Analysis / Featured / Union

But will they be fun to watch?

Photo:Courtesy of Portland Timbers

And then there was but one question left.

One question to answer about Philadelphia Union, and you couldn’t fully answer this one on paper.

Would they be fun to watch? Would the Union change the way they played last year and produce some attractive, attacking soccer?

After Saturday night, the answer is clear.

The answer is YES.

Cristian “Chaco” Maidana broke ankles with a filthy display of attacking acumen, creating shots from nowhere.

Vincent Nogueira bounced around the field like a rabid mosquito stuck to a pinball, with tight ball control and a powerful engine.

Maurice Edu put himself in the all the right spots on both ends of the field.

Everything revolved around the big three new names. How could it not? The Union basically imported a new engine room in full. The trio started nearly every Union attack. Maidana and Edu created the Union goal with Jack McInerney.

Nogueira and Maidana combined for the kind of terrific, technical combination play that we only saw in spurts during the Union’s first four years. They absolutely owned the attacking third’s right side against Portland. Based on the times Sebastien Le Toux combined with them to near (but not quite) perfection, it could be just a matter of time before the rest of the Union up their game to adjust to the superior midfield play.

This was not the Union of 2013, who parked the bus in front of goal and waited to kill you on the counterattack.

Nogueira and Edu replaced the bus’s engine with a 747 variety and drove it through midfield like a hot blue Maidana knife through Diego Chara butter. They transitioned the Union from defense to offense at a speed that defied the rainy conditions in Portland.

This was something new, something never before seen over the stretch of a full Union game.

This was Philadelphia Union playing the beautiful game.

Union manager John Hackworth told me in November that his ideal team played possession-oriented attacking soccer based on short, ground passes, not emulating Barcelona’s tiki-taka style, but rather using the fewest amount of passes necessary. On Saturday, that’s exactly what the Union did.

While many Union fans hoped to see this after the team’s offseason signings, few expected it. Many cynically believed that Hackworth was talking a good game but not confident he could produce it. They were wrong.

Portland clearly approached the game the same way. Diego Valeri’s postgame comments to were telling:

“They surprised us. We were expecting a different kind of Philadelphia team. They opened up and tried to play, and they played well. They came to play…

“They tried to take the ball from us and they did it very well. They were very well organized, and opened up the field well and played well…

“It surprised us because we expected another kind of Philadelphia honestly. We expected a Philadelphia that would keep numbers in the back and look to counter. We ran into a team that has changed its look.”

Obviously, the Union didn’t win the game. Their last minute collapse reminded everyone of last season, as even Jack McInerney attested. Not everything changes overnight.

But plenty has.

This could be the Philadelphia Union team you’ve waited five years for.

Quick thoughts
  • Yes, Brian Carroll made a bad play, but half the Union players on the field played a part in Portland’s goal. Who was Ray Gaddis marking? Did Antoine Hoppenot cover the back post, or didn’t he? And so on. Will Johnson caught half the team off guard with his quick corner kick.
  • Carroll had a fairly good game until the last minute. You heard very little from Valeri, Chara or Johnson for the game’s first 93 minutes, except when Maidana was eating Chara’s lunch in attack. Carroll had something to do with that.
  • Saturday wasn’t the first time Hoppenot blew an assignment to cover back post on a corner kick for the Union. That’s something he needs to improve.
  • Hoppenot caused Portland fits once he entered the game. His defensive lapse shouldn’t obscure his otherwise impressive play Saturday night. He drew a host of fouls and didn’t dive once.
  • Aaron Wheeler’s flexibility means Hackworth didn’t have to spend one of his seven substitute spots on a center back.
  • If Fabinho remains the starting left back once Sheanon Williams returns, Amobi Okugo may have to slide to left center back. Austin Berry looked good Saturday, but Okugo’s range may be required to cover for Fabinho when the left back pushes into attack so far that he can’t recover defensively.
  • The Away Goals rule? Really? If this wasn’t my post-Opening Day column, I would devote an entire column to how bad it is that MLS is implementing this rule for the first time. You might even get some “un-American” and “fascist” and other things that surely won’t be hyperbole thrown in. Bile must be spewed over this.


  1. they were fun to watch while playing on soggy yucky turf in the pouring rain three time zones away via television broadcast directed by someone who obviously needs to STEP. AWAY. FROM THE METH. maybe someone from deadspin can write about how the cardiff-fulham match was so much better

  2. Spot on, Dan, especially the part about Carroll. I can’t believe the criticism leveled at him over the final goal.

    Totally unjustified, but just goes to show that if you really dislike a player, you’ll see his negatives as much greater in order to validate your opinion and vice versa if you like him.

    • i agree that a lot of the criticism is overblown but it is not totally unjustified. his poorly thought out choice of booting it up field and losing possession was questionable at best and his clearance on the corner would have been a beautiful assist if he had been wearing green

      • Very true, but you could say the same thing about Wheeler as the Union had the ball deep in Portland’s half while Hoppenot and Cruz were drawing fouls. If Wheeler had been able to keep possession down there, the ball would have never gotten in the Union’s half at all.

      • If he had actually cleared the ball, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But the fact that he failed to clear it and that turnover resulted in the tying goal magnifies the situation to much higher levels than any of the other turnovers that occurred during the game.

      • Nor would we be having this conversation if Hoppenot had marked the back post and everyone else did their job on the corner.

  3. JediLos117 says:

    You mean I can blame the team for dropping points?!
    That’s crazy! It’s only one persons fault, always one person!
    Team looked great! Gonna be a fun season!
    While much of the focus and blame has gone to Carroll…many are glossing over Gaddis’ poor showing…for me Williams cant come back soon enough.

    • The Black Hand says:

      Never!!!! We must only fault Brian Carroll…always!!!!
      In all seriousness, the club did show first match rust. They were sloppy at times and the weather didn’t help. Positioning on the corner was dreadful. Gaddis or Hoppenot should have been in the goalmouth. (Asking either to challenge an attacker in the air is ridiculous, being that they are tiny). There were blown assignments galore on the corner. None of that changes the fact that; had it not been for TWO Brian Carroll misplays, the Philadelphia Union would have taken 3 pts from the Portland Timbers…in Portland!!! The club made some mistakes but Carroll made MISTAKES!!!
      The Union have some damn good players this year and I agree it’s going to be a joy to watch.
      I thought that Gaddis looked small out there, but managed to get the job done defensively (exception being THE corner). That said, I also would like to see what Williams will look like, with his new teammates working with him.

  4. Fully agreed on the away goals rule. It’s awful. It’s intended to encourage away teams to attack more and create a more exciting match, but what it really does is cause home teams to bunker down and avoid giving up a goal at all costs. It’s a terrible rule. The idea that a goal scored away from home is more valuable is completely wrong-headed and sporting artifice at it’s most backwards. It doesn’t work in the Champion’s League, it won’t work in MLS. This is a huge mistake. I hate the away goals rule. Hate hate hate hate. Rant over.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      I respectfully disagree. In my mind, anything that makes it less likely that a series will be decided by penalty kicks has some merit.

      • away goals tiebreaker is the ugly date who has awesome tickets to the show you really want to see but sold out in twenty minutes and plus you had other plans but they fell through at the last minute and now she asked you to go so you say yes because you know it gets you there even if it’s not the perfect situation and a penalty kick shootout is she has B.O. and really bad breath, too

      • Hah, that’s excellent, well done.

      • That’s some deep stuff there. I just realized that I actually hate the away goals rule.

      • igottheblues says:

        Yep. Been there. Great analogy haha

      • That’s a valid point, and I agree that penalty kicks are crappy way to decide a game. But what I would strongly prefer is maybe some form of sudden death overtime – I don’t really understand why this has been off the table for so long – which I think could go some way to avoiding penalty kicks and also eliminate these situations where one team has to score more than the other to advance but the other team doesn’t.

      • The UEFA Champions League and World Cup do 30 minutes of added time in the knockout rounds before going to penalty kicks. I think the reason they don’t add more time (like in the NHL playoffs) is that the players are so exhausted after 120 minutes that the game becomes a trial of endurance more than a test of the teams’ ability to play soccer.

      • better to have a test of endurance and the ability to exploit the lack of endurance in others than PKs

    • Don’t ask me I hate aggregate goals no matter how you contrive them.

  5. The Realist Brian says:

    Nog and Maidana were incredible. Outstanding pick ups.

    No more Keon Daniel taking too many touches, negative passes and lazily joining the attack.

    Holy shit we have a midfield now! AWESOME! Edu made Carrroll a better player, too. I won’t criticize his lack of clearance, and we need the mental fortitude to close games out. We will get there.

    Now the weak links are Lead Touch Le Toux and Gaddis. So apparent that they will need to pick up their game speed/touch to keep up with Nog/Maidana/Edu.

  6. How can anyone in their right mind criticize Le Toux, Gaddis, or Hoppenot for perceived failings in their games? They didn’t give up the goal which stole the win from the Union. Carroll passed the ball to Portland trying to clear it upfield to relinquish possession leading to a corner kick, and then he kicked the ball onto Fernandez’s head off the corner kick. You can say we’re being too harsh on him if you want, but he actually assisted on Portland’s goal!!! How anyone can try to blame others who didn’t play perfectly but didn’t cause the opponent’s goal is beyond me. Brian Carroll apologists!

    • Well played, sir.

    • At least Carroll was playing defense during the corner and tried to clear it. Mishits happen. Meanwhile, Gaddis, Hoppenot and MacMath looked like ball kids watching the game from the sidelines. Zac should have been screaming at everyone to mark up and get on the post. Edu and Carroll looked to be the only two that saw the quick corner coming.

      • there were mishits everywhere during this game. If it weren’t for the rain or the turf. (I suspect turf) Portland would have connected on their chances and this conversation would be irrelevant.

      • haha are you saying portland should have won this game?

      • No. Not at all. But for all of the sound and fury the Union scored only one goal. Mostly do to Jacks chip just missing and a great Ricketts save.
        But for all that Portland, Who were shanking balls left and right during the game were still getting their looks that they didn’t connect on.
        The game should have been 1-0 Union but it Could have been 3-1 Portland or a 3-3 tie.
        This game was a good start but it wasn’t definitive.

      • to me its telling as far as your viewpoint goes that you gave it 3-1 portland or 3-3 tie but not 3-1 philly. mayhaps check oneself

      • no I gave it 1-0 to Philly. But if Portland were a little tighter we could have lost.

      • Southside Johnny says:

        I totally agree. I keep saying that nobody is in charge in the back and that is still true. They are all good players but there seems to be very little leadership. Zak only gets vocal when they are setting up the wall. Who is looking around to see if everyone is marked? Zak, at least certainly should be.

      • running the back line was something Saomare was great at and it is one of the reasons I can’t completely hate him.

  7. So, I was going to say this is among the most bizarre similes I’ve ever read:
    “Vincent Nogueira bounced around the field like a rabid mosquito stuck to a pinball,”
    but then, a few paragraphs later my face got slammed against the wall by this metaphor-simile tag-team:
    “Nogueira and Edu replaced the bus’s engine with a 747 variety and drove it through midfield like a hot blue Maidana knife through Diego Chara butter. ”
    Oy! You sure like you’re colorful similes, Dan. First roast pork, then rabid insects, then jet-engine powered knives. I’m afraid to ask what’s next…

  8. OneManWolfpack says:

    After we win 4-1 Saturday… can we let the draw vs Portland go?!?
    I will only hate the away goal rule if it screws over the Union. Which, since we are a Philly sports team, it will at some point in the near future.
    I admit that I was initially pissed with Carroll but it was an overall team let down. It doesn’t excuse his clearing attempts at the end though. He isn’t off the hook. And I’m not apologist. I think he should sit. I just think it wasn’t ALL his fault.

  9. “This was Philadelphia Union playing the beautiful game”,

    A smile…the chills…a tear.

  10. One of the things that made me so happy about our 3 midfield signings is that I figured one of them would be a bust, based upon the vagaries of international scouting, team chemistry, and other intangibles, but the team would still be OK with the two who panned out.

    We’re now faced with the distinct possibility that all 3 of these guys are golden. In which case… this team might seriously compete for the Supporter’s Shield this year.

    It also means that we might have to tip our caps to Hackworth, even if his game-day management is less than ideal. Dude clearly knows how to recognize talent.

  11. Just like a baseball team, a strong spine up the middle is huge. Having a really promising, young CB tandem that compliment each other well, a talented midfield trio with high motors, and a dangerous young striker who probably has yet to hit his full potential…I’m really excited about the foundation we’ve built. Add in some really dynamic play on the wings from Maidana and Sheanon Williams, and I agree this team will be lots of fun to watch.

  12. Nice post, Dan! I had actually started to jot down some notes for a Fan’s View with this exact same storyline. However, I’m fairly certain it would have lacked a few of you hilarious metaphors!

  13. i disagree on hoppenot’s game. i really don’t think he offered anything that wasn’t being done better before he came on. his only trick seems to be to run straight at defenders and fall down. it’s not gonna work on every ref like it seemed to on this one.

  14. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Many years ago, when Michel Platini and Karl Heinz Rumenigge were still players and World Cup games were only available in time condensation on PBS, France played West Germany. They tied at the end of regulation. They played two 30s of regular OT. They then played two 30s of sudden death OT. They ended in PKs and Germany won. That was more than an extra game in total. Even the Germans were tired by the end.

  15. The thing that sucks most about the entire final play is that Nogueira raced his ass all the way from outside the box to clear that ball away, and if flatfooted Carroll hadn’t stuck his foot out to do a high-risk move and deflect it, Nogueira would have blocked it down and the game would have been over.

  16. buzzkill_ed says:

    I don’t understand why people don’t understand away goals. It’s not complicated and it prevents extra time and penalties. Lots of extra time in last year’s playoffs.

    • I understand it just fine. I just think the rule sucks. Winning should require scoring more than your opponent. That’s a basic premise of pretty much every team sport I know of. Like you said, there’s nothing complicated about it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *