April 24, 2016
This time last year, the Philadelphia Union were in the middle of a four-game losing streak that would bring the team to a record of one win, three draws, and seven losses.
Fast forward 363 days and the Union now sit atop the Eastern Conference table with four wins, three losses, zero draws and 12 out of 21 possible points.
It's a remarkable turnaround for Jim Curtin's team, which handled New York City with relative ease on Saturday afternoon. C.J. Sapong scored his fourth goal of the season, and Chris Pontius added his third, as the Union ran out to a 2-0 win in front of nearly 18,000 fans at Talen Energy Stadium.
Three wins, zero losses, seven goals scored, and one conceded – that's the Union's home form in 2016.
Saturday's win was the fifth straight at Talen Energy Stadium, which is a club-record streak.
Last year, the Union had the second-worst home record in the Eastern Conference and only managed seven wins in 17 games, good enough for 24 points when you add in three draws.
In 2014, the club went 6-3-8 at home (W-L-D), and only secured 26 out of 51 possible points.
Already in 2016 you have a team that's taken nine out of nine possible points. The +6 goal differential at home is in the top 20 percent in the league and the overall goal differential of +3 is tied for first in the east.
Patrick Vieira's post-game press conference provided some head-scratching moments.
Absent from the gameday 18 was Italian veteran Andrea Pirlo, who, according to his coach, was not injured. Vieira said that the decision to drop Pirlo was “his decision” and had nothing to do with a tight schedule that features three games in seven days.
Vieira's team managed 13 shots to the Union's 11, but only put one on frame. David Villa was responsible for ten of those 13 efforts.
New York won a lopsided possession battle and had six chances from corners, though the Union didn't concede any dangerous free kick opportunities.
Vieira discussed the performance in a weird exchange with a reporter, though it was not contentious.
Reporter: "You said you were angry about not going back to New York with something out of this game. Did you feel like you deserved at least a point?
Vieira: "Of course. We deserved to take something back."
Reporter: "Yes, but you also said that you gave away goals on simple mistakes. So how can you feel that you deserve something when you're making these types of mistakes?"
Vieira: "Yes, it is mistakes that we shouldn't have made, but on the other side, we created more than we conceded - much, much more. That's why there's a lot of frustration and anger, because we should take something home, because of the number of chances we created, (compared) to the number of chances we conceded. I think when you analyze the game, you can see that we controlled the game, and we were, by far, the better team today.
Reporter: "I guess we're seeing different games."
Vieira: "We're seeing different games?"
Reporter: "To me, it seemed like it's the one thing you didn't do. I only saw one chance on goal the second half, even though you were down two to nothing. It was like the players weren't even trying to create those opportunities they needed to create to bring the game back. So how can you say that? I just don't understand."
Vieira: "I respectfully understand your view, but like you said, we have a different view of the game."
Reporter: "Right, because Philly really didn't have to do much in the second half. They had the game under control, so of course they can let you come into the play more. Do you feel like it was not about them letting you (back into the game), or that you were dominating them?"
Vieira: "I personally believe that we dominated the game. I personally believe that we created enough chances to score the goals. But yes, at the same time, Philadelphia did well, but I think that we weren't ruthless enough in front of the goal around the last 20 or 30 yards to put the ball in the back of the net, and we gave those two goals away. Philly didn't really create them, we gave it to them. I believe it was our lack of ruthlessness and it's a part of the game we need to improve."
Starting XI: Blake, Fabinho, Marquez, Yaro, Rosenberry; Carroll, Nogueira; Le Toux, Barnetta, Pontius; Sapong
C.J. Sapong: A
(sound of a phone ringing)
“C.J.? Hi, this is Jurgen Klinsmann. Do you have a moment to speak?”
Sebastien Le Toux: B
He put in a classic, hard-working Le Toux shift and was rewarded for it with an assist on Sapong's goal.
Tranquillo Barnetta: A-
Showed immense presence inside the box to take that ball and chip it over a defender, when most players would have fired it first-time into traffic.
The assist showed the type of veteran quality that's been missing on prior Union teams, and he'll only improve in the #10 role as he edges closer to 90-minute fitness.
Chris Pontius: A-
He occupied perfect position on his goal, and only had to tap home from close range.
Give him extra credit for coming back into the game and getting that tally after taking an elbow to the face and being forced to the sideline. It looked like Pontius would have had to come off if the training staff couldn't stop the bleeding below his right eye.
Aside from that 10 minute scenario, the winger was relatively quiet, though he did have a really nice headed effort in the early stages of the game that just missed the far post.
Vince Nogueira: B
He wasn't as fluid as he was in the Seattle game, but Nogueira had another good day shuttling the ball back and forth and setting the tempo when the Union had the ball.
Brian Carroll: C+
On his 350th MLS appearance, Carroll was a bit slow to get into the game.
Early on, Villa had a couple of dangerous looks on goal from the pocket of space just in front of the center backs. Later, Carroll adjusted, snuffed out a couple of good looks for the Spanish veteran, and settled into his typically efficient game.
Maybe he was unlucky to pick up the first half caution because he was covering for a blown Richie Marquez tackle.
Fabi will miss the next game due to yellow card accumulation.
Richie Marquez: B
He might have saved a goal when he went to ground in the 62nd minute to block a close-range Stiven Mendoza shot. Earlier, he missed on a tackle that allowed Khiry Shelton to the endline and forced a clumsy foul from Fabinho.
For the most part, though, he was better than he was in Seattle and put out the fires around him.
Josh Yaro: B
Yaro got better as the game wore on.
Similar to Marquez, he made the plays he needed to make and had the athleticism to keep up with Mendoza, Shelton, or whomever trended to his side of the field.
The only real issue with Yaro and Marquez came in the first 30 minutes of the game when Villa was hovering around the 20-yard mark with too much time to turn and shoot.
Keegan Rosenberry: C+
He had a really nice look in the 11th minute, rising to meet a corner kick that Josh Saunders ended up parrying away.
Later, he got beat on a backdoor pass that Mendoza squared for Villa, only to see a shot clank off the crossbar.
Similar to past games, Rosenberry was solid going forward, but a little bit unsteady in defense.
Andre Blake: B+
He watched David Villa hit two shots over the bar, then clank that third effort off the woodwork.
Otherwise, he commanded his box and make the necessary saves with no real issues.
45' Ray Gaddis: B+
He was asked to spell Fabinho at left back against both Shelton and Mendoza, who switched sides a couple of times during the course of the game.
Gaddis didn't make a single mistake in his 45 minutes on the field.
64' Ilsinho: C
He wasn't very effective coming off the bench in a game where the Union was clearly content to see out a two-goal lead.
80' Warren Creavalle: N/A
A late defensive sub, Creavalle helped to close it out.
Referee: Juan Carlos Rivero: B
The yellow to Fabinho was probably fair, since the foul broke up a threatening New York attack. Otherwise, he probably didn't have to caution Mikey Lopez for his early foul on Barnetta.
Union crowd: A
Finally, this looked like a good Union crowd. The Sons of Ben tifo was excellent, the attendance was near-capacity, and it looked like a proper crowd for a proper team.