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When a loss is the best game

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

You could hear it being said by the fans as we all walked out of PPL Park, you could hear it from the players themselves in post-game interviews.

Even though the Philadelphia Union lost 3–2 to New York, that was the best game the team played all year.

How was that so?


When we talk about the team having a good game, we mean just that—not just a typically strong defensive effort, but also a good offensive effort, a total team effort.

The win against Columbus, while satisfying in that it was the first win of the season, wasn’t exactly the most exciting affair, with the offense generating only 8 attempts on goal, 4 of which were blocked shots. In the scoreless draw against Vancouver, it was much the same, with 9 attempts on goal, 6 of which were off target. The win against Chivas was heroic, sure. But a good game? Not really.

This being the kind of season it is, the last time the Union looked like they were capable of generating numerous quality goal opportunities was in the home opener loss against Colorado, which also happens to be the last time Peter Nowak started Danny Mwanga at home to work with Lionard Pajoy (the pair started together in Chicago). In the end, defensive lapses cost the Union in those games, but both were games in which the Union had plenty of chances to put the opposition away, from the first to the final whistle. So in the Let’s compare the Colorado and New York games.

When looking at goal attempts, the first thing that strikes the eye (outside of the scorelines) is just how similar the numbers are for the Union and their opponents in each game. Against Colorado, the Union had 20 attempts on goal, against New York they had 21. In fact, that’s 1 more goal attempt than the Union managed in the previous 3 games (Seattle, San Jose, Chivas). What’s more, the 6 shots on goal against New York is 1 more than the total managed over the previous 3 games, which at 5 is the same number the Union tallied against Colorado. Pajoy, who ended a 550 minute no-shots-on-goal streak with a weak dribbler against Seattle, accounted for 4 of the Union’s shots on goal against New York, scoring with two of them.

It is no secret that the Union has struggled at shooting the ball, let alone shooting it on target or scoring goals. Over 9 games, the Union have recorded 90 shots, 24 of which were on target, for 7 goals. In the games against Colorado and New York, the Union recorded 41 goal attempts, 11 of which were on target, for 3 goals. In other words, those 2 games account for 46 percent of the Union’s shots, 46 percent of the Union’s shots on target, and 43 percent of the Union’s goals.

As many have said this season, if we’re going to lose, let’s go down shooting.

Shorthanded and still dangerous

The shorthanded victory over Chivas was remarkable, all the more so for playing 1 man down for the final 15 minutes, 2 men down for the closing 5 minutes. The Union not only took the lead at the start of the second half after being a man down against New York, they also looked to be a well finished shot away from killing the game or, after New York’s third goal, at least equalizing. This is all the more remarkable, particularly given their recent form.

The Union had completed 157 passes from 210 attempted for a passing accuracy of 75 percent before the ejection; New York was at 77 percent. After the ejection, the Union’s passing accuracy dropped to 68 percent while New York’s rose to 85 percent. But the Philadelphia attack did not waver: 11 of the 21 attempts on goal came after the ejection; 3 of the 6 shots on target, 5 of the 8 shots off target; 3 of the 7 blocked shots. While the Union had more crosses before the ejection (14) than after (15), 3 of the 6 successful crosses followed Adu’s dismissal.

In the end, the problem was that of the 3 New York goal attempts that were on target in the second half, 2 of them found the back of the net. Where the Union defense was able to hold  being down two players in the closing minutes against Chivas, holding for a half against the now first place team in the East was simply too much.

Adu, who had the Land End laughing and whooping as he moved through the New York defense at will before his ejection, said after the game, “Even though we lost today, this can be a pretty good turning point for our season.”

They are encouraging, even believable words. Whether they prove to be true words will begin to be seen in Dallas on Saturday. And the shame of it is that Freddy won’t be there to help those words come true.

Because even the most faithful will tire of “best games” that end as losses.

One Comment

  1. Lot of stats and work on your guy’s part for another loss. Great work, but maybe take some time off for yourself…you guys put more time into this team then the front office. Appreciated, but dont kill yourselves.

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