Uneasy in Philadelphia

In case you were curious about things are going for the Philadelphia Union and their quickly-becoming-embattled Head Coach Peter Nowak, last nights' USSF play-in match against les Taureaux Rouges might have provided an entirely unexpected glimpse.

As is often the case in early round USSF games, both teams elected to start the bench. Put another way, if you added a handful of middle aged men in lawn chairs
sitting around the edges of the pitch, you might have thought you were at the combine.

First overall pick Danny Mwanga was joined by fellow rookies Toni Stahl, Jack McInerney and Amobi Okugo along with regulars like GK Chris Seitz AKA "The Human Blooper Reel" and Danny Califf (who was suspended on Saturday).

Farfar Backe countered with "Nationally Ranked Conor" Chinn, first rounder Tony Tchani and a cast of somebody-or-others. Only one RedBull starter from last Saturday, Brian Nielsen, started the game.

So with all these peachfuzz-cheeked yoots running around out there, you'd normally be hard pressed to claim the match - which the Bulls won 2-1 - proved much of anything about either team except possibly making a point about depth or something.

But in this case, where both sides sent out what most observers would say were pretty much equally matched teams - and in fact, on paper at least, you'd have sworn that New Yorks' was the weaker side - the Bulls simply ran rings around their new rivals.

Frankly, for long stretches, Philadelphia looked like they wished they were someplace else, and when they didn't they just looked confused. NYRB spent most of the first half running past the Unionites like they were a bunch of Hare Krishnas at an airport.

Put it this way: Mwanga, the highly acclaimed stud, was mostly invisible while fourth round selection Chinn, the man who launched 1000 snarky BigSoccer jokes, hit for two first half goals, thereby justifying his prior "ranking" and apparently proving the value of that cheezy ball-on-a-rubber-band thingie.

Both Backe and Nowak are newly hired and the teams they cobbled together have the same amount of time in their current systems, but it seemed like Backes' charges were a whole lot more sure of what they were about than Nowaks' Lost Boys were.

At the half, Coach Nowak apparently decided that even though they were down two goals his hitherto scoreless side could still win the game. To that end he subbed in starting midfielder Stefani Miglioranzi, first choice forward Alejandro Moreno and starting defender Cristian Arrieta.

As might be expected, suddenly the Union looked like an actual soccer team, an impression which was reinforced on 65 minutes when Nowak sent in his early season star scorer, Sebastian LeToux.

LeToux, as is his wont of late, scored three minutes after entering the game, a feat he was unable to duplicate before a particularly nasty 82nd minute Andrew Boyens tackle got the latter a yellow card and Le Toux carried off the pitch on a stretcher with a knee injury, leaving the Union to finish the game a man down.

Yet as badly as the Unionites played, and as odd as it was that Nowak apparently changed his mind about not getting his veterans injured - which decision, as it turned out, was possibly disastrous - it was what Nowak did afterwards that raised the most eyebrows:

He made the team run punishment sprints.

Nowak explained the move to reporters,

SAYING:

"If you don't want to run in the game, you can run after it. I thought the effort out there was not what we wanted from them during the game, so they can run after."

Skipping over the fact that post-game gassers are usually reserved for unimaginative high school coaches the real question that needs to be asked is just how in the hell it is a bunch of benchwarmers and rookies who are suppposed to be dying to get some PT and show the coaches what they can do against live ammo can possibly mail in a performance?

The one thing we were promised about the Union was that this is a Peter Nowak team and, win or lose, this was an outfit that would fight you until hell froze over and then fight you one the ice.

Come out lousy, maybe. Over eager, or possibly a bit nervous about making mistakes? Absolutely.

Going through the motions like Philly did last night? That was the one thing that was never supposed to happen, and it was certainly a shock coming from his supposedly eager-beaver collection of kids.

If a group like this doesn't come out like gangbusters because they're finally getting a shot after busting their humps in training for over two months, there's something going way wrong in Philly.

One of the pitfalls of this blogging thing is that if you have a thought you need to get it posted quickly, or else someone else will have basically the same idea and you're left holding the bag.

Which is by way of saying that if you want to know what today's piece was supposed to be about, head over to THE ESTEEMED KYLE MCCARTHY who is noting the sudden rash of key players dropping like flies.

These are guys - and I include Beckham for any number of reasons - who are largely irreplaceable, at least in the short term.

Of the three, New England is in the most trouble without Joseph, but we don't know how long he'll be out. LA can and has been winning without Becks, but he's a nice luxury to have around.

Which brings me to Le Toux getting carted off last night.

Four games into the regular season the Union has scored a total of five goals and LeToux has scored four of them, including that hat trick against DC in the "Chris Seitz Comedy Across America Tour"game.

We all know that the hardest guys to find (particularly for MLS teams) are the ones who you put the ball into the net. Which is of course unfortunate since that's the whole point of the game.

And as Danny Mwanga proved last night, he's a long ways from ready to step into that role for a professional side strugglling to find an identity and desperate to keep an error-filled early season from becoming a four month debacle.

Alejandro Moreno isn't going to carry a team on his back either. Without Le Toux, a bad season in Philly would get even uglier in a big big hurry.