On Saturday night in Chicago, the Philadelphia Union (0-3-0) took a trip to play the Chicago Fire (1-0-1) in their home opener, falling 1-0. A shorthanded Union team was without numerous key personnel. First, Captain Danny Calif who has been nursing his knee back from preseason surgery. Also, three team members, outside back Sheanon Williams, midfielder Amobi Okugo, and finally midfield/forward Freddy Adu who are all currently playing with the USA national team in a series of international friendlies. Because of the lack of players, the Union fell short yet again a rough 1-0 loss.
The main concern of the Union coming into this matchup was still playing defense even without two key starters. Defense is such a concern because of two Fire players; Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko. They are both elite offensive players whose key weapons are their speed. When Peter Nowak was asked with his philosophy on how to defend this he said: “I think you limit the space, dropping a little bit deeper. You have to be aware that if you’re going to create the space behind our back line that it might be used by the fast guys.”
The game began and the Fire had a spark that was obviously motivated from an eager home crowd ready to finally see their team in action. Unlike the Union’s first two games, they began the game slowly. Philadelphia only got 2 shots off in the first half, opposed to Chicago’s 9. These 9 shots forced a struggling Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath to perform, and for the most part he did. Compared to his previous performances Philadelphia fans have something to be hopeful about.
But the quick Fire squad only tested MacMath a few times before finding the back of the net. It was in the 28th minute that Oduro accomplished this with his head. Marco Pappa craftily dribbled the ball the right sideline and sent a beautiful cross onto the head of Oduro who finished in the corner of the goal.
When the referee blew the whistle to begin the second half, Pappa quickly scared the Union defense again when ripping a shot that shook the post in Toyota Park. For the majority of the second half to follow this, the game was a deadlock back and fourth. But near the end of the game, at around the 80th minute the Union began to surge into a more attacking, desperate mode. After Jack Mclnerney (forward) was subbed into the game for defender Chris Albright.
In the 82nd minute, from only 25 yards out Gabriel Gomez lined up behind the ball for a free kick. Gomez, who has been taking the set pieces this year and scored one of the two Union goals this season has been very good about putting the shots on cage, and forcing the opposing goalie to make a save. He struck the ball nicely but not well enough to stop a well playing Paolo Tornaghi. 2 minutes later, the Union were awarded another free kick, this time closer to the corner. Chicago keeper was slightly out of position, but made a fingertips save to keep the ball out of the goal and secure Chicago’s first win of the season.
After a 3-loss start to the season, the Union know something needs to change. The can not be anymore turning the blame over to something simple. The players look fine, and although the U may have been unlucky on some things, changes need to be made. Some think it should be coach Peter Nowak. This decision will most likely not be made, or at least for another few weeks considering last seasons success. The Union look to bounce back from this loss on March 31 at PPL Park against the Vancouver Whitecaps where franchise scoring leader Sebastian Le Toux visits his old stadium.