Thursday, May 12, 2011
Posted: 3:36 p.m.
By Dave Zeitlin
CHESTER, Pa. Of all games, this was one where getting a tie should have felt like getting a win.
The Philadelphia Union trailed for more than 80 minutes. They were matched up against a team that included one of the greatest American soccer players ever (Landon Donovan) and a slew of other Major League Soccer standouts (David Beckham not included). Their leader on the sidelines, team manager Peter Nowak, was on another continent (attending a charity event in his native country of Poland). And they needed a couple of sprawling saves from Faryd Mondragn to avoid going down by at least three goals in the second half.
And yet, in the wake of their 1-1 tie against the Los Angeles Galaxy in front of a record crowd at PPL Park on Wednesday night a result made possible by a dramatic goal from Danny Mwanga in the final 10 minutes the Philadelphia Union expressed some regret.
We dont play for ties. We play for wins.
Im disappointed that we didnt get three points because at the end I thought we had them by their heels and that another goal was going to come, said Union assistant coach John Hackworth, who was filling in for Nowak. So its a good result in the fact that we were behind to one of the best teams in the league and came back, but at the same time, I am a little disappointed because I felt that, here especially, especially with the way that we rebounded after the start, that we could have gotten three.
It hardly mattered that Hackworth has little experience running a Major League Soccer team, while Galaxy head man Bruce Arena is one of the countrys most recognizable soccer coaches.
Hackworth didnt back down against the mighty Galaxy, emptying his bench with his three most dynamic weapons in the second half Mwanga, Roger Torres and Jack McInerney. And he didnt back down in the postgame press conference either, countering Arenas point that the Galaxy should have won this game by two or three goals with a strong point of his own.
I disagree, Hackworth said. For Bruce to say that he controlled the game, I thought that they did for the first 20 minutes. I dont think they did for the last 65-70 minutes.
Union central defender Danny Califf disagreed with Arena, too. Even though his defense gave up more scoring opportunities than they had all season and even though the club was fortunate that the Galaxy werent awarded a penalty kick after a late Mondragn takedown in the box, Califf maintained that the Union had the visitors by the ropes for much of the contest.
Certainly for 70-75 minutes, we were the better squad, Califf said. We came out on our heels in the beginning and they definitely had the better play. But I think after the first 15-20 minutes, we started controlling the tempo of game and started getting chances.
One points OK, but we all think we should have probably had three.
While the question of who controlled the game is a subjective one, its clear that the Union pushed hard for the win over the final part of the game. With so many offensive players on the field, the Union could have suffered an embarrassing, lopsided defeat. Instead, PPL Park shook when Mwanga netted the equalizer his first goal of the season with little time to spare.
Its almost ironic that the Union are last in the league in goals scored and have been fueled by a dominant defense because Nowak and Hackworth share the philosophy that attacking the net equates to good soccer. This is a team that will very rarely go into a defensive shell but will always play for the win, even if that means putting five forwards out on the field at the same time.
The stats arent yet aligned with that kind of attacking philosophy but something says they will be soon.
No Beckham? Who cares?
There has been a lot of chatter in these parts about Galaxy superstar David Beckham being left in Los Angeles for Wednesdays game. Some local columnists have poked fun at the fact that a guy making so much money would need to rest instead of playing three games in one week which is fine.
But theres another storyline here that is being glossed over: Beckhams absence didnt seem to matter.
Oh sure, some fans were probably upset they couldnt glimpse the aging Englishman from close up, or scream his name when he took off his shirt following the game. But there was still a record crowd at PPL Park, which was maybe as loud as its ever been after Mwangas equalizing goal.
Its incredible, Hackworth said of the fan support. These fans are amazing. Its awesome for them to get rewarded and to see a goal. Its great to play here and the fans are a huge credit for that.
Of course, Beckham is always a storyline. Hes a brand name, a celebrity in a soccer players shorts. And wherever he goes a traveling circus follows.
But at this point in his career, David Beckham needs Major League Soccer more than Major League Soccer needs David Beckham. He no longer has to be an ambassador the sport in this country and thats just fine.
The 19,178 fans at PPL Park still got their moneys worth.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com and writes a weekly Union column for CSNPhilly.com. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.