Sunday, March 27, 2011

Late Ruiz Goal Gives Philly Ugly Win

As I mentioned in my midweek prediction column, the name on everybody's lips with regards to Vancouver was Erik Hassli. The forward scored twice on the Whitecaps' MLS debut, helping his side to a 4-2 victory over Canadian rivals Toronto FC. However, in this match, Hassli was to get his name in the paper for a totally different, less impressive, reason.

Interestingly, it was Vancouver who started the more lively of the two sides, with their pressing in midfield not allowing the Union to build up any rhythm in their passing. However, the expansion side were unable to carve out any clear cut opportunities, and their dominance of the first twenty minutes was only really defined by a couple shots from distance.

The first chance of the game came against the run of play, with Carlos Ruiz slipping a ball through for Seba Le Toux, who's shot was smothered by the onrushing Joe Cannon. Le Toux has started this season slowly, and Philadelphia fans will hope that he picks up a little pace, and starts to reproduce the form that led him to an MVP nomination last time around.

In the latter stages of what had been a poor half of football, things began to heat up, and Erik Hassli recieved a pointless booking for a trip on last week's hero, Danny Calif. That trip left the Frenchman walking on a knife edge for the remainder of the game, a fact that would become very important in the second half.

The half ended within a flurry of long range efforts from both sides, shots that never really went close to troubling either keeper and as the whistle blew, signalling an end to first half play, one wondered whether the quality of the game would pick up in the second half, there was certainly no way that it could get any worse.

Unfortunately for myself and all the other viewers of this game, the second period was no better than the first, with a free kick skied into the crowd by Sebastian Le Toux the closest either team came to scoring in the opening jousts of the second half.

But, on fifty-six minutes, we were finally to see a little action, as Hassli, coming in foolishly late on defender Valdes, received his marching orders, leaving Vancouver with ten men for the remaining thirty-five minutes or so.

Sensing blood, Philadelphia began to pick up the tempo of their play after the sending off, and a Carlos Ruiz bicycle kick from inside the six yard area stung the finger tips of goalkeeper Joe Cannon.

As the half wore on, it was looking as though it might just be "one of those days" for the Union, but on seventy-six minutes all the crowd's frustrations were suddenly vanquished. A shot from the edge of the arc bounced kindly to Le Toux inside the box, and last year's leading goalscorer for Philly beautifully squared the ball for the onrushing Carlos Ruiz, who just couldn't miss from a yard out. Philadelphia finally had made the breakthrough, and with a man advantage it seemed as though two straight wins were virtually guaranteed.

With Hassli off the pitch, and Atiba Harris struggling as lone striker, Vancouver never really looked like getting back into the game, and Philadelphia were able to easily see out the last fifteen minutes of the game.

The final whistle was greeted with a roar of celebration from the home crowd, who must have sensed that this season could be a huge improvement on last year.

Encouragingly for the Union, Peter Nowak's side had showed superb resolve in a difficult game, and had managed to grind out a hard fought win, despite Vancouver's fine defensive showing. If Philly can continue to grind out wins like they did yesterday, then Union supporters can look forward to an exciting season, one which should end with a playoff appearance. The only worry for last year's expansion side, should be the distinct lack of width showed in the first half. Without Justin Mapp, Philadelphia had no penetration from the wings, with forwards Le Toux, Ruiz and Mwanga, getting into each others way on countless occasions in the first half.

For Vancouver, this defeat will represent a huge disappointment, and I think that much of the ire coming from Whitecaps fans will be directed at DP Erik Hassli. Brilliant last week, it was Hassli's stupidity that cost Vancouver the game, and fans will hope that the Frenchman learns from his mistakes, and never lets his team down so baldy again.

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