Yeah, the Union should've won, but here's three things that should leave you encouraged

Yeah, the Union should've won, but here's three things that should leave you encouraged
March 12, 2014, 2:19 pm
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Union midfielder Maurice Edu, right, chases the ball towards the goal past Timbers midfielder Diego Chara, left, and defender Pa Modou Kah last Saturday. (AP Photo)

The Philadelphia Union were mere seconds away from a stunning road win on opening night against a very popular pick to win the MLS Cup.

They didn't get it. That is disappointing. There are plenty of lessons to be learned. It's OK to be frustrated.

But, let's not pretend that this game wasn't as encouraging as any in 4-plus years of Union soccer. So, let's move on, and give a few examples why that is.

You've probably seen the Union goal, and you've seen the back-breaking Portland goal. But there are three other moments I've picked out that seemed inconsequential at the time, but leave me waiting impatiently for Saturday's home opener vs. New England (4 p.m. -- Comcast SportsNet).

(And please pardon the babbling toddler in the background of the videos).

1. Okugo's calmness

[nbcsports_video src=//www.youtube.com/embed/Lo5Dmh3y2Bc width=620 height=349]

In the 17th minute, the Union turned the ball over after a long ball from Fabinho. Seconds later, Austin Berry misread a big bounce off the artificial turf and was caught out of position as Amobi Okugo battled with Portland's Maximiliano Urruti (great name). With no one covering behind him, no one would've blamed Okugo for a back pass to the keeper or a safe blast into the upper deck. Instead, he calmly controlled it, shielded off Urruti and passed the ball off to Brian Carroll to retain possession (notice the ridiculous "OH MY GOD MY FACE!" dive from Urruti when he realizes he's lost the battle).

The next five-plus minutes were ALL Union, including an absolute laser shot from Cristian Maidana that forced a big save from Donovan Ricketts. Followed in the 21st minute by some incredible one-touch possession in the final third and a half-chance for Vincent Nogueira.

If Okugo just thumps that 50-50 battle out of bounds, Portland retains possession in the final third and the two chances likely doesn't come. One smart, calm play led to nearly five minutes of Union momentum and a Grade A scoring chance.

2. Maidana's vision

[nbcsports_video src=//www.youtube.com/embed/SKu-hA6Nf94 width=620 height=349]

This video actually includes three clips (I know, I lied).

First: A little bit later in the first half, Maidana picked up a seemingly meaningless ball near midfield. But just like that, THREE Union players made separate runs ahead of him, and Maidana tried to thread a diagonal ball toward Jack McInerney. The pass was intercepted, and nothing came of it. But the mere fact that the Union have a midfielder who sees that pass -- and attackers who know when to run -- is wildly encouraging.

Second: Minutes later, he flipped a beautiful lofted ball to McInerney that led to a great chip that was cleared off the line.

Third: In the second half, he created enough space to rip a shot from the top of the area. It didn't go in, but it led to the corner kick on which the Union scored.

3. Maurice Edu's Everything

 [nbcsports_video src=//www.youtube.com/embed/KphzxluQbiM width=620 height=349]

There's a dozen clips I could've added here. The Union's flashy signing of the offseason was even more impressive than advertised. And he's not even fully match-fit, considering he barely played for Stoke City.

Maurice Edu was EVERYWHERE in midfield, popping up when you didn't expect him, tracking back on defense, and quarterbacking the attack. He had more memorable moments than the one above, but that calm chest trap is the one that stood out to me.

With his back to his own goal, well inside his own penalty area, Edu never panicked. He calmly chested the ball down, turned, and pushed the ball upfield. No wild clearances, no gifted corner kick.

Physically, Edu is a beast with more skill than 90% of MLS midfielders. Mentally, he just might be even better.

A few more things to like:
  • Edu was the Union's best player Saturday, but no one was more fascinating than Nogueira. His presence brings something completely different to this team, and he and Maidana look like they've been playing together for years.  The two traded more give-and-gos with each other than the Union attempted all last season.
  • Fabinho and Raymon Gaddis were solid as the left and right fullbacks. Obviously, Sheanon Williams remains the starter on the right when healthy, but if Fabinho and Gaddis are interchangeable on the left, then maybe that position isn't as much of a concern.
  • Berry was very strong. His only missteps seemed to be slight hitches in communication with Okugo, which will improve with time.
  • The calmness and creativity is contagious. Carroll made constructive passes, Fabinho controlled the ball and made smart runs and Le Toux tracked back when needed.
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