At 1-1-1 (four points) to start the season it's been a mixed bag for the Philadelphia Union, though the positives, to me, have far outweighed the negatives – starting with three new midfielders.
We knew the midfield was changing and while I still know that the best is yet to come, when has the team had a midfield quartet like this?
Cristian Maidana has shown signs of brilliance offensively, and once he gets used to his teammates and the way the game is refereed in MLS, he can only get better.
Vincent Nogueira is the farthest along of the trio, but that's because he had been playing on a regular basis with Sochaux in the French top division. Nogueira seems to have an engine that just won't quit, along with vision and soccer sense. He knows where the next ball should go and does his best to get it there.
While he may not know the language, Nogueira is very animated on the field, pointing to where he wants the next runner to go, or to where he wants to receive the ball. He has been impressive in his three starts playing the full 90. As for Maurice Edu, as a box-to-box midfielder he is providing some aggressiveness on both sides of the ball, giving balance and support to Brian Carroll.
Edu has also played every minute making up for some lost time at Stoke. Edu's play has at least led in part to a recall to the U.S. National Team by Jurgen Klinsmann for the April 2 friendly against Mexico.
All of this goes into the plus side along with the play of Raymon Gaddis, Leo Fernandes and Aaron Wheeler.
Gaddis, thought to be a sub as both right and left back, has played three full 90's in place of the injured Sheanon Williams. Fernandes had an assist in his first game as a last minute starter for an ill Brian Carroll, then scored a goal last week as a sub at Columbus. Forget the stats, he looks more poised than he did just one year ago. As for Wheeler, a new conversion to central defender, he has impressed in a lot of areas, both as a sub and as a starter for the injured Austin Berry. With the way these defenders have played, you don't have to risk a premature return of Williams or Berry.
On the downside, the club has only scored three goals in three games, exactly one each game. Yes, they are creating and are certainly more entertaining than in year’s past, but coaches will tell you, it's all about the finishing. That's one area that the club will look to improve on.
New players becoming more familiar with their teammates will help, as will the return of a healthy Conor Casey, although right now, the question is how to get him into the lineup, especially if the Union stick with a 4-3-3. I do believe we will see Casey get some playing time soon.
Also on the down side, the three goals given up are not many, especially when you have played two road games versus two good teams.
However, two goals have come off of corner kicks, and two of the three have come in stoppage time at the end of a game and end of a half. Coaches go gray or bald, over goals conceded in this fashion.
That's the good and the bad of this three-game stretch to open the season. A desperate Montreal team comes to PPL Park on Saturday looking for their first point after a 0-3-0 start. Last year, they started out by winning their first four games.
On Saturday, Montreal is scheduled to get star striker Marco DiVaio back from a three-game suspension to start the season.
The Italian forward had 20 goals a year ago, and has scored four goals in four games played against the Union. He is sure to test the Union back line as he makes his 2014 season debut.
Read past Play-by-Play Plus columns and watch JP Dellacamera and color analyst Peter Pappas all season long on local Union broadcasts.