Sunday, March 18, 2012

Union drop home opener to Colorado

By John McMullen

CHESTER, Pa (The Phanatic Magazine) - It has become a tired refrain in the short history of the Philadelphia Union.

The Union dominated the Colorado Rapids in the first half on Sunday, generating a host of scoring opportunities, chances they failed to convert.

The Rapids weathered that storm behind netminder Matt Pickens and struck in the second half, despite playing a man down for 36 minutes, to take a 2-1 win at PPL Park in Philadelphia's home opener.

The Union piled up a a ridiculous amount of scoring chances in the opening 45 minutes, out shooting Colorado 9-2, but with their lone proven finisher in Vancouver the scoreboard read 0-0.

Realizing it was playing with house money and lucky to be within earshot of Philly, Colorado came out of the locker room relaxed and ready to pounce, something they did in the 56th minute when Luis Zapata lofted a crossing pass just over Zac MacMath's outstretched hands before Jaime Castrillon knocked it home.

Despite losing Jeff Larentowicz to a second yellow card in the 58th minute, the Rapids took a 2-0 edge in the 62nd  when Tony Cascio took advantage of a bad Chris Albright flub, beating MacMath on the short side.

The man advantage finally came into play for the Union in the 67th minute when Roger Torres, who came on for Albright as a substitution four minutes earlier, put a beautiful crossing pass on Lionard Pajoy's head and the Columbian striker put it past Pickens.

Colorado stiffened from there although Philadelphia did manage to misfire on one last opportunity. Pajoy found the ball on his feet just outside the area in the 89th minute but drove it over the crossbar as the Rapids improved to 2-0-0 on the young season.

The revamped Union, meanwhile, fell to 0-2-0 and will be searching for answers in the coming weeks.

Pickens faced 20 shots and made fours saved to just nine and two for MacMath.


Pickens was a man under siege in the first half. Sheanon Williams started things in the first minute by sending Danny Mwanga into the area with a nice over the top pass but the third-year striker was taken down and no whistle sounded.

In the 16th, Gabriel Gomez unleashed a dangerous bending free kick into the area, but Pickens was there to secure it on the goal line.

Seven minutes later Mwanga had another opportunity, lining up a shot from within the area but it was deflected out before it ever got to Pickens.

Shortly after that Gomez had another go from distance off the free kick with some serious spin but Pickens deflected it away.

The chances kept fast and furious from there. Williams chipped a beautiful touch pass to Mwanga in the area during the 30th minute but the Oregon State product couldn't get enough it and Pickens stood tall again.

By the 33rd minute Michael Farfan worked a beautiful give-and-go with Pajoy, but the Columbian's shot from 20 yards out went wide of the far post.

In the 36th Mwanga found a streaking Pajoy in space, who in turn sent it out to the right flat for a one-timer that Williams couldn't keep down.

During the 44th Farfan got a nifty little layoff from Mwanga and fired just wide of the far post.

Finally in the 45th minute Gomez sent in yet another dangerous free kick, but Mwanga just missed a header at the far post.


*Attendance was 19,074, a sellout.

*The other Union substitutions were Christian Hernandez for Keon Daniel in the 71st minute and Josue Martinez for Brian Carroll in the 79th.

*Veteran D Danny Califf was benched and replaced in the starting lineup by Philly native Albright, who made the key mistake when he fell down and let Cascio free for the eventual game-winner. In Califf's absence, fellow defender Carlos Valdes wore the captain's armband.

*Freddy Adu was given the start last week in Portland at midfield and played 74 minutes before exiting. He and fellow midfielder Amomi Okugo, however, are done for a few weeks. Both were called up by the USMNT U-23 for the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

*Daniel, who played for the Union until August of last season when he was forced to remain in his native Trinidad & Tobago with a visa issues, returned in the season opener last week and played 11 minutes off the bench. Today, he started and went 71.

"I'm getting more comfortable," Daniel said. "Last year was a learning experience in the league. This year I'm hoping for big things and I'm hoping to carry this team as far as possible."

Scout's Honor:

*Hoping for more offense Nowak started with a 4-4-3 with the offensively-gifted Williams moving forward and playing more midfield. Albright, Valdes and Porfirio Lopez remained back playing a diamond-like defense with a stopper (Valdes) and a sweeper (Albright or Lopez).

*Veteran leadership figured to be a problem in Chester this season and that's certainly played out in the first two matches. The Union have moved on from the franchise's only two All-Stars, netminder Fayrd Mondragon and striker Sebastien Le Toux. Meanwhile, they benched Califf on Sunday.

Mondragon, of course, settled down the Philadelphia backline last season with his presence and calming demeanor after it had a disastrous inaugural season in front of the overmatched Chris Seitz. Let's just say second-year 'keeper MacMath looks a lot more like Seitz than Mondragon early on and is playing with little confidence.

Le Toux, meanwhile, had been a part of 56 percent of Philadelphia's scoring plays in the franchise's first two seasons and it's hard to believe that the Frenchman wouldn't have put home a chance or two this afternoon.

Califf, on the other hand, certainly lacks mobility and has for two full seasons here but he would have never made the mistake Albright did.

*There was some good. Mwanga continues to show the straight-line speed that can really be a difference maker in MLS and should start producing with a more consistent role. Gomez, meanwhile, looks like an upgrade on free kicks.

Scoring Summary:

COL: Jaime Castrillion ‘56
COL: Tony Cascio ‘62
PHL: Lionard Pajoy (Roger Torres) ‘67

Misconduct Summary:

PHL: Gomez Yellow ‘31
COL: Larentowicz Yellow ‘44
PHL: M Farfan Yellow ‘52
COL: Larentowicz Red ‘58
COL: Jaime Castrillon Yellow ‘74
PHL: Torres Yellow ‘91

Philadelphia Union: MacMath, Albright (Torres ’63), Williams, Valdes, Lopez, Carroll (Martinez ’79), M. Farfan, Daniel (Hernandez ’72), Gomez, Mwanga, Pajoy

Reserves Not Used: Harrison, Pfeffer, Hoffman, Califf


Colorado Rapids: Pickens, Kimura, Wynne, Moor, Zapata, Mastroeni (LaBauex ’76), Larentowicz, Castrillon, Mullan, Cummings (Amarikwa ’83), Cascio (Thomson ’68)

Reserves Not Used: Akpan, Palguta, Ceus, Marshall


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