When Philadelphia left Portland last Saturday, the question was whether the Union was for real. Because the team that was seconds away from beating the Timbers last Saturday? They looked very good, playing an entirely different style than last year’s team. Though they had employed a similar approach in preseason, it was fair to ask whether, 90 minutes into the season, we’d seen enough to dub the Union contenders.
Now 180 minutes into their 2014 campaign, it may still be too early to say the Union are a different team, but they sure look like it. With a 1-0 win over New England on Saturday, John Hackworth’s team takes four points from their first two games, with the control they maintained over the visiting Revolution speaking to the much-improved midfield the front office built this offseason.
The only goal came off a defensive mistake, with Andrew Farrell’s misread on a ball played forward to Leonardo Fernandes allowing the Union midfielder to go in alone on Bobby Shuttleworth. Just past the half hour mark, after square ball created a tap-in for Sebsatien Le Toux, Philadelphia was in front, with New England committing the same type of mistake that allowed the Dynamo to take an early week in Houston.
Farrell, a Rookie of the Year contender at right back last season, got the call in the middle with A.J. Soares, with last year’s Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves not even earning a spot in Jay Heaps’ 18. With Goncalves below par performance in last week’s opener, the contract dispute club and player have carried into the season is already taking its toll. Today, Heaps elected to leave his disgruntled linchpin out of the team rather than bet on an improved performance.
Unfortunately, Goncalves’ absence may have cost New England a point, but given the control Philadelphia had on the match, the Union may have found a winner regardless of Farrell’s generosity. The Union had 59.9 percent of the match’s possession and outshot their opponents 13-5 (4-3, shots on target). Even with captain Brain Carroll out, the team was able to emulate the type of midfield strength that won them a point in Portland last week. The offseason acquisitions of Maurice Edu, Cristián Maidana, and Vincent Nogueira are coming together quicker than expected.
So are they for real? Who knows, but they certainly seem like much stronger contenders than they were last season. With Amobi Okugo putting in another strong performance at the back, the team has two-thirds of the field covered. Moving away from a system that relies on Conor Casey, we’ll see if the attack will come around.