Play-by-Play Plus: Union learning a great deal about itself with busy May slate

The latest column from Union play-by-play man JP Dellacamera

goal celebration huddle

Photo Credit: 
Greg Carroccio

While the Philadelphia Union did the expected on Tuesday in defeating a lower level team, the 2-1 win over the Ocean City Nor'easters tells us something.

First and foremost, the lineup put out by manager John Hackworth tells you that the team is treating the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup seriously, which is a good thing. It's a chase for a trophy that is certainly within reach as evidenced by last year's run which ended in the semifinals against Sporting Kansas City.

This is the club's best opportunity to win their first trophy. Some MLS clubs have treated this competition in a not so serious way, and have fallen by the wayside against lesser opposition.

The win is also a confidence boost, since it comes after a loss at Montreal on Saturday. Again, while Ocean City is not close to an MLS team, what if the Union lost? Like San Jose and Colorado did on Tuesday to non MLS clubs.

Going back to the Saturday game in Montreal, it's tough to score three times on the road, yet end up on the losing side, but that's what the Union did.

In the process, they allowed five goals in a game which is a club high. In two recent games now, they have given up four and five goals to Los Angeles and Montreal. In his postgame comments manager John Hackworth claimed this was as bad as it had ever been, and that would be tough to argue.

How did Marco DiVaio have that much room to operate, when he clearly was the focus of the Union scouting report, just as he is the focus for every MLS team he plays against. While the back four did not excel, you could argue that they didn't get much help either. Yes, DiVaio is open among four Union players who were close by, but who was marking Justin Mapp?

Who was taking care of Andres Romero? Flank play surely belonged to the Impact, who used that freedom to exploit the middle where they could find DiVaio.

For the Union, several games ago the concern was on offense and who could help Jack McInerney who was the only one scoring goals. Now the concern has to be more on the defensive side of the ball.

Saturday is an opportunity for the Union to right the ship, but you can't look at Toronto FC's record and assume this will be an easy game. There is so much pressure on Toronto to succeed, from their passionate fan base to their strong media.

In six years, they have yet to make the playoffs, and does anyone want to take odds on them making it this season? Ryan Nelsen is their eighth coach which tells you all you need to know. No franchise that averages more than a coach per year is a successful one, regardless of the sport.

This is a team that has lost five straight and are winless in 10, but those streaks will end sometime. On the plus side, they may get striker Danny Koevermans back for this weekend. Their best goal scorer has missed ten months because of a torn ACL.

There's not much else going on north of the border on the positive side for a team that made almost 20 changes from last year's club. Since they played the Union on April 13, they have brought in four new players and have released three. You can definitely expect more changes to this squad, for sure at the transfer window.

As for this Saturday, the Union must do a better job over 90 minutes, and it's best if they can control play early.

Make a bad team continue to feel bad about itself.

Giving Toronto the early edge might be all Nelsen's team needs to do to finally get a win. Remember, as bad as their record is, their seven losses have each been by a single goal.

As much as we'd like to see the Union dictate the pace and move the ball well, this is a road game. Better to start off by being sound defensively and not give Toronto any freedom to operate.

With this being their third game in eight nights, and not much depth on the defensive side, I'm not sure how many lineup changes we will see on Saturday. The same 11 that was used against Montreal can get the job done, provided they are focused on defense.

Alejandro Moreno and I will have the call on the Comcast Network, beginning at 6 p.m. Eastern.