Even when the Philadelphia Union’s defense played well last season, they’d still usually find new and frustrating ways to give up goals. Not anymore.
With Saturday’s 1-0 win over Vancouver in their PPL Park opener, the Union have now posted back-to-back shutouts to start the 2011 campaign – the same amount of shutouts they posted all of last season.
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“We kept shooting ourselves in the foot and doing all these crazy things [in 2010],” central defender Danny Califf said. “The big thing is we’re not making those mistakes anymore.”
There are a few things to point toward to explain such a transformation. There’s continuity along the back line with Califf and fullbacks Jordan Harvey and Sheanon Williams picking up where they left off at the end of last season when the unit started to gel.
Then, there’s help in the midfield with Brian Carroll and Stefani Miglioranzi starting and providing stability and experience in the center of the pitch.
[inline_node:332127]And, of course, there’s the major impact new acquisitions Carlos Valdés and Faryd Mondragón have already made.
Midway through the first half of Saturday’s game, Valdés had a hard sliding tackle to stop Whitecaps forward Atiba Harris dead in his tracks. And while Mondragón made a modest three saves vs. the ’Caps, he showed what kind of leadership he brings by rushing to protect his teammates any time one of them was pushed to the ground on a particularly physical play.
“I don’t think we’re giving up a lot of shots, which is similar to last year, except [now] we’re not making silly mistakes,” Califf said. “We’re not getting back passes picked off, we’re not doing things like that. And the shots that do come through, Faryd’s taking care of like a champ. So we’re riding high at the moment.”
Mondragón, who through two games has yet to make a difficult save, deferred most of the credit to his back line.
The Whitecaps had very few opportunities to score, though to be fair to the expansion side, a lot of that was due to the fact that they were playing down a man for most of the second half.
“[The defenders] were working like real lions, fighting for each ball, defending our goal like it is the last ball,” the 39-year-old goalkeeper said of his defense. “This is making us very, very strong.”
And the stronger they look, the more confident they become. The true test for Philly’s defense, however, comes next week against the star-studded LA Galaxy, as the Union will look to log their third straight shutout to surpass last season’s total.
“We really have a great understanding between the back four and the defensive mids right now,” Harvey said. “It’s really nice to get the two shutouts and it’s good to have the confidence going into a tough game.”