Saturday’s stalemate against Houston made for a disgruntled locker room.
Disgruntled, because this Union collective shares the sentiment of its fan base that against the Dynamo three points were on the table.
“It’s frustrating. It’s annoying to do so well and then to just let ourselves down,” Union midfielder Maurice Edu recently told philadelphiaunion.com. "We just seem to keep shooting ourselves in the foot, digging holes for ourselves and [then we aren’t] able to get out of that hole. At some point we need to learn from it. Whether it’s capitalizing chances that we are creating for ourselves or forcing teams to be on their back foot – force them to get back into the game as opposed to us playing catch and chasing the game.”
Those were comments from Edu following a midweek loss to New York. Against Houston, the Union certainly weren't chasing this game – the second half in particular, it was the exact opposite. The Union controlled much of the tempo and created numerous chances specifically in that second stanza. There are always positive pointers to take from even the worst of contests.
1. Defenders as second attackers
The attacking style of Union manager John Hackworth has always began from the defensive third and down the flanks, that’s no secret. But what was apparent in Saturday’s match was just how high and how often both outside backs, Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis were catalysts in creating chances. For Gaddis, his ability to break up plays, play a quick pass and push high on the overlap made life tough for Houston’s defense all day. Conversely, Williams ensured he was a threat out wide and was always an option on the flank. By our official count, Williams crossed eight balls from right flank into the danger area, including one in stoppage time that had all the makings of being an assist on a Union game winner.
Now you could say that Houston’s game plan of crunching the field and playing in the middle of the park allowed for the flank play to occur. But keep in mind that a compressed field allows for turnovers and quick counters. You’re less inclined to push defenders high if you are worry about counterattacking play.
Which brings us to point No. 2...
2. Recognizing developing plays
Union captain Brian Carroll admittedly isn’t a flashy player. But what he does well is recognize the build of an offensive counter and putting himself as a defensive-minded midfielder in spots to ensure that it’s okay for the runs of outside backs to hurt the club in the end. On numerous occasions in Saturday’s match Carroll could be routinely found playing the role of a center back. In turn, regular center backs Amobi Okugo and Aaron Wheeler took advantage of moments where they could push higher into attack. It’s possible those who watched Saturday’s match witnessed Okugo past midfield more times than in recent memory.
It may have been by design, especially after adjustments made at the half, but we’d like to think it was the recognition of players like Carroll, Gaddis and even versatile forward Andrew Wenger, who tracked a few Houston players deep into the Union’s defensive third, that made for a more multifunctional Union attack.
3. Leo Fernandes corner kicks.
It was pretty much confirmed after his free kick spectacular against Chicago that midfielder Leo Fernandes can hit one heck of an in-swinging ball. As a result of his own confidence and the confidence the technical staff in those abilities, Fernandes called his own number, hitting a pair of driven curling corners into the box, that just out of save reach for Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall and if not for crazy scrambles from the Dynamo very well could’ve found the head of a Union player. And in the 76th minute, Fernandes nearly did in his second of two attempts on the afternoon.
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Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at email@example.com