A look at Freddy Adu's first match with the Union, his potential impact on and off the field, and Union fan James van Riemsdyk's perspectives on soccer and his own new teammates.
PPL Park was packed and loud for opening night of Freddy Adu's career in signal blue, seemingly even more electric that Adu was in the starting 11. On paper, Adu's addition to the Philadelphia Union fills a significant need. He is a talented young player who immediately improves them on the field at a position and skill set they lacked. the Union needed a playmaking, attacking midfielder, and Adu should bring that and more to the lineup.
He also brings something the U haven't really had before now—name recognition that wasn't earned in Philadelphia. While that doesn't necessarily translate to goals on the scoreboard and points in the standings, it means a lot for a young franchise to add a player who capped with the US Mens National Team just last month and still has a promising career ahead of him. Amidst a summer filled with headline-grabbing player acquisitions for three of Philadelphia's major sports teams, the Union joined the party when they signed Adu, the 22-year-old one-time phenom who joined the MLS at age 14.
The Union have hit a sluggish patch in what has still been an outstanding second season of existence, and they're in need of a spark on the field. Adu's addition could bring that, but it also got a new group of people talking about the team in Philadelphia in a way that other additions, even outstanding players like Faryd Mondragon and Carlos Valdes, could not.
We need look no further than the twitter timeline of Flyers rising star James van Riemsdyk to see that:*/
Pic of JVR in the River End at the game, thoughts on Adu's addition and the new look Flyers, plus video highlights and game discussion below.
It's not as though PPL Park hasn't welcomed stars to the house before, with several other Philadelphia Flyers (at least, they were Flyers at the time) visiting already this season. But the sentiments of Riemer's statement were echoing around Philly in the wake of the Adu announcement.
My brother, a lifelong soccer hater, said to me, "Hey, even I know who that is," before asking a questions about what Adu has been up to since he was last in headlines. My dad, mostly indifferent to soccer but somewhat interested in the Union, asked me Saturday morning the same question JVR asked the masses, whether Freddy Adu would be starting that night. It is, without a doubt, the first time my dad has known the name of a Union player, and he hadn't even played for the side yet.
The reactions of JVR, my brother and dad, and the portion of the greater Philadelphia sports community they represent to me are all well and good for adding new casual fans, some of whom could likely become blue-clad ticket holders in coming games. But what about the results on the field?
Obviously, it's a bit early to read too much into Adu's first game with the Union. Despite having only trained with the team once, I think it was the right idea to start Adu and get the building in a frenzy early. It was also a signal to the team that Nowak wants change in the somewhat listless action we've seen in recent games.
Nowak started Jack McInerney, who's shown great spark for the team lately, Sebastien Le Toux, and Veljko Paunovic up front, with Freddy Adu just behind them leading the midfield of Brian Carroll and Justin Mapp. The group will take some time to gel, but there's a lot of talent there for defenses to manage, as we saw with FC Dallas' need to take two penalties to stop them. Adu came off after a mostly uneventful 62 minutes, replaced with Danny Mwanga. I wouldn't mind seeing those guys share the field in the future, but at least for the first night, Nowak wanted to use Mwanga as his game-changer in the second half. More on that in a minute.
The PK Unit
Even with Adu on the field now, the penalties were Le Toux's to take. Seba has had a rough scoring season, having only potted one so far, also coming on the penalty kick. After scoring on the PK in the 35 minute to tie the match, Le Toux would do so again in the 84th.
The Union needed the pair of goals against the run of play, which was controlled by Dallas for most of the match. Maicon Santos buried an opportunistic volley on a terribly played ball by Valdes on a long throw in the 16th minute to give Dallas their first lead, and Brek Shea closed out the first half scoring by running toward a rebound in extra time. Shea's 10th goal of the season was deflating in a similar fashion to Geoff Cameron's equalizer last week against Houston.
Dallas held that lead for better than a half hour before the Union were once again awarded a penalty. And, once again, Le Toux lined up for it and buried it. After the second, which looked the same as the first but with more authority and a better fake, Le Toux skipped the celebration and ran into the net to get the ball to set it at midfield in the hopes of maybe seeing another goal for the Union. Dallas were down a man late in the game, but it would end in a 2-2 tie.
The Union have been awarded six penalty kicks in their season and a half of action, and Le Toux has taken and converted each of them. Hopefully the pair on Saturday night and the addition of Adu, possibly using him as the corner and set piece taker more often, will get last year's leading goal scorer back on the sheet with greater frequency.
Mwanga almost put the Union ahead in extra time, when he received a
gorgeous pass from Roger Torres and rocketed on Dallas goalie Kevin
Hartman. Hartman stopped it and was stung by the play, taking the
opportunity to sneak a few seconds off the clock with the Union suddenly
attacking with their best efforts of the match. On the ensuing corner,
Keon Daniel almost opened it up with a brilliant header that was stopped
by another amazing Hartman save. Mwanga, Torres, and Daniel all came on as second half subs, an energy infusion that helped see the run of play shift in favor of the Union, albeit without a full result.
JVR, Footie Fan
van Riemsdyk, in a halftime interview with 6ABC's Jamie Apody, talked about the excitement in the building last night, which didn't surprise him because "It's Philly." He tweeted the same during the match:*/
JVR, a soccer fan for most of his life, said he remembered reading about Adu in Sports Illustrated for Kids when he was growing up. Apody also asked him about all the new faces on the Flyers and which player he was most excited to play with. His answer? Jaromir Jagr.
Again, while it was an exciting night for the Union and their fans, the team was outplayed by Dallas and fortunate to go home with a point. Hopefully more training time with Adu will be the difference that gets them back to the crowded top of a Eastern Conference table. Next Saturday, the Union travel to Columbus to play the Crew, who are currently riding that top spot.