Inside Doop: Union originals key win over Rapids

Inside Doop: Union originals key win over Rapids
March 11, 2013, 11:45 am

The Philadelphia Union nabbed their first win of the season Sunday, and it may just have been one of their more improbable wins in recent memory.

Consider: The Union were forced to deal with a blizzard in Colorado, a 24-hour postponement of their matchup with the Rapids, and the always-difficult Mile High altitude.

On top of that, the Union had never before in franchise history beaten the Rapids.

And when the two teams finally got together on the field, the Union were dominated in the possession battle, had serious difficulty completing passes and looked winded toward the end of the game.

And yet somehow, they managed to take a red-eye back to Philly on Sunday night with three points in their pocket, thanks to a gutsy 2-1 road win that evened their record at 1-1.

How did they do it?

Let’s take a look at the game – as well as what to expect in the coming week – in the latest installment of the Inside Doop.

Three thoughts from Sunday’s game

1. For the first two-and-a-half years of their MLS careers, Union originals Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney did not get consistent playing time with the club that selected them in the first round of the 2010 SuperDraft. That changed in the middle of last season when John Hackworth unleashed them. And through two games of the 2013 campaign, both players look like they could be poised for even more of a breakout this year. Against the Rapids, Okugo headed in the team’s first goal on a Sebastien Le Toux corner kick, and McInerney scored the game-winner on an unlikely 79th-minute counter-attack. Okugo also anchored a defense that held the Rapids in check, while McInerney made the defensive play of the game when he cleared a ball off the goal line in the first half. These two players should be playing 90 minutes every game – and by the end of the year,  we might be referring to them as the Union's two best players.

2. Because of the postponement, weather and altitude, Hackworth decided to play a more defensive-oriented style and not attack the game as much as he typically likes. That strategy allowed Colorado to control possession and dictate play for much of the game. But it also allowed the Union to conserve their energy and strike on a counter-attack – a goal made possible because of a beautiful set-up from second-half super sub Antoine Hoppenot. Given the difficulty of the road trip, the Union probably would have been happy to escape with just one point. Getting the full three points was, of course, even better.

3. In his first game back in Colorado since signing with Philly in the offseason, former Rapids star Conor Casey was expected to start – or, at the very least, get a good chunk of playing time – this weekend. But the 31-year-old striker didn’t even make the trip because of a hamstring injury. After the game, Hackworth revealed Casey got hurt in last weekend’s season opener vs. Sporting Kansas City but that the club expected him back in time for his Colorado homecoming. Considering Casey’s injury history, this is definitely something to keep an eye on moving forward.

Three questions for the week ahead

1. Over the first two games of the season, Hackworth has gone with two different formations – a 4-2-3-1 against SKC and a more traditional 4-4-2 against Colorado. It will be interesting to see if he begins to settle into something stable throughout the season or if he continues to play the matchups. We might get a better idea Saturday when a New England team that the Union have never lost to pays a visit to PPL Park (5 p.m., The Comcast Network).

2. Hey look, it’s the weekly Bakary Soumare watch! For the second straight game, the Union’s high-priced defender did not see a lick of playing time as Jeff Parke and Okugo both played a full 90 at center back. Will this be the week Soumare makes his season debut? And if the Union go with a 4-4-2 and push Okugo into the midfield, could his inclusion in the lineup come at the expense of captain Brian Carroll, who didn’t have one of his better games in Colorado? That scenario is probably unlikely – but at some point, something has to be done about this situation.

3. On top of the Casey injury, Le Toux also looked a little shaken up before coming out of Sunday’s game in the 71st minute. Given the skill of McInerney and Hoppenot, the Union could afford to be without one of their veteran strikers for Saturday’s game – but the absence of both would be a lot more difficult to handle. Luckily for the Union, Casey could be in line to return and Le Toux appeared to be fine following Sunday’s game.

Stat of the week

Sunday’s game marked the first time Le Toux had ever been pulled from a game while wearing a Union jersey. Before that, he played a full 90 minutes in all 63 games he started with Philly.

Quote of the week

“Look, we’re a team that likes to push the game. We like to press, if you watched last week. But with us being here now for two days, sitting in the hotel, dealing with the storm, dealing with the weather and the delays, it was going to be a lot to ask for us to come in and take the game to them.” – Hackworth, on his defend-first strategy in Colorado

Player of the week

Okugo gets the honor for scoring his first MLS goal, continuing his strong work on the backline and generally being all over the field to lead the Union to victory.