Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Union battle Real Salt Lake to 1-1 draw

By John McMullen

Chester, PA (The Phanatic Magazine) - Redemption had to be on the mind of embattled Philadelphia goalkeeper Chris Seitz on Wednesday night as his former team, defending MLS cup champion Real Salt Lake, visited PPL Park and played the Union to a 1-1 draw in front of 16,128 fans.

Seitz played with Salt Lake for three seasons (2007-09) after being drafted by the club fourth overall in the '07 MLS SuperDraft. The former University of Maryland star was the first goalkeeper to be drafted that highly in MLS history and was expected to take over the reins for Real Salt Lake but he never developed, appearing in just seven games and notching 19 saves during his tenure there.

For those who have followed the Union's inaugural season, team manager Peter Nowak's unwavering support of Seitz has been the story. Questions about Seitz's natural instincts and a perceived lack of communications skills have dogged the netminder all season. Meanwhile, his inability to make the routine play has cost his team on more than a few occasions.

After another disappointing performance against Columbus in PPL Park last week, Nowak finally blinked and went to his alternative, backup goalkeeper Bran Knighton, in Dallas last Sunday, but that lasted all of 22 minutes as Knighton was sent off after hauling down Dallas' Brek Shea in the area.

The Union were ahead 1-0 at the time but the ensuing penalty kick evened things and FC Dallas went on to send Philadelphia to its second straight loss as the Union played the rest of the match with Seitz in the net and a man down.

With Knighton suspended on Wednesday due to his Red Card in Big D, Nowak had little choice but to turn back to Seitz against his former club. It was yet another chance for the former prospect to right the ship and prove Nowak's support this season was well-intentioned.

The results were mixed.

Normally an expansion team should be thrilled to play the reigning champs to a stalemate but RSL entered the contest without its two top scorers, Alvaro Saborio and Robbie Findley, who were each called in by their respective national teams for friendlies this week. Findley did enter in the 64th minute after playing in the United States' loss to Brazil last night but Saborio was toiling for Costa Rica tonight.

Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake decided to sit All-Star netminder Nick Rimando for the first time this season and went with Kyle Reynish, who actually outplayed Seitz and kept RSL in the contest.

The Union took the early edge in the eighth minute thanks to the nifty footwork of All-Star striker Sebastien Le Toux. The Frenchman took a Jordan Harvey entry pass and looked like a magician as he found a streaking Danny Mwanga splitting RSL's defense. The rookie then squirted it by Reynish for his sixth goal of the season.

Reynish wouldn't falter again despite being pressed all night.

Mwanga, who missed the previous two games with a groin injury, stayed active early and nearly put his second in during the 11th minute but Reynish stoned his blast from the box. Two minutes later a Mwanga crossing pass found Kyle Nakazawa but Reynish was equal to the task again, getting down to make the save.

Real Salt Lake clamped down on Mwanga from there and the missed opportunities cost the Union when RSL evened things in the 17th minute. Defender Juan Diego Gonzales, making his first start for the Union, failed to clear a pass into the box and Fabian Espindola took advantage, beating Seitz on the short side.

"I think the defender just missed the ball and then I got the goal when he left me alone," Espindola said. "It was a difficult goal to make with so many players around me."

The chances kept piling up for the Union. Le Toux found the head of Danny Califf in the 27th minute off a corner kick but Philadelphia's captain was unable to redirect it. Two minutes later, Le Toux found himself on a breakaway but Reynish raced out to break things up.

Normally that's a cue for Seitz to let in a soft goal and he gave it his best. The Union goalkeeper fanned on a punch to clear in the 35th minute and Real Salt Lake was staring at an open goal before Michael Orozco Fiscal cleaned up Seitz's miscue by clearing the ball from the box.

The second half saw more missed opportunities for the Union as Reynish stopped a Califf header off a Le Toux corner kick on net in the 49th minute. In the 53rd, Le Toux had a free kick from 30 yards out that he blasted just over the crossbar. After a pair of RSL defenders fanned on a header, Mwanga found himself free in the 62nd minute but Reynish beat him to the ball. Fred then took a Le Toux crossing pass in the 69th minute but couldn't beat Reynish on the short side.

Seitz's strongest moment in the second half came in the 57th minute when Jean Alexandre unleashed a powerful strike but Seitz dove to his left and knocked the ball away.

Neither team could muster many chances in the final minutes as the extreme heat and humidity seemed to take a bit out of the players.

Le Toux especially didn't look like himself in the final 10 to 15 minutes as the Union failed to take advantage of a 13-to-9 shot advantage and a 10-3 edge in corner kicks.

“I believe there was a good effort from both teams,” Nowak said. “There was a lot of running and a lot of combinations. We put in a lot of heart today, and I told the guys in the locker room that I’m proud of the effort. The last game wasn’t our best game, and we didn’t play as we are supposed to. We came back stronger and the mentality is getting better.”

The Union returns to the pitch at PPL Park this Saturday, August 14 against Colorado.

State of the UNION:

*With Knighton unavailable the Union brought up former Penn goalkeeper Danny Cepero from their USL affiliate Harrisburg City to be the backup. Cepero captained the Quakers, set the school's all-time career record for shutouts, and was named to the All-Ivy League team as a senior.

*Union midfielder Stefani Miglioranzi missed the game with a strained groin and was replaced in the starting lineup by Nakazawa. Meanwhile defender Shea Salinas remains out with a fibula fracture in his left knee. Califf played with a left rib contusion.

*The Union made three substitutions on the night. Roger Torres replaced Justin Mapp in the 57th minute, Amobi Okugo spelled Nakazawa in the 63rd and Andrew Jacobson got Fred in the 81st minute.

*The 16,128 was the smallest crowd of the season at PPL Park.

Scoring Summary:

PHI  - Danny Mwanga 6 (Sebastien Le Toux 8) 8’

RSL - Fabian Espindola 5 (Tony Beltran 2) 17’

Real Salt Lake -- Kyle Reynish, Tony Beltran, Rauwshan McKenzie, Nat Borchers,
Chris Wingert, Andy Williams (Will Johnson 64), Jean Alexandre, Javier
Morales, Nelson Gonzalez (Collen Warner 72), Pablo Campos (Robbie Findley 64),
Fabian Espindola.

Substitutes Not Used: Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, Robbie Russell, Nick
Rimando.

TOTAL SHOTS: 9; SHOTS ON GOAL: 5; FOULS: 11; OFFSIDES: 2; CORNER KICKS: 3;
SAVES: 6

Philadelphia Union -- Chris Seitz, Jordan Harvey, Juan Diego Gonzalez, Danny
Califf, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Fred (Andrew Jacobson 81), Kyle Nakazawa (Amobi
Okugo 63), Justin Mapp (Roger Torres 57), Eduardo Coudet, Sebastien Le Toux,
Danny Mwanga.

Substitutes Not Used: Cristian Arrieta, Jack McInerney, Nick Zimmerman, Danny
Cepero.

TOTAL SHOTS: 13; SHOTS ON GOAL: 7; FOULS: 13; OFFSIDES: 8; CORNER KICKS: 10;
SAVES: 4

Misconduct Summary:

PHI -- Fred (caution; Reckless Tackle) 2
RSL -- Nelson Gonzalez (caution; Reckless Tackle) 37
RSL -- Jean Alexandre (caution; Reckless Tackle) 50
RSL -- Rauwshan McKenzie (caution; Reckless Tackle) 60
RSL -- Nat Borchers (caution; Reckless Foul) 79
PHI -- Roger Torres (caution; Unsporting Behavior) 93+

Referee: David Gantar
Referee's Assistants: Philippe Briere; Adam Wienckowski
4th Official: Jeff Gontarek
Time of Game: 1:52

Weather: Clear-and-87-degrees

Attendance: 16,128
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