For the first 25 minutes on Saturday, it looked like it might be a very good night for the Philadelphia Union. They were not just dominating the home side, FC Dallas, but the Union were also looking very dangerous on offense. In fact, it was the best 25 minutes of offense I have seen the Union play in 2011.
Things were clicking at Pizza Hut Park, as the passing was crisp, the runs were sharp, and the spacing was the best it has been. The outside backs were not just getting open, but they were also getting the ball played to them. I saw numbers going forward with confidence, including one attack where I counted six players who were all in the attacking third trying to contribute.
There was good penetration, both up the middle and on the flanks, and at least two very good chances to score.
Then, in the blink of an eye, it all seemed to fall apart. Dallas scored the game's first goal completely against the run of play on a Fabian Castillo ball played across to an open Brek Shea. From there, you could see the confidence of FC Dallas picking up, but still, I felt the Union were going to be okay.
The back-breaking goal would come in the closing minutes of the first half. An uncontested cross from Jackson found the teenage Castillo, and FC Dallas, despite being outplayed, were up 2-0. That goal in the 43rd minute changed the dynamics of the game, and probably the locker room conversation as well.
If the Union had found their rhythm again and scored a goal within the first 20 minutes of the second half, the outcome could have been different. Instead, FC Dallas became more comfortable over long stretches and limited Philadelphia’s chances for a comeback.
This is an FC Dallas team that should be commended for going five games now without a loss, and four of them without the reigning league MVP, David Ferreira. It was Kevin Hartman’s third consecutive shutout, extending his shutout streak to 309 minutes.
All in all, it turned out to be a rough night for the Union. It was the first time they conceded more than one goal in a game all season. The offense continued to struggle despite a couple of changes in the starting lineup with the insertion of Danny Mwanga for Carlos Ruiz, and Roger Torres in for Kyle Nakazawa.
Questions loom ahead for Manager Peter Nowak and his staff as they prepare for Saturday’s opponent, the struggling Chicago Fire. Will Nowak trot out the same lineup that created so many opportunities and looked so dangerous in those first 25 minutes, or will he tinker a little bit to try to find a better balance? I’ll have more on Saturday’s home game vs. the Chicago Fire later in the week.
With two more goals Saturday, Landon Donovan took over the goal scoring lead in Major League Soccer with 7. He now has scored a goal in five consecutive games. The two goals pushed his career total to 110, passing Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis on his way to number four all-time in MLS history.
Rosters for the CONCACAF Gold Cup are due on Saturday and it will be interesting to see the list of MLS players who will be leaving their clubs to play for their country in a tournament that begins on June 5. LA will lose Donovan to the U.S. team and Donovan Ricketts to Jamaica. The New York Red Bulls are expected to get hurt the most as they could lose a good half dozen players, including Rafa Marquez.
Despite their recent slump, the Union were fortunate not to lose ground in the Eastern Conference as both the Red Bulls and Columbus Crew were defeated this past weekend. A Union win on Saturday could get them back into first place in the conference.