Well, how about that? Goalkeeper Tim Howard may serve as a modern-day soccer equivalent of the Colossus of Rhodes for the United States Men's National Team, but teammate Michael Orozco Fiscal did a pretty fair impression of Montezuma on Wednesday night at the Estadio Azteca.
When the United States Men’s National Team takes on Mexico in a high-profile soccer friendly tonight at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City (7:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN2 and Univision), the Americans face a task as daunting as anything Don Quixote encountered while tilting at windmills in the Cervantes literary classic.
Wow ... so where, exactly, do you start? The smoking ruin that serves as the opening sequence of the Philadelphia Union's third-ever season in Major League Soccer has left a lot of us searching for answers, assurances, ports in the storm, even.
The progress made from Year 1 to Year 2 was so palpable that supporters started to expect a similar climb in the 2012 season. While that jump into the MLS stratosphere still might be possible this seaon, the hole that the Union have dug themselves by starting 0-3-1 (with just 2 goals scored) makes such a big stride improbable at best ... and nearly impossible in the minds of most informed observers.
When you're a passionate fan of any sports team, laying blame is always the first instinct ... the default option, if you will. It's actually kind of fun. People may think I'm ungrateful for what Union manager Peter Nowak "accomplished" in his second season (2011) at the helm of the team, but that's not really the case.
There's no doubt that Nowak's teams have been extremely fit over the course of his MLS managerial career, but when it comes to tactics it seems the coach facing him across the touchline has held the trump card each and every time. That fact has become embarrassingly clear four games into this MLS campaign.
It took about 20 minutes of watching the Union's rain-soaked 2012 debut at Jenn-Weld Field in Portland, Ore., a few weeks ago on ESPN2 to deduce that new left back Porfirio Lopez, a new addition from Costa Rica, was ... shall we say ... just a little bit soft. I've been watching MLS since its debut season in 1996, and I don't think I've seen any player turn his back or shy away from contact as much as Lopez did that night.
His palpable decision to play a non-contact-based style set the tone for a second-half disaster that gave Portland a distinct advantage. Union central defender Carlos Valdes and midfielder Gabriel Gomez were the only players to show up that night.
Then we have the case of young striker Jack McInerney. When Nowak decided to cut loose proven striker ... and fan favorite ... Sebastien Le Toux, the manager basically pushed some of that scoring pressure on to a youngster in McInerney who is still finding his feet in the league. Jack Mac, as we call him, does all the right things ... he runs around the pitch, launches himself toward balls crossed into the box and then ... nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I've never doubted the kid's commitment, but when you decide to don the No. 9 shirt you had better back up that bravado with some goals. So far, there's nothing doing on that front.
And then there's Lionard Pajoy. This is a 30-year-old Colombian striker who, we're told, was a ready-made replacement for Le Toux. Well, despite what out-of-touch, hyper color commentator Bob Rigby says about this guy, I see an overaged, sloth-like poacher at best and a lazy, slow-moving carthorse/donkey at worst.
Yes, Pajoy has scored a goal, but he's not Le Toux ... in any way, shape or form. This is where there must be some sort of arrangement where the Union's Colombian scout/front-office guy Diego Gutierrez must have some sort of incriminating pictures of Nowak and CEO Nick Sakiewicz. How else does this happen?
Last year's Union goalkeeper ... Colombian Faryd Mondragon, who at his zenith played for Galatasaray in Turkey, a perennial UEFA Champions League participant ... decided he wanted to head back to his homeland, thus leaving Philly in a serious lurch. Nowak has been forced to play Zac MacMath.
His shaky play in the first few matches conjured up images of rookie keeper Chris Seitz in his disastrous 2010 campaign, but MacMath puts forth a much more polished, talented persona than Seitz could have ever dreamed of. But the rangy MacMath has righted the ship, displaying his unique, athletic talents on many occasions recently.
When a team has played with such a passionless posture over 360 minutes like the Union has, you can't dismiss the fact that the coach has lost the locker room.
Especially in the home games against Colorado and Vancouver, one would think that the partisan crowd would have been in a position to will the team forward to the point of getting a positive result.
However, the Union players didn't seem able (or willing ... in a reverse of the wordplay) to feed off the negligible noise and thrust the team forward. In a season that's quickly losing its promise as far as the playoffs are concerned, this could become the norm at PPL Park.
And if that's the case ... if Nowak's intransigence and "my-way-is-the-highway" approach leads to a season outside the MLS playoffs ... then the ownership group had better be ready for crowds closer to 12,000 than 18,000 as the team enters Year 4.
As a seasoned (read 30-plus years) Philly sports fan who happened upon English soccer in 1999 when I attended a West Ham v. Watford English Premier League game in east London in the fall of 1999, that's not an outcome anyone will have planned for.
And if losing becomes the norm for the Union, good luck getting a bunch of people out to Chester, Pa., on a cold spring night.
I was listening with keen intent on Saturday morning when commentator Ian Darke broke down exactly what was wrong with Bolton’s season-long attack in the English Premier League during ESPN2’s broadcast of the Bolton v. Queens Park Rangers game.
The Philadelphia Union headed into Houston to play the host Dynamo in the second leg of the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday night down 2-1 on aggregate.
We'll know sometime late Thursday night if Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon's late, spectacular save against the Houston Dynamo on Sunday night means something for the team.
The potential game that every Philadelphia Union fan has looked forward to since the first kick on March 25, 2010 in Seattle is finally here. I was at that first game in team history, and now the Union is set to kick the ball today at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. (5 p.m., ESPN2) in a contest that means more than any played since that cold, rainy night in the Emerald City.
The Philadelphia Union make their first-ever Major League Soccer playoff appearance this Sunday when they host the Houston Dynamo at 5 p.m. (ESPN2) at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., in the first of two legs in the quarterfinal round.
You know how some say we all have a so-called body double ... a kindred spirit, if you will ... somewhere in the world? I think I know who Philadelphia Union manager Peter Nowak's might be. Alan Pardew is the manager of Newcastle, the underdog side currently sitting in fourth place in the English Premier League. In many ways (both good and bad) Pardew conducts his soccer affairs just like Nowak does.
After going down 4-1 at halftime Wednesday night to the New England Revolution at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., the Philadelphia Union fought back to tie the match at 4-4 and keep their MLS playoff hopes alive.
I was driving home along scenic Route 55 from my twin boys' freshman soccer scrimmages for St. Augustine Prep against Cinnaminson and Shawnee on Saturday afternoon when a little bit of nostalgia washed over me. U2's "Achtung Baby" from 1991 was on the CD player in the car, and I was thinking back to the so-called innocent years of being a soccer fan in America.
CHESTER, Pa. -- Seriously, what are the odds? Think about how many times you've gone to a sporting event and complained about the performance of a player. It's something that comes with the territory of being a sports fan, although we do tend to forget that these athletic heroes we build up and then so eagerly tear down actually are human beings.
I'm a big believer in reclamation projects, especially when it comes to sports. Two NFL seasons ago, when Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick threw a frozen rope of a touchdown pass as a "wildcat" player in an otherwise-dismal playoff loss to the Cowboys, I predicted to my sons that he would be the team's starter within a year.
PHILADELPHIA -- If there's one thing I like better than going to a soccer match with nice people, it's going to a match with nice, intelligent people. Luckily, I experienced that in abundance on Wednesday night as the U.S. men's national team faced great regional rival Mexico in a friendly at Lincoln Financial Field. The game ended 1-1 in front of 30,138 fans.
If there's one position this country has done totally right in a soccer sense, it's been goalkeeper. The easy explanation has been that Americans are used to playing with their hands, but the evidence shows it's been much more than that. Unlike in many other nations, our keepers are true athletes who wear the gloves with some distinction.
Another packed crowd (18,524) at PPL Park Saturday night, another promising start (a first-half goal by striker Jack McInerney for a 1-0 lead) ... and yet another tie for the Philadelphia Union, this time 1-1 against the Houston Dynamo. They're at 9 draws now through 22 matches, after just 8 in 30 games last season.
I scoured the U.S. National Team squad named by new coach Juergen Klinsmann on Thursday, desperately hoping one name would be on it. And, when I saw midfielder Jose Francisco Torres included among the 22 names, I knew U.S. Soccer had hired the right guy. Thanks to Klinsmann, "El Gringo" was back in the fold.
CHESTER, Pa. -- A food piece I wrote for The Press of Atlantic City in September last year featured the opening sentence, "I needed to be with my people again." I was referring to returning to Italy for the second time in a few years, but I got the same vibe on Wednesday night while visiting PPL Park here for the Philadelphia Union vs. Everton friendly.
When all is said and done that one definitely hurt like a punch in the gut Sunday, and it's the second major tournament in a few weeks where a United States national team conspired to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Battering ram. Aerial threat. And, as my son Ben texted me after she scored with another bruising header on Wednesday afternoon, "a warrior." Yes, that's a soon-to-be 14-year-old boy (watching the game with his twin brother, Alex) weighing in on the exploits of Abby Wambach, the towering striker for the United States Women's National Team. Gender barriers are being broken here, and with good reason.
Thank goodness ESPN supremos Jed Drake and John Skipper had the guts (and the massive checkbook) to hire Ian Darke and make him the lead soccer commentator at the network. Sometimes, the sounds are just as important as the sights when it comes to big soccer matches.
When Jozy Altidore left the United States' Gold Cup quarterfinal against Jamaica last Sunday with an injury, coach Bob Bradley had no choice but to call on an 18-year-old New Jersey kid to produce on one of soccer's biggest stages.
I was off from work at The Press on Friday afternoon, and I happened to make the mistake of turning on ESPN's SportsCenter at exactly the wrong time when it comes to analysis of the U.S. men's soccer. I always respected Alexi Lalas as a player, but when it comes to insights into the game, the Ginger One falls a bit short.
When you're in a long-term relationship, you learn to roll with the punches. If you love the girl or guy opposite you, the boring, work-a-day nights usually are cancelled out by occasional activities that tap the spark that started the relationship. With the U.S. men's national soccer team, the same principle often follows.
I've never kept it a secret that I'm a fan of three of the soccer teams I often write about here. The Philadelphia Union, the United States men's national team and West Ham United of England always will hold serious places in my heart. All told, I've seen the three of those teams play, in person, more than 30 times in the last 12 years.
My 13-year-old twin sons started playing United Soccer Leagues Super-Y summer ball this past weekend with the Ocean City Nor'easters. As with any step up in competition, you see how the speed of the game forces players to make quicker decisions. Over time, this accelerated muscle memory becomes ingrained, making you a better player.
What a difference two years makes. In the summer of 2009, the United States men's national team shocked the world by defeating Spain 2-0 in the semifinals of the FIFA Confederations Cup in Bloemfontein, South Africa ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The tone and tempo of Saturday's UEFA Champions League final at Wembley stadium in London certainly was expected, as Barcelona used their short, slick passing game to devastating effect in a 3-1 win that saw them crowned champions of Europe for the second time in three years.
The UEFA Champions League final this Saturday at Wembley in London is a supreme clash of modern soccer's superpowers. Barcelona regularly battles Real Madrid for supremacy in Spain's La Liga, while Manchester United finds itself tussling with Arsenal, Chelsea and, once upon a time, Liverpool for honors in the English Premier League.
Every now and again, something about the sports world makes you (literally) jump out of your seat and celebrate. I have to be honest ... I hate it when the "grumpy" sorts among us complain about the type of crazy salaries athletes pull down in the modern world.
It's shaping up to be quite a week in the history of the Philadelphia Union. Two years into their existence, the team already has played high-profile friendlies against Manchester United, Celtic and Chivas de Guadalara.
It shows just how far the Philadelphia Union has come that surrendering a last-minute goal against Seattle on Saturday in a 1-1 tie at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. is causing so much consternation. Despite the stoppage-time goal by the Sounders' Alvaro Fernandez, the Union put in another solid performance to go to 3-1-1 on the young Major League Soccer season.
So, this is what first place feels like. After an inaugural season that saw the Philadelphia Union go 8-15-7 in Major League Soccer, a 3-1-0 league start in Year 2 has buoyed the fanbase into thinking that all things are possible.
I had the the opportunity to represent The Press of Atlantic City on Tuesday evening by participating in the KYW/Philly Soccer Page "Philly Soccer Show" podcast.
Carlos Ruiz, the Philadelphia Union's new Guatemalan striker, said the words all Philly fans love to hear after the team's 1-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., on March 26. The win took the Union to 2-0-0 in the early stages of the Major League Soccer season.
It sure wasn't pretty. In fact, if legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes had been watching the Philadelphia Union's 1-0 road win over the Houston Dynamo on Saturday night, he might have recognized his "3 yards and a cloud of dust" mentality ... only this time effectively applied to another sport.
The "Little Fish" is hoping a move to new waters in Philadelphia will help him recapture the form that yielded 24 goals for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2002. But Union officials must realize that a season of double-digit goals from Carlos "El Pescadito" Ruiz, now 31, represents a more realistic hope for the 2011 Major League Soccer season.
After a match this Saturday against Orlando City S.C. at the Florida Citrus Bowl, the Philadelphia Union are heading home for a few days before jetting off to Greece for 16 days to complete their preseason training.
PHILADELPHIA -- One was a grand gesture, while the other was something more subtle, for sure.
PHILADELPHIA -- When a second-year Major League Soccer franchise such as the Philadelphia Union looks to upgrade their roster, it's understood that the new players will improve the side on the field. But it's certainly an added bonus when one of those newcomers brings experience, humor and what looks like a fair bit of presence to the team.
When you've had an extremely eventful couple of days like the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer have experienced this week, you're sure to get the whole spectrum of American soccer circles talking.
Rarely do the fortunes of a professional sports team rest squarely on the shoulders of a 24-year-old. For better or for worse, there are usually a set of veterans ensconced around such a player.
All the pieces are falling into place for the Philadelphia Union to have a new ... and high-profile ... goalkeeper in place for the 2011 season.
CHESTER, Pa. -- Well, that victory on Saturday was a long time coming, which made the postgame fireworks that illuminated the night sky to mark this season's home finale seem that much brighter.
CHESTER, Pa. -- Maybe it was because it was a school night in October, or perhaps it was the match's designation as a meaningless "friendly." It's kind of hard to figure out, really.
CHESTER, Pa. -- They came out to PPL Park to see Landon Donovan and David Beckham of the Los Angeles Galaxy, for sure, but the majority of the stadium-record crowd of 18,779 on Thursday night also came to see a win by the Philadelphia Union, the hometown team.
CHESTER, Pa. -- In the end, no matter how optimistic Philadelphia Union fans were or how much we crunched the numbers, ultimately we knew it would come down to this.
CHESTER, Pa. -- Well, how about that ... a real "laugher." The Philadelphia Union's 3-0 win over Chivas USA at PPL Park on Saturday afternoon was a rare exhibition by the home side in keeping their fans at ease while seeing out a game to its conclusion.
There's a great game in the English Premier League on ESPN2 Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m. Eastern that features Manchester City and Chelsea at the City of Manchester Stadium (also known as Eastlands). Chelsea, the defending champion, has come out of the blocks flying, but this is a big test.
There's another A-Rod (besides Alex Rodriguez and Andy Roddick) on the sporting scene that doesn't get much overall media coverege in the United States, but a lack of talent certainly isn't the reason why.