Philadelphia defense relying on grit to achieve results
CHESTER, Pa. — By the end of April, the Philadelphia Union had already notched four shutouts, twice as many as they had all of last season. And in that same six-game stretch to open the 2011 season, opposing teams averaged a mere two shots on goal against them.
In other words, Philly’s defense was a fortress.
Since the calendar has flipped to May, however, the fortress walls are beginning to be scaled. While the Union back line has still been solid, the club hasn’t registered a shutout in the past four games while surrendering five goals in that span.
That, the team’s defenders say, is to be expected.
“No team is perfect,” Philly right fullback Sheanon Williams told MLSsoccer.com. “We’re gonna give up goals — we just have to limit them. We have to make sure teams work for goals against us.”
Williams embodied that spirit perfectly during last Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire.
With the Union on their heels and looking like they might surrender two goals for the second straight week, Williams pulled a rabbit out of his hat, blocking a shot from Chicago’s Gastón Puerari off the goal line in the 71st minute. The play is an MLSsoccer.com Save of the Week nominee.
“I don’t know how but it kind of clipped me and it somehow went around the post,” Williams said. “Luckily, it didn’t go in. I missed a couple of those this year, so it was good to get one. It was good to get a save and help the team when they needed it.”
WATCH: Williams' goal line save
“I don’t know whether he meant to do it, but it was great,” added central defender Danny Califf. “He made a great run behind and saved it for us.”
Whether luck had anything to do with it, that huge save still showed the kind of fortitude and grit the Philly back line of Williams, Califf, Carlos Valdés and Jordan Harvey possesses, even when things aren’t going smoothly. And as the season continues, the unit will have to continue to be that resourceful to scrape out wins.
After all, getting shutouts every game is not realistic — although it certainly would be nice.
“We’re not gonna be able to play an entire season with clean sheets the whole time,” Califf said, “but it’s still something to strive for. We are going to get more shutouts this year, and I hope soon.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.