The agita started when the teams filed out of the tunnel and onto the field. I scanned the jersey numbers to see which eleven players Peter Nowak had selected to start the first playoff game in franchise history. The #6 stuck out like a sore thumb.
Before allowing the panic to set in I checked to make sure Brian Carroll was out there. He was. If Carroll hadn’t suffered an injury in the lead up to the game, then why was Miglioranzi out there? Next, my thoughts turned to Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes. Perhaps one of them was unable to go, and pressed for a starting center back Nowak plugged in Miglioranzi. Nope, both starting center backs were out there.
Ok, so why in the world was Miglioranzi, who played fewer regular season minutes than Carlos Ruiz (who left the team in JULY!), starting this game? I only became more incredulous when I saw how Nowak decided to deploy him.
The Union came out in a five man back line. With Miglioranzi stationed between Califf and Valdes. In a playoff game. At home.
The Union came out, at home, in an aggregate goal two-leg playoff series, with six of their ten field players decidedly defensive-minded (Sheanon Williams, Califf, Miglioranzi, Valdes, Gabriel Farfan, and Brian Carroll).
The bizarre decision to plug Miglioranzi into the starting lineup backfired almost immediately. Six minutes in, Brad Davis whipped a free kick into the box, which was headed home by Andre Hainault. The man Hainault beat to win that header? You guessed it, Stefani Miglioranzi.
So much for that five man backline paying defensive dividends.
To some degree I understand what Nowak was hoping for when he dreamed up the lineup. The formation enabled Williams and Gabe Farfan to run the flanks. At times the formation morphed into a 3-5-2, with Williams and Gabe Farfan joining Carroll, Michael Farfan, and Justin Mapp in the midfield.
What I don’t understand is why he used Miglioranzi as a de facto third center back. Why not slide Carroll back there and use Amobi Okugo as the holding midfielder? Or, why not just stick with the 4-4-2 you’ve employed the entire season?
To be fair, the Union did not play all that poorly. They created chances, scored a gorgeous goal (Le Toux slotting home a beautiful floated chip from Michael Farfan), but in the end, unlike Houston, they were unable to finish their chances.
Substitutes Roger Torres and Freddy Adu injected some much-needed attacking verve. I’d look for one of those to start during the second leg on Thursday night.
All things considered, the Union have an opportunity to win this thing. They are only down single goal. Here’s hoping Nowak has scrapped the Miglioranzi experiment.