Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Top 10 National Pick-Ups: #7. A point is a point.

#7: One point in the MLS Eastern Conference table for the Philadelphia Union.

There's an old axiom in football (the real football, not throwball): You play for the win at home, and the draw on the road. Based on that, the Philadelphia Union's 1:1 draw away to the Chicago Fire might be considered a good result.

For the uninitiated, I am a season ticket holder for the Philadelphia Union, a second-year expansion team in Major League Soccer. So, with "The U" in Chicago the Wednesday of National Week, I bypassed The National's "preview day," and scored two soccer tickets -- one for me and the other for Chris Thomas, whom I carpooled with.

To be honest with you, since the match was almost a week ago, I really don't remember much. I do remember that the Union played with an experimental side with four of the regular Starting XI out due to injury, suspension, or transfer. Our normal right-back Sheanon Williams (whom I predict will become the first Union player to get a US National Team call-up) talked is way into a red card in the previous match and was given a one-match ban. Left-back Jordan Harvey was dealt to Vancouver for a salary cap allocation. (In MLS you can trade money under the salary cap for players and, although such figures are never released, it is believed that Vancouver made us an offer we couldn't refuse.)

The most noticeable omission was up top as leading scorer Carlos Ruiz was transferred to a club in Mexico -- reportedly for a $500,000 transfer fee. Unlike in American sports, player-for-player trades are rare and instead player's contracts are sold.

Ruiz joined the Union before the season and in his time in Philadelphia had been a polarizing figure. It's been said of Ruiz that "All he does is score goals" -- reminiscent of a certain for wide receiver for the Eagles in the 80s. And while it's true that Ruiz contributed little to the midfield and was non-existent behind the ball, somebody scored all those goals.

But "El Pescadito," as he was known, didn't particularly like Philly all that much and wanted out; and when Veracruz of the Mexican second division came calling with a half-million dollar check, he was gone.

Now flush with cash, unfortunately the Union have yet to replace Ruiz up front. Sebastian Le Toux, who finished with 14 goals last season (good enough for 4th in MLS), is having the season from hell in 2011. It's certainly not for lack of effort, a team-leading 50 shots has only led to a single goal and that off a penalty.

Playing with a makeshift side, The Boys in Blue took to the Toyota Park pitch against the last place Chicago Fire. The Union played sloppy all night, especially in the back line, but All-Star goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon kept bailing out his team with one magnificent save after another.

It was in the 34th minute when the Union broke the stalemate when mid-season signing Veljko Paunovic found a deflected pass and put it in the back of the net. One-Nil to the good guys.

Unfortunately, in the second half, The Union couldn't hold the lead and gave up a 55th minute goal to former Mexican international Pavel Pardo -- who was playing in his first match for the Fire.

And so, the match ended in a one-one sister-kisser. Less than satisfying, but I had a good time. About a dozen or so Union supporters made the trip which considering it being a Wednesday night about 1000 miles from Philly, is a pretty decent visiting supporter turn-out.

If you've never been to a soccer game, and don't think you'll understand it; just go. And when you go, get tickets in the designated "Supporters Section." Soccer is a sport that doesn't translate well to television; it's a sport that you have to experience live. It is an acquired taste. The first time you ever had a beer, it was probably the most nauseating thing you've ever tasted. But over time, you acquired a taste for it. Soccer is much the same. If you give it a chance, you'll learn to love it.

#10: It's for "Members Only"
#9: The case of the mysterious rookie reprints
#8: 75 for 25
#7: A point is a point
#6: OH NOEZ!!!!!
#5: What do they know about partying? Or anything else?
#4: Epix Mo-Jo!!!
#3: Satisfyin' the ladies, one printin' plate at a time
#2: The Mother of all junk waxboxes
#1: Ironic ain't just the name of an Alanis Morrisette song

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