The 2012 Union Take the Field

On Monday, March 12, 2012, an almost completely changed Union team takes the pitch in their third year as a professional soccer team in the MLS. Although it was torrentially downpour for the “MLS first kick” in the late-afternoon game on JELD-WEN field, the stadium was still packed with Portland fans. Standing-room only ticket sales and a well-fought first half seemed to be all the MLS could ask from its two newest teams.

JELD-WEN field before the game (Union FB).

The Philadelphia Union (0-0-1) are taking on a new identity to say the least. Club manager Peter Nowak made numerous moves in this somewhat controversial offseason. The selling of star Sebastian Le Toux to the Vancouver Whitecaps and releasing of Columbian goaltender and Captain Faryd Mondragon left the Union’s faithful fans in shock, wondering why a 3rd-place team was going under such dramatic changes.

However, the Union managers had good intentions by freeing up salary room, which they used to bring in four players who were seen in the starting lineup yesterday: Costa Rican players, left back Profirlo Lopez and forward Josue Martinez, along with Columbian striker Lionard Pajoy and Gabriel Gomez who is from Panama.

The U came out in an untraditional 4-5-1 or 4-3-2-1 in which they focused on speed and moving the ball up the right side of the field. Ever since last season, the Union have been focusing on having right defender Sheanon Williams making runs forward and either crossing or accompanying Martinez and Pajoy who both played on the right.

Like most season openers, the first half was spent establishing control and to find out what was clicking where. Both sides had a few opportunities at the goal but with the slippery turf and  steady rain, neither side was able to establish a feel for what was best; the game went scoreless into the halftime locker rooms.

Quickly out of halftime, the Union looked like they had a sense of what they wanted to do with so many new faces. Just six minutes into the second half, the Union were awarded a free kick from far out. Newly-acquired Gabriel Gomez lined up behind the ball with almost no defensive wall obstructing him. While Portland defenders expected him to put the ball up for a header, Gomez smartly whipped the ball with pace into the bottom right corner of the goal, leaving Portland’s fans stunned. It was 1-nil Philadelphia.

However, it did not take long before the Timbers’ attackers would retaliate. Just three minutes later, they were gifted a free kick from a similar spot as the Union previously had. But Portland decided to put the ball in the air, and this allowed forward Andrew Baptiste to score a goal, leaving many Union fans second-guessing their new goalie Zac MacMath, who had his hands on the ball prior to going in.

Pajoy dribbles past Alhassan; Pajoy led the Union with 2 shots.

This opened the floodgates for the Portland, who scored two goals within the next fifteen minutes. A lapse in defensive responsibility by Captain Danny Calif left Portland striker Kris Boyd open in the box, as he finished with a well-placed header. Finally, yet another set piece played quickly to rookie Kalif Alhassan, who put a chip shot leaving the Union down 3-1.

Three of the four goals in this game were scored on set pieces, which has been a reoccurring theme thus far in the 2012 MLS season. There will be more of this to come, especially early in the year because one thing a team can be sure of on how to do early on is taking a free, corner, or penalty kick.

Overall, the Union played a sloppy game, which should have been expected against a good team, on the road, in bad conditions, and with a very different roster then last season. As Peter Nowak put it, “We made it difficult on ourselves. (We need to) be disappointed and we need to go back and work.” Most importantly, the U were out-shot 17 to 5, and committed 14 fouls while the Timber only had 8. These are not numbers that you can win with, but with one game under their belt, the Union should be off to a promising 2012 campaign.


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Categories: Union

Author:George Hall

Khandyman Sports Blog Philadelphia Union writer.

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One Comment on “The 2012 Union Take the Field”

  1. Jason N
    March 28, 2012 at 12:25 am #

    Nice recap! Tough start for your boys!


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