Well, it was bound to happen eventually.
After winning their first three games in all competitions under interim manager Jim Curtin, the Philadelphia Union dropped a 2-1 decision in Dallas on Friday.
And now, the team turns its attention back to the U.S. Open Cup for a quarterfinal matchup with the New England Revolution on Tuesday at PPL Park (7 p.m.)
Can the Union rebound from their loss in league play to win their third straight U.S. Open Cup game under Curtin and advance to the semifinals of the 101-year-old tournament? Let’s take a look in this week’s Inside Doop:
Three thoughts about Friday’s game
1. Because the Union had such a rough first half of the season, it may seem like they can’t afford to drop any points to make a playoff push. But, in reality, it would have been a tough ask for them to beat a good Dallas team on the road in front of a big Fourth of July crowd, especially considering their flight the day before was cancelled after sitting on the runway for three hours and they had to charter to Dallas the same day of the game. And don’t forget that arguably their best player, Vincent Nogueira, missed his second straight league game (and fourth game overall) with a groin injury. The loss was a frustrating one for the Union because they really didn’t get outplayed, but the fact is they’re still not far out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The important thing now is taking care of business at home.
2. After both teams traded goals in the first half, only one was scored after halftime. It was the difference in the game. It was also really unfortunate for the Union as Fabinho pegged a clearance attempt off of the shin of teammate Sheanon Williams and into the back of the net for what Curtin would call a “flukey” own goal. Both Curtin and Williams thought Dallas was offside on the play, which they said caused Fabinho to rush his clearance. But replays show it was very close, and you can also argue the Dallas player (Je-Vaughn Watson) didn’t affect the play because he pulled up on his run. Simply put, it was a really bad break for the Union … but a goal that probably should have counted.
3. Days before leaving for Dallas, Amobi Okugo talked with reporters about his return to the midfield and joked about swapping positions with Maurice Edu, his friend and mentor. Against Dallas, the position change benefited one more than the other as Okugo scored his first goal of the season – after nice passes from Conor Casey, Danny Cruz and Cristian Maidana – and Edu was shown a straight red card in the waning minutes from his new center back position. Curtin’s eventual plan seems to be to partner Okugo and Edu in the central midfield – which some would probably say should happen as soon as Edu returns from his one-game red-card suspension.
Three questions for the week ahead
1. Here comes Curtin’s first true roster management test. With the Union playing home games on Tuesday, Saturday and next Wednesday (followed by a game in Chicago next Saturday), the interim manager is going to have to carefully manage the lineup and dish out rest to players that need it. Normally, that might mean starting some younger guys in the U.S. Open Cup but Curtin has said the team is gunning for the tourney title – which now is only three wins from happening. Will the new manager go with all of his regulars against the Revs on Tuesday and try to get Nogueira back on the field, even in the midst of such a difficult stretch? Or will he try to sprinkle in a couple of new players into the lineup, as he did for the team’s first two Open Cup games?
2. One player to watch is Edu. The Designated Player will have to miss his next league match – Saturday vs. Colorado at PPL Park – because of his red card, but that doesn’t mean he can’t play in the Open Cup. It seems likely, then, that Edu will start against the Revs since he’s guaranteed to rest in the next game. But perhaps Curtin will want to get an early look at his center back options to replace Edu – whether it’s Austin Berry or Ethan White (both of whom are recovering from injury) or another player they’re hoping to bring in. Carlos Valdes, anyone?
3. And then there’s the goalkeeping question. Andre Blake started in net for both of the Union’s first two U.S. Open Cup wins but Zac MacMath is still the team’s starter for league games. Now that the Union are at the stage of the tournament where they’ll likely only play other MLS teams, will Curtin hand the keys back to MacMath? Or will he ride it out with Blake and hope the rookie can lead the Union to the tournament title?
Stat of the week
Friday against Dallas, Sebastien Le Toux was shown a yellow card for the first time in his MLS career. Remarkably, the Union forward/midfielder had played more than 12,700 minutes without ever causing a ref to pull a card out of his pocket.
Quote of the week
“I thought we deserved at least a draw on the game. But this is the way our league is.” – Jim Curtin after Friday’s 2-1 loss to Dallas
Player of the week
Amobi Okugo gets the nod for his first goal of the season – and his first career goal that came from his feet and not his head.