SPORTO: The State Of Our Union


sportsguycroppedthumbnail.jpgBY MIKE WOLVERTON SPORTS GUY The Philadelphia Union began their official sporting existence last night, in the cold and rain, 2,800 miles from home. But for the traveling supporters that were there, it must have felt like a sunny day with a cool breeze. Professional soccer has finally arrived in Philadelphia — albeit by way of Seattle — and congratulations are in order to all that had a hand in making it happen. As it turns out, soccer in Philadelphia is a young man’s game. Literally. Philadelphia’s starting 11 included only two players over 25 years of age. The right side of the midfield was manned by two 18 -year-olds, including top SuperDraft pick Danny Mwanga. It’s a young team that will learn on the job, and will have to do it the hard way — eight of their first ten games are on the road as they prepare for the June 27th opening of PPL Park in Chester.


Sixteen seconds into the game, Philadelphia defender and captain Danny Califf cracked Sounders forward Fredy Montero just to say hello, as the ball was nowhere nearby. Califf knocked Montero to the ground (or give him a reason to flop to the ground as if shivved), and out came the yellow card. I love the fact that the first thing that happens in the first game of the Union’s existence is that the captain takes a yellow card. Sixteen seconds in! That’s so Philadelphia. Oh, in the aftermath you can see Montero giving somebody a sly wink. Check the tape.


The Union fashioned the first two chances, the initial one a scuffed shot by Alejandro Moreno. Union midfielder Michael Orozco also got off a shot from distance that required a save by Kasey Keller, as the Sounders started off somewhat sloppy. But the game changed in the 12th minute, when Seattle carved up the Union defense. Freddie Ljungberg started the move, Steve Zakuani provided a tasty cross and Brad Evans fired it past Union goaltender Chris Seitz. His vision may have been obscured, but it was one Seitz would like to have another chance at.


Zakuani generated another fantastic opportunity for the Sounders with a beautiful cross, but Roger Levesque fired it over the top. The Union were getting forward as well, with Sebastien Le Toux getting into some good positions without generating any clear-cut chances. Le Toux also provided an excellent finish in the 38th minute but the goal was correctly ruled offsides. The Union had acquitted themselves well to this point, but as halftime approached the game was changed permanently. Union defender Dani Stahl was given a second yellow card for a foul on Montero and off he went (two yellow cards=red card=expulsion). The foul wasn’t that bad, the referee probably should have had a word with him instead of being so card-happy. While I’m at it, the first card for Stahl never should have been a booking, at least not for Stahl. Union defender Dave Myrie dove in awkwardly at Freddie Ljungburg, while Stahl, running right behind Ljungburg, brushed him as he went down. If somebody had to pay because the great Freddy Ljungberg was on the turf and grabbing his back, it should have been Myrie. Stahl was very unlucky to be sent off for those two fouls.


The Union were down to 10 men, and minutes later Seattle made them pay. Fredy Montero got his head on a shot that was going wide from Osvaldo Alonso and redirected it into the back of the net. Down a man and two goals, the Union were virtually done and dusted before halftime. The second half was uneventful, with few chances either way. I’m reluctant to give player ratings from the TV, and it’s was harder to get a grasp on the Union tactics after they were down to ten men. Among the positives, Le Toux was around the ball, Moreno looked lively in the first half and much of the play went through 18-year-old right winger Roger Torre, with mixed results. Defender Dave Myrie had an interesting game. At times he looked composed and got forward, but he was also partially at fault for the first goal and in the second half he delivered a hip check on Zakuani that would have made Chris Pronger proud. He was promply carded. In the end, the Union didn’t create much, and may have trouble in that department as the season progresses. Danny Mwanga had trouble influencing the game, but did show some signs of creativity, including a clever lifted pass in the first half that eventually resulted in a shot from Andrew Jacobson. With one game in the book, Philadelphia fans can hold their head high that they lead the league in one category: most yellow cards (5). See you at The Link for the home opener, April 10th.

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