Welcome to the second installment of the Second Level, where Philadelphia Union writers and old newspaper buddies Steve Moore and Dave Zeitlin discuss and sometimes argue about a Union-related topic every week.
As someone who covers the team for MLSsoccer.com and CSNPhilly.com, Dave will bring you the perspective of a seasoned, award-winning journalist. And as someone who watches games from the River End while drinking a beer, Steve will bring you the perspective of an occasionally sober fan.
This week’s question: will a real live Union player actually kick the ball into the net during Saturday’s game against rival D.C. United (4 p.m., The Comcast Network)?
DAVE: Right now, the Union are in the midst of the worse drought since the Dust Bowl. (That was a bad drought, right? I think I remember learning about it in school. Sorry, I’m not very good at metaphors.)
In their past four games, they’ve scored two goals – and one was on a penalty kick (which are generally easy to score on, unless ZAC FREAKING MACMATH is in goal) and one was an own goal gifted to them by the Seattle Sounders last Saturday.
That’s not, um, good.
Union manager John Hackworth has been talking all season about the team needing to “execute” better in net and that they’ve been unlucky at times. But while that may be true, the Union don’t have many finishers on the roster, now that Jack McInerney is in Montreal, Conor Casey is slowing down and Sebastien Le Toux is planted firmly on the wing.
The good news it that Andrew Wenger has looked sharp at times since coming over in the McInerney trade and that the Maurice Edu and Vincent Nogueira-led midfield has big-time potential. The Union won’t have anyone challenge for the Golden Boot but if Wenger, newcomer Cristian Maidana and Le Toux can share the scoring load, the Union should be able to snap out of its funk and start to climb back up the standings. And it seems like almost a certainty that Hackworth will look for a pure finisher – probably from Europe – in the summer transfer window.
As for this weekend, the Union have too much riding on it to have another poor effort in front of goal. They’re playing perhaps their biggest rival. At home. In what is basically a must-win game. With Hackworth, perhaps, coaching for his life. And, on top of that, they’ll be doing some cool stuff to honor Sons of Ben original Eric Shertz, who died suddenly a couple of weeks ago.
Dave’s Prediction: As I tweeted right after the loss in Seattle, the Union are poised to have a breakout game. I'm calling a 3-0 rout behind goals from Wenger, Maidana and Edu.
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STEVE: The short answer to the question is "Yes," the Union will score a goal on Saturday. It'll go into the net and people will sing and there may even be orange slices at halftime.
I think Vincent Nogueira gets on the scoresheet this weekend, mostly because he has to be tired of being the Union's creative engine, and then watching his teammates screw up prime scoring chances.
Add one from Edu and another from Wenger, and I think Union fans will have at least three goals to cheer about Saturday.
But right now, the question is, "Will they score more than they give up?" For this weekend, I think the answer is yes, but only because I I'm not nearly as confident there.
Amobi Okugo has looked uncharacterisitically shaky at the back. Aaron Wheeler IS NOT A CENTER BACK! Sheanon Williams seems tired and run-down and a shell of his former self. And with the midfield trying desperately to make something happen going forward -- and Williams and Ray Gaddis constantly pushing forward to create some width -- there are holes for opponents to exploit. And while D.C. United isn't the most potent offense in the league, they do have Eddie Johnson and others who can capitalize on mistakes.
I agree with Dave that there's a new striker in the Union's future this summer. The question is whether Hackworth will be around to coach him.
Also, Dave mentioned this above, but Saturday marks the first Union home game since the death of Sons of Ben founding member Eric Shertz. The regular SOB tailgate just outside the River End is open to all fans in his honor (BYOB for that reason, however). The SOBs even invited what should be a large contingent of traveling DC United supporters, who showed plenty of class at their last home game (see photo at right).
As of now, the plan is for a minute of silence at the 20:10 mark of the game in his honor, just in case you were curious about the lack of noise from the River End.
Steve's Prediction: Goals from Nogueira, Edu and Wenger give the Union the attack they've been desperately missing. But the defense still shows its holes (especially if Wheeler starts over Austin Berry again), and the Union hang on for a 3-2 win.