The long flight back to the East Coast won’t be a particularly happy one for the Philadelphia Union. Beaten 2-0 by the Seattle Sounders in their first-ever MLS match, the league's newest team showed it has a lot of work to do.
But coach Peter Nowak and his players will board the plane with a better understanding of where they stand and what it will take to compete in their inaugural season in MLS. Too many sloppy plays, too little cohesion—all to be expected from a club playing its first-ever competitive match—marked this trial by fire, especially for rookie striker Danny Mwanga, who started in an unfamiliar central-midfield role.
“We just have to play smarter,” said Mwanga, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s MLS SuperDraft. “Cutting out the mistakes and playing better as a team are also very important.”
Down 1-0 early on, the Union’s chances of getting a result took a major blow when rookie Toni Stahl was sent off just before halftime for a knee to the back of Freddie Ljungberg. But playing a man down the entire second half, according to Nowak, inspired the visitors to play more cohesively.
“Overall, I think we saw that even playing with 10 men, we were able to keep a stadium of 40,000 people pretty quiet in the second half,” Nowak said. “We played much better and the heart was there, even playing with 10 men. It was a good effort.”
The Union saw five yellow cards in the match—including one to captain Danny Califf in the first minute—and Nowak insisted that this league isn’t for the faint of heart. The veteran coach suggested Seattle played a bit soft.
“This is the men’s squad,” the coach said. “I’m sorry, but this is how the men play. Like I said about the fouls and the baited fouls, we had something like eight fouls and six yellow cards ... a little bit too much for our standards.”
Califf felt the referee’s whistle got a bit out of control and hindered the Union from playing the way they wanted.
“It changed my thinking a little bit,” Califf said on his early caution. “Obviously, I try to impose myself on the attackers straight away and it just happened to be seen. I think I was able to adjust though, and for the most part we did ok.”
The Union next face D.C. United in two weeks at Lincoln Financial Field. It's not enough time to solve all the problems exposed in Thursday’s loss. But forward Sébastian Le Toux expects a different mind set from the players.
“We know that we are a physically positive team,” Le Toux said. “We wanted to come out ready, but unfortunately we got a red card and it was hard for us to keep the ball and play the way we wanted to. I hope for the next game, our performance will give us plenty of confidence to play better and try to win.”