Nowak shuffles deck, but Union still can't fix scoring woes
Coming into Saturday’s game at FC Dallas, the Philadelphia Union were last in the league with six goals scored. After another fruitless effort to find the back of the net, that’s where they’ll stay — but it wasn't for a lack of trying.
While the club’s goal-scoring deficiency may look from afar like it’s derived from a defensive-oriented philosophy, it should be pointed out that team manager Peter Nowak has made a concerted effort to put his best offensive weapons on the field.
Saturday in Frisco, Nowak started exciting second-year players Roger Torres and Danny Mwanga (pictured at top), while teaming Mwanga with Sebastien Le Toux — the duo that accounted for 60 percent of the club’s goals last season — alone up top.
Then, after a couple of defensive breakdowns led to a 2-0 halftime deficit, Nowak put in two more strikers — Carlos Ruiz and Jack McInerney — to raise the total of completely offensive-minded players to five.
But the daring lineups did not work. Despite controlling much of the possession and completing far more passes than Dallas, the Union did little in the way of threatening action, finishing with just one shot on net in a frustrating 2-0 defeat.
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Philadelphia are now 0-2-1 over their last three games, but that nine-day stretch included two long road trips.
“I think we had a very busy week with travel, so I think it was good to refresh our lineup,” Nowak said. “Those changes were necessary. I think we need to keep the lineup fresh and continue to develop as a team.”
Through the first half of the first half, the Union looked like they might finally solve their offensive woes.
Perhaps their best scoring chance came in the 13th minute on a counter attack with Justin Mapp starting a break and laying it off for Brian Carroll, who found Amobi Okugo alone in the box. But Okugo’s attempt skied over the net. Mapp had another good run a few minutes later, passing it to Carroll, whose close-range shot was blocked by a Dallas defender.
“From the situation we had in the first 25 minutes, we should have been up 3-0,” Nowak said. “After that we slowed down. We just have to look at the film and finish our chances.”
Of course, this was a fairly difficult spot for the Union offense to get in gear, if you consider how strong the Dallas defense has been — they have not allowed a goal in 309 minutes — and also how grueling this past stretch of games has been for Philly.
But there’s still reason for concern. The Union (4-3-2) have now been shut out in three of the four games they’ve played on the road and have yet to score more than once in any game. And, as Saturday’s loss showed once again, they’ve often looked out of sorts trying to link the midfield to the attack while keeping their shape across the pitch.
The only save Dallas ’keeper Kevin Hartman made came in the 77th minute on a low, 30-yard strike from Mwanga.
“I think our chemistry is right,” Mwanga said. “We had a couple of chances early. We just have to finish our chances and we will be OK.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.