Mark Geiger, a man who we can all agree deserves plenty of criticism for his horrible performance.

Mark Geiger is the kind of referee player’s hate. Search for pictures of him on Google and you will find many photographs of him brandishing a card. Regardless of color, check his body language, arm fully extended for maximum height and effect—Geiger is not warning or ejecting the player, he is addressing the crowd. Like a beauty queen waving to the back rows of a crowded theater, Geiger’s antics are an over-exaggerated act and his fake toughness serves to stir a bubbling cauldron rather than cool it. This was the case multiple times against San Jose and his downright bitchy behavior often exacerbated situations, turning minor frustrations into full-on, aggressive exchanges.

It was clear that it would be a long day from nearly the beginning of the match. With Danny Mwanga surging up the right wing, he opened his body to collect the ball with his chest. Yes, his left arm rose high into the air, but no, it did not make any contact with the ball. San Jose’s players threw the first of their MANY crying fits and the whistle was blown. What is so disappointing about this call is not just that the referee was SO easily influenced, but also that he failed to follow one of the basics rules of refereeing. Do not make a call without consulting someone who has a better view than you. While Geiger, standing directly behind the play, was completely unsighted, his Assistant Referee was not. In fact, he had a perfect view of the ball and when his flag stayed down, Geiger’s whistle should have stayed out of his mouth.

Players get stepped on all the time

If you go into an all out slide to win the ball, there’s a chance you’ll get stepped on. Tough luck.

If that bothers you, play a different game.

If you are reading this and you play soccer, my guess is that your ankles and shins are scarred from a youth and adulthood spent getting kicked and stepped on while playing soccer. Sometimes they are fouls and sometimes not. And while they always hurt, you get over them. The manner in which Chris Leitch reacted to his tangle with Harvey was deplorable and the fact that the Earthquakes man got off scot-free is almost as much of an indictment of the refereeing as the red card itself.

On one hand you have a player challenging for a 50-50 ball. He stays on his feet and once the ball is away, he turns to go after it. While he does appear to step on the prone player, at no point does he look down at him, nor does he lift his foot before making contact.

On the other hand you have a player in a full-on slide who chooses to clutch at his opponents foot before swinging a menacing kick at his knees.

Who deserves the red card?

In my opinion, that is how cut and dry the situation is. In order to deem a stamp worthy of an ejection there MUST be some form of eye contact. How can a player whose eyes are on the ball know where to stomp? He can’t and Harvey didn’t.

I have now watched the YouTube clip literally dozens of times and it is not a red card. Nor is it a yellow card. Nor is it a foul.

If you are going to completely leave your feet, you must learn to deal with the consequences. Leitch’s actions were dangerous, violent and retaliatory, a clear ejection if ever there was one. If Jordan Harvey is sent off, Leitch joins him in the locker room, AT A MINIMUM. If you need further proof, watch the reaction of the San Jose players. For a team who whined throughout the entirety of the proceedings, they do not react in anger, they do not remonstrate with the referee, nothing. Brandon McDonald even appears to offer Harvey an apologetic pat on the back.

Pathetic.

Don’t worry, be happy

Migs was so happy, he stole this adorable child!

Despite everything that went on, we have every cause to be happy. Don’t just be happy, be fricking ecstatic. Ecstatic because we, as a fan base, are witnessing a team developing a personality. Sure we nitpick about this and that—that’s part of the fun of following any team. But with four clean sheets in the bag, the Union can no longer be written off as an early-season phenomenon. If you can’t score, you can’t win and for that reason alone this team is for real.

We are a city who loves Brian Dawkins and Chris Pronger. We love defense. We love toughness. And between Valdes, Califf, Okugo, Mondragon, Daniel, Carroll and Co. this Union team is chock full of the enough grit and determination to make believers out of a lot of people. Competing with both a Phillies-Mets game and a Flyers-Bruins playoff game, 18,279 people chose PPL Park.

At this rate, we will be getting more bleachers and a Jumbotron over the River End before you know it.

The offense will get on track, they’re too good not to. But, as we learned last year, it is a whole lot easier to open a dam than to close one. And right now the Union have it locked up pretty damned tight. Following Saturday’s gut check, the late goal conceded to Seattle looks like an out-lier rather than a return to old habits. It is only a matter of time before the first Union goal has teams across the league dropping their heads.

Look out Portland, YOU’RE NEXT.

6 Comments

  1. Matt Kirk says:

    The players of San Jose, have no class at all, the are a complete disgrace to the game. Every foul on them, they acted like it was the worst foul in the world. I think they were watching the Barca and Madrid game and trying to follow their ridiculous response to the ref.
    Leitch deserves a fine and a suspension of 3 games. His faking being stepped on and then kicking out deserves 2 red cards for each action. The MLS NEEDS to review this and take away Harveys suspension and give it to Leitch for being a complete idiot.
    And these MLS refs need to realize that if we know their name its not a good thing, they should not be changing the dynamic of the game, the MLS was looking good for this season, growth wise in followers, viewers, fans but if these crappy Refs keep deciding the game we can say good bye to the growth. The MLS need more professional refs instead of the ones we have now

  2. You are absolutely right, we should start some sort of petition, we need to get the USSF’s attention and let them know we are not upset about this one small event but worried about the future of mls because of a trend we see emerging. I would be happy to help the cause.

  3. It’s to bad that Ruiz did not get the red card. One week without him would really show our offensive strength.

  4. Lenhart was dispicable. Just downright dirty play. I was sitting next to a Quakes fan who had driven up from MD. Nice guy who had grown up in San Jose. Half way through the second half he leaned over and said “I don’t know what Lenhart is trying to prove today. He’s really making some Bush League moves”.

  5. So will Farfan be replacing Harvey in the starting IX at Portland? Playing the Timbers at Jeld-Wen will be just as much a test of our grit. I have no doubt in my mind that if we had Harvey we would come away from Portland with a shut-out, 0-0 draw…perhaps one of our special 1-0 victories…but now I’m thinking we’ll be lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw.

  6. I am firmly of the belief that Harvey deserved the red card. That is not to say that Leitch did not deserve a card too. But after watching the replay over and over, it looks pretty clear to me that Harvey extended his leg back to where he knew the guy was. It was an unnatural motion for sure. You can say he didn’t look at Leitch all you want, but he intentionally kicked him.

    That being said, the ref did a poor job of controlling the game in general, and refusing to book Leitch for the kick after, which he definitely saw, was absolutely awful.

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