Saturday, September 11, 2010

Knighton helps Union record first shutout

Union goalkeeper Brad Knighton
By John McMullen

Chester, PA (The Phanatic Magazine) - A clean sheet.

It took the Philadelphia Union 5 1/2 months, 23 games and a new goalkeeper but they finally got one.

Sebastien Le Toux netted the game's only goal and Brad Knighton stopped all four shots he faced as the expansion Union became the last MLS team to record a shutout this season when they whitewashed the Chicago Fire, 1-0, in front of sellout 18,563 at PPL Park on Saturday night.

There is an old saying in American football -- the backup quarterback is the most popular player in town, Of course, that's a bit of a stretch. Super Bowl winning signal callers are treated like royalty. No one is clamoring for Tom Brady's caddy but come up short, even a game or two short, and fans start itching for the unknown.

Sometimes it's fair, sometimes it's not.

Here in Philadelphia, empirical evidence tells us Donovan McNabb is the greatest quarterback in Eagles history, but Kevin Kolb is already more popular with thousands of fans, at least before he takes his first snap against Green Bay tomorrow. Only then will Kolb feel what it's like to be held accountable.

There is a similar dynamic in soccer with goalkeepers. In the case of the Union, however, Chris Seitz was never at any point comparable to McNabb. The embattled Seitz probably deserved a seat on the bench a couple of months ago but team manager Peter Nowak has been nothing if not loyal to his hand-picked

Seitz's inability to make the routine play and penchant for allowing soft goals cost his team on more than a few occasions, the latest of which left two points on the table against Kansas City last weekend after he let in
another softie on a free kick from 30 yards out.

"It was an unnecessary goal and I thing out defense made it easy for [Seitz]," Nowak said afterwards. "When it comes to crucial moments, he has to be there for this team. We have a system and if it's not going to work, we have to make the necessary replacements."

The replacement was Knighton, who recorded his first career shutout and helped the Union (6-11-6, 24 points ) stop a five game winless streak at PPL Park, along with avoiding some rather ignominious history.

With Seitz starting 21 of the team's first 22 games, the Union were the only MLS team that hadn't recorded a defensive shutout this season. In fact, no team in MLS history has gone the entire year without a clean sheet with the record low being two, set on six previous occasions, most recently by the LA Galaxy in 2008.

Knighton, meanwhile, came in with two shutouts in international friendlies and now has added another in the first MLS start he completed this season.

The Union took the lead in the 36th minute when Justin Mapp, who was acquired from Chicago (6-8-8) earlier this year, sent Le Toux in all alone on Fire netminder Sean Johnson. The Frenchman rarely makes mistakes and this time was no different as Le Toux slipped it by Johnson on the short-side for his 11th
marker of the season.

Knighton did finally make a Seitz like mistake in the 65th minute when he scurried out of the box in an attempt to run down the ball but failed to do so. Sheanon Williams, who was starting his first game, was there to make up for the miscue sending Patrick Nyarko's crossing pass out of play.

In 112 minutes of playing time this season, Knighton has not allowed a goal while Seitz came in tonight's contest with a 1.75 goals-against-average, the second worst mark in the league, and an MLS-worst 38 goals allowed.

Philadelphia will now travel to San Jose next Wednesday for a must win game. The Union are nine points behind the Earthquakes for the eighth and final MLS playoff spot with just seven games to play.

State of the UNION:

*Nowak did blink once previously after a disappointing Seitz performance against Columbus back on Aug. 5, finally pulling his alternative, Knighton, out of his hip pocket in north Texas three days later. But that lasted all of 22 minutes when 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 another loss as the Union played the rest of the match with Seitz in the net and a man down.

*Tonight's game was the second sellout at PPL Park. The opener against Seattle back on June 27, a 3-1 Union win, was also sold out.

*A couple of usual Union starters missed the contest, midfielder Eduardo Coudet and defender Juan Diego Gonzalez. Coudet missed his second straight game with a strained right calf while Gonzales was sidelined with a groin strain. The 20-year Williams got the start on the backline for Gonzalez. A product of the U-17 Residency Program, Williams joined the Union from the Harrisburg City Islanders, Philadelphia's USL-2 affiliate, back on August 31. He represented the United States in two youth World Cups, the U-17 World
Cup in Korea (2007), where he played for Union assistant coach John Hackworth, and the U-20 World Cup in Egypt (2009).

Meanwhile, striker Alejandro Moreno, returned to the starting lineup after coming off the bench in the team's last game against Kansas City. Moreno has been battling a balky right hamstring. With his return up front, that enabled Le Toux to move back to midfield until later in the game.

MF Fred, another usual starter, was battling a strained groin and came in as a substitute for rookie star Danny Mwanga in the 55th minute.

*Defender Shea Salinas, who has been with a fibula fracture in his left knee, played for the first time in seven weeks when he came in as a sub for Moreno in the 70th minute.

*The Union's other substitution was Kyle Nakazawa getting Mapp in the 77th minute.

*When these two teams first played back on June 5, a 2-1 Chicago win in the Windy City, Mapp was with the Fire, where he played eight-plus seasons. Since being acquired by the Union back on June 26, Mapp has recorded four assists and one goal in nine MLS games and a friendly against Chivas de Guadalajara.

*The WWE's Todd Grisham was on hand hosting the game for FOX Soccer Channel.

Scoring Summary:

PHI - Sebastien Le Toux 11 (Justin Mapp 3) 36'

Chicago Fire -- Sean Johnson, Dasan Robinson, Deris Umanzor, Wilman Conde, Steven Kinney, Patrick Nyarko, Baggio Husidic (Calen Carr 46), Freddie Ljungberg, Logan Pause, Nery Castillo (Corben Bone 86), Collins John (Mike Banner 57).

Substitutes Not Used: Krzysztof Krol, Peter Lowry, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Andrew Dykstra.


Philadelphia Union -- Brad Knighton, Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Jordan Harvey, Sebastien Le Toux, Andrew Jacobson, Stefani Miglioranzi, Justin Mapp (Kyle Nakazawa 77), Alejandro Moreno (Shea Salinas 69), Danny Mwanga (Fred 55).

Substitutes Not Used: Cristian Arrieta, Jack McInerney, Amobi Okugo, Chris Seitz.


Misconduct Summary:

CHI -- Freddie Ljungberg (caution; Dissent) 36

CHI -- Wilman Conde (caution; Reckless Tackle) 47+

PHI -- Andrew Jacobson (caution; Reckless Tackle) 60

Referee: Edvin Jurisevic

Referee's Assistants: Bill Dittmar; Eric Proctor

4th Official: Andrew Chapin

Time of Game: 1:52

Attendance: 18,563

Weather: Clear-and-75-degrees

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