A lot went right to give Philadelphia Union it's first victory on Saturday night. Let's take a look at some emerging themes and lessons we've learned two games into the club's inaugural season.
Sebastien Le Toux looks just fine playing up top
This one is a no-brainer. After scoring 24 goals in two seasons of USL play, including an MVP campaign in 2007, Seattle Sounders FC used Le Toux in a variety of roles last season. Manager Peter Nowak had other ideas, deciding to give the Frenchman a shot to play his favorite position on a consistent basis.
If Saturday’s Home Opener is any indication, Nowak made the right decision. With his hat trick, the first three goals in Union history, Le Toux is well on his way to becoming a lethal attacking option and fan favorite for Major League Soccer’s newest club.
Roger Torres is a playmaker
When Torres was signed less than three weeks before First Kick, fans didn’t know what to expect from the 18 year-old Colombian. Now they have a much better idea. Torres’ creativity and quickness on the ball have created a lot of problems for opposing defenders thus far, and his free kicks were consistently dangerous against D.C.
Much of the run of play flowed through Torres during the Home Opener, and it didn’t take long for him to register an assist in front of the hometown fans. Torres’ perfect cross from the right flank easily found a streaking Le Toux’s head, a connection that Union fans hope is just beginning to blossom.
Cristian Arrieta looks like a long-term solution at right back
At least Torres trained with the club during preseason. Arrieta officially signed with Philadelphia Union just a day before the Opener, but you’d never know it from watching the game. The 2009 USL MVP not only shut down United’s attack along the left touchline, but also displayed dangerous counter attacking instincts. His precise clearance to Alejandro Moreno set the stage for a brilliant cross-field pass that found Le Toux in on goal for his second tally of the night.
When you’re creating more offense than you’re allowing as a defender, you generally tend to stick in the lineup. A few more performances like his first may be enough for Arrieta to cement a permanent spot in the starting XI.
Alejandro Moreno doesn’t need to score to be effective
If you look at the box score from the Union’s first-ever win, you’d see that Moreno had a big impact with assists on the match’s first two goals. However, that doesn’t even begin to tell the story of the MLS veteran’s performance on Saturday. Moreno consistently held the ball in United’s territory, enabling the Union to find shape in the attacking third.
His pass on Le Toux’s second goal was truly a thing of beauty: a bending, world-class, thread-the-needle look that left D.C.’s defense on the wrong side of Le Toux and the goal. Moreno kept fighting after United tied the score 2-2, drawing a pivotal red card by fighting for position and forcing Dejan Jakovic to yank him down in order to prevent a one-on-one with ‘keeper Troy Perkins. Moreno hasn’t scored yet this season, but he was invaluable on all three goals against D.C.
Danny Califf controls the Union’s backline
When Califf came back to MLS to play for a young Philadelphia Union team, he knew he had to assume a leadership role. After doing so in preseason, Califf was named the club’s first ever Captain, a designation he hasn’t taken lightly. The just-turned 30 year-old controls the defensive backline with strong communication skills, commanding ball-winning in the air and confident tackling at the point of attack. It’ll never be easy sledding for opposing strikers with Califf roaming the center of Philadelphia’s defense.
Fred provides cohesion in the midfield
While it seemed obvious that the Union missed Fred against Seattle, one could only speculate until the Brazilian’s debut against his former club. Fred’s play didn’t translate to points, but he was a calming influence on the ball and created space for Torres and others to operate in the midfield. Fred’s skills have never been in doubt, but it’s his experience and ability to anticipate multiple passes in advance that elevate Philadelphia’s attack to another level.
Philadelphia is a great soccer city, already
The 34,870 fans in attendance make for a pretty open-and-shut case, but it was more than just the numbers. It was the emotion on display throughout the match and the fact that fans stayed well after the final whistle to cheer for the players as they were walking off the field.
Even a glance at the Union’s Facebook page proves that Philadelphia soccer fans are embracing the gift they’ve been given. One thing’s for sure: tickets to Union matches at PPL Park will be mighty hard to come by when the club moves to it's new home in June.