Union See Troubling Habit Reemerge

Knighton's 22nd minute red card was the club's fifth in the first half

As has
been the case far more often than one would expect judging by Philadelphia Union’s
4-10-3 record, the expansion side executed their game plan well in the early
going against FC Dallas on Sunday.

In sweltering
100-degree heat, Manager Peter Nowak’s squad was determined to score first and
force Dallas to chase both the ball and the match. They did just that when
Alejandro Moreno scored his first goal of the season in the ninth minute to put
the Union up 1-0.

“Well we
score a goal and get ahead in this heat,” said Moreno after the match. “We
thought that was going to be important because it was going to allow us to keep
the ball moving and force them to try to push for the game, and the longer the
game went on, it was going to make it a little bit easier for us to try to find
spaces in a counter attack.”

All was
going according to plan on the road against an opponent riding
an eight-match unbeaten streak. Then it wasn’t.

Brad
Knighton’s mishandling of a through ball and subsequent red card reinforced one
trend for Philadelphia and invited a second to reemerge. While the Union have outplayed their
results pretty consistently throughout the season, they had seemingly
managed to shake the nasty habit of receiving first half red cards that plagued them in
four of their first ten matches.

Despite a
valiant effort following David Ferreira's equalizing penalty kick -- the Union kept the
score level at 1-1 for 52 minutes down a man -- the heat and MLS Player of the
Week Jeff Cunningham were ultimately too much for the club to handle.

“We did
that (scored an early goal) and then we thought that we could manage the heat
and keep the ball and try to force them into chasing the game,” Moreno added.
“But we didn’t hold the result for as long as we should have and it became an
even match again and, as I said before, we got punished.

“We battled pretty hard to close
out the first half and end in a 1-1 draw and try to make some changes and try
to sort ourselves out defensively. We did that for the first 15 or 20 minutes
of the second half, and then we had a break down and we got punished. In the
end, we come out of here with nothing after putting a lot of work on the
field.”

A 1-3-1 record in the last five
matches has Philadelphia’s postseason aspirations looking faint, with 11 points
separating the club from a tiebreaker scenario with Toronto for the final
playoff spot if the season ended today. The Union have been a bad foul here and
an ill-timed mistake there away from being very much in the mix, but there’s no
benefit to dwelling on what-ifs. At this point, the Union are best
served taking the rest of the season one match at a time, minimizing their
mishaps and looking for improvement every step of the way.

If they can do that, the club’s
expansion season could still turn out to be a success after all.