By: Todd Kurpel
The Philadelphia Union opened their 2011 MLS campaign on the road, as they faced off against the Dynamo in Houston on Saturday, March 19th. With their expansion season behind them, the Union made a number of roster moves in the off-season in an attempt to build on the success they experienced at the end of last season. While it is only one game, the Union appears to be a more confident team this year, and they were able to secure three early points with their 1-0 victory over Houston.
The Union’s starting lineup contained a number of new faces, highlighted by the addition of former MLS MVP Carlos Ruiz and goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon. The veteran goalkeeper sported the captain’s armband for the Union and his leadership seemed evident as he directed the four defenders in front of him to help secure the shutout victory. Inconsistent goalkeeping plagued the Union in their expansion season, with the young Chris Seitz seemingly losing his starting position to Brad Knighton midway through the season. Showing that the team was interested in going a different direction, the Union left Seitz unprotected for the MLS Re-Entry Draft, and he was selected by the Seattle Sounders and eventually traded to FC Dallas. Knighton was waived from the team.
While the Union had their share of difficulties on the road last year, struggling to a 2-12-1 road record, the Union struck early in Houston. Even though the roster went through many changes, the first goal of the season for Philadelphia was a result of the hard work of a couple of familiar faces. In the fifth minute, Danny Califf was in the right place at the right time as a rebound from a Sebastien Le Toux shot found its way to Califf who easily was able to score the goal. Le Toux had received a throw-in from the right touchline by Sheanon Williams directly in front of the goalie. The ball could not have been placed in a better spot, but Le Toux put a little too much on it and struck the top bar.
The Union were not able to add to their lead, but were also able to frustrate the Dynamo and keep them off the scoreboard. Both teams had a number of chances after the initial goal, but both defenses played well making Califf’s shot the game-winner. The game had a physical feel to it, resulting in two yellows for Philadelphia and one for Houston, but for the most part, referee Abiodun Okulaja kept play going.
The Union will make their home opener on Saturday, March 26th against the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps. The Dynamo will travel to Seattle to face the Sounders on Friday, March 25th.