This was a big night for the Philadelphia Union. Not only did they have an opportunity to add three points to their tally with a win against a solid Vancouver Whitecaps club that had to travel 3,000 miles to play this match, it was also a chance to celebrate the most popular player in Union history, Sebastien Le Toux. There was something exciting in the air.
Seba’s presence just lifts the spirits of even the most jaded Union supporters. In classic Seba style, he showed the fans how much they mean to him by traveling to Chester from downtown Philadelphia in a bus surrounded by some of those supporters. The halftime ceremony was short and felt rushed, but was still a great moment watching him be inducted as the inaugural member of the Philadelphia Union Ring of Honor.
With Haris Medunjanin continuing to serve his three-game suspension, I expected midfielder Anthony Fontana to get a shot at some playing time. Walking past the practice fields a few hours before first kick, I saw the youngster returning to the Power Training Complex with Medunjanin, along with all injured players, and others we wouldn’t expect to play (e.g. Jay Simpson). I thought they could have used his offensive talents since they’d have to match Vancouver’s firepower. Boy was I wrong. Before Borek Dockal’s ice-breaker in the 24th minute, the Union had out-shot the Whitecaps 9-0 and were dominating the possession “battle” 80/20. The trend had been continuing from most games this season: lots of shots but no goals. Yet I didn’t feel the usual tension at Talen Energy Stadium. Call it divine or Le Toux intervention, but there was a calmness permeating throughout the crowd and I felt it was going to be alright.
It wasn’t clear to me what was causing the dangerous Vancouver offense to look so utterly listless early on. Towards the end of the first half I started paying closer attention to Union center backs Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie. Not to discount the defensive contribution of midfielder Warren Creavalle, but the two young defenders in the middle forced their will upon any Vancouver player even approaching them. They were man-handled by the pair and were no doubt going to be icing down some bruises after this match. Trusty and McKenzie simply weren’t having it. So much so that at halftime coach Carl Robinson chose to remove the diminutive Cristian Techera and Canadian sensation Alphonso Davies, who appeared to be getting bullied cleanly anytime they came close to the box.
When I asked coach Jim Curtin if he was surprised by the dynamic midfielders’ early exits, he focused his answer more on the score saying, “The message that I gave my guys in the locker room at halftime, was that they (Vancouver) are exactly where they want to be (only down 1-0).” He also said for a better explanation I’d have to ask Carl (Robinson), but you could see on his face he wasn’t expecting those changes so early.
This turned out to be the most complete match the Union have played all season. Pinpoint passing, dominating possession, shutting down a superbly talented Vancouver offense, and no costly turnovers. My only gripe involved the late subs, or lack thereof by Jim Curtin. Being up 3-0 in the 75th minute is a rarity for the Union. It was the perfect opportunity for Derrick Jones and especially David Accam to get a run in a low-pressure situation. Yet he waited until the 86th minute for Jones and never called Accam’s name. As the Stones say “You can’t always get what you want”, but we’ll all gladly take those three points!
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Peace out Union fans!