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WPS Under a Cloud

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Women’s Professional Soccer is awaiting a decision from the US Soccer Federation regarding its future as a USSF sanctioned league. WPS now consists of five teams after the league terminated its relationship with magicJack and its controversial owner Dan Borislow.  Borislow is currently engaged in litigation with WPS.

USSF standards for a pro league contain a range of directives pertaining to size, scope, structure, budget and staffing. At present, WPS does not meet these standards. The league now has five member clubs, with eight required by U.S. Soccer to apply for sanctioning, and even further away from the 10-team minimum suggested for leagues in their third years. WPS is entering its fourth year of play. Furthermore, all five teams (Boston,Western New York,New Jersey,PhiladelphiaandAtlanta) are located in the Eastern time zone, contrary to another directive that US teams in the first year be located in at least two time zones. The USSF can grant one-year waivers from these and other guidelines, which WPS has obtained to operate in previous years. A decision may not be reached for several weeks.

WPS came into existence in a period of economic uncertainty and has struggled through the loss of five franchises since its inception. It also faces conflicts next year over unavailable players due to the 2012 Olympics. Despite its problems, WPS puts a good product on the field and maintains the highest density of elite female soccer players of any league in the world. The second place performance of US Women’s National Team at the World Cup produced an up tick in attendance. The league also provides valuable playing experience and training for both US and international players.

Time will tell whether a compromise can be reached to allow WPS to continue to operate. It would a shame if the league, which has struggled to survive to this point and wants to operate in 2012, would be denied the opportunity to do so because of USS sanctioning rules. If unsuccessful, WPS will close its doors after three seasons, as its successor WUSA did in 2003. After the announcement of the closing of WUSA, the US failed to win the US hosted 2003 World Cup and has failed to do so since. Success in 2003 may have brought a women’s league back sooner. WPS did not begin play until 2009. Again this summer, I felt that anything short of  a US win at the World Cup would probably spell doom for WPS. I don’t think second place will produce any sustained interest going into next year.  As sympathetic as the Japan win was, it didn’t do any favors for women’s soccer as a whole. The international soccer community would be negatively impacted by the collapse of WPS.

Although WPS does have a dedicated core of fans, this core is small and retention of fans is a challenge. The league suffers from a lack of investment. WPS has learned from past WUSA mistakes and taken action to more tightly control costs, but sustained investment will be necessary to for the league to grow to the point of being self sufficient. To be taken seriously WPS has perform as a business, not plead for support as a “cause.”  To be fair, women’s sports in general in this country have suffered from a long term decline in visibility and reversing this trend will be difficult. Even improved media attention will at best be a short term fix. Money from sponsors and expansion teams will be needed to get the league on the road to survival. WPS finds itself in a bit of a chicken or the egg dilemma. To attract sponsors and investors, these parties must believe that WPS can deliver the eyeballs. However, audience growth and media exposure is often the result of investment. I would like to see the WPS get some additional time to resolve these dilemmas.

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Bagels and Lox for Everyone

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The Philadelphia Union announced yesterday that they have traded starting left back Jordan Harvey to the Vancouver Whitecaps for a box of smoked salmon, a scrimshaw whale’s tooth and a First Nations’ ceremonial eagle feather.  In MLS’s world of cryptic parlance and partial disclosure, this is also known as “allocation money.” When I first read this shocking and unexpected development, you could have knocked me down with, well, a feather.

Harvey had been a regular fixture on the Union’s backline since the team’s inception and had played in every game but one. He was part of what had been a stable and effective back four this season.  Just when you think the Union is dangerously short on dedicated defenders, they go and sell one, and to think that I was beginning to feel that blogging for a successful MLS team was becoming boring.  The Union now have only four players officially rostered as defenders. Midfielders Keon Daniel, Gabriel Farfan and Michael Farfan have been used in the back this season. Ryan Richter has also been given a run out on defense, at least in reserve games. The cherry on top of all of this is that starting central defender Carlos Valdes will not be available for the game this weekend.

This move at this point in the season seems dangerous.  The team had been going well, although they had failed to pick up as many points during their recent run against Vancouver, Kansas City and Chivas as I would have liked. The Union are now in the middle of a consecutive stretch of three away games.  They have struggled to establish a regular starting eleven and formation. I don’t see a coherent plan for replacing Harvey, and the lineups I can envision are unnerving. For those that are upset about the value received in this deal, all I can say is that MLS players, save for a few, are not really worth that much in trade.

Situations such as the Harvey trade underscore why I will never buy a jersey with a player’s name on it.  The nature of modern professional sports is that player’s stints with individual teams tend to be short. I support soccer clubs as institutions and deliberately do not become attached to specific individual players. I am not a fan of professional athletes in general. This is not a reflection on the Union or any of their players, but stems from my observations of American athletes in the more popular professional sports over the years. If you recently shelled out money for a Harvey jersey, you have my condolences.

Speculation about what all this may mean is rife. Are the younger players ready to step up? Are the Union thinking of bringing in a big name defender? Trading Harvey will create some salary cap room, but he was not earning that much more than league minimum and was very good value for money.  The Union also have not used all their available roster spots.

In other news: I will be at the Philadelphia Independence game this weekend. This may be the last one of the season for me, unless there is a playoff game. There is just a lot going on. Real Madrid have announced some modifications to their roster for the World Football Challenge. As a Real Madrid hater, I am not all that interested in their peripheral players, so I am not bothered by this. It just increases the chances it will be a competitive game. It has been announced that the U.S. Men’s National Team will play Mexico at Lincoln Financial Field.  If only the Gold Cup final had been played here.

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Now This Game Was a Real “Puta”

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On Saturday night the Union suffered its second disturbing result in a row with a 1-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps at Empire Field. This loss follows on the heels of a disappointing 1-1 tie at home to Real Salt Lake.

I have to say my reaction when I saw the lineup graphic on Saturday night was “Oh – My – God.”  The lineup consisted of the usual back four, with a midfield of Brian Carroll, Kyle Nakazawa, and Stefani Miglioranzi in back of Veljko Paunvic and Justin Mapp with Sebastien LeToux upfront – basically a 4-3-2-1. Unfortunately, my initial bad gut reaction turned out to be justified.  It was a very poor performance overall. The Union had little luck moving the ball around or controlling the pace on the artificial surface at Empire Field. As noted by the television commentary crew, Miglioranzi and Nakazawa seemed to be running into each other in midfield. Who could have possibly seen that coming? Paunovic did nothing to impress in his debut for the Union.  The team eventually moved to the diamond formation with which they have had some success this season in the second half, but with little effect this time. Yes, the officiating was poor, but in MLS that goes without saying.

Although an away game, this result against the struggling Whitecaps has to be viewed with some concern. It is the second game in a row in which the Union have been challenged to produce results on offense. Against Real Salt Lake the previous weekend, the Union failed to capitalize on multiple scoring chances to secure a win. Although they got the better of the run of play against one of the league’s best teams, the lack of finishing resulted in an extremely frustrating tie. If the Union want to secure the top place in the Eastern Conference, they can not continue to leave points on the table in this manner. It would be a crime if the team ended up losing a place in the standings due to goal difference.

The way out of this offensive morass is far from clear. I am doubtful that Carlos Ruiz or Paunovic is the answer. There are already rumors circulating about Ruiz’s departure (again) from MLS.  LeToux continues to struggle, and Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney continue to play like youngsters with more potential than results. The answer may lie in midfield, with the acquisition of a solid playmaking , attacking midfielder to guide the offense. Roger Torres, despite flashes of promise, may not be robust or strong enough to fulfill this role in MLS.

I’ll finish with a few random observations. I attended the Philadelphia Independence’s 6-0 blowout of magicJack on Saturday evening, so I watched a recorded Union game. magicJack appear to be a team in disarray in every possible way. You have to feel for the players, as I suspect most of the problems ultimately originate with the owner. It must be very demoralizing for the players to have to play in such conditions.

I haven’t written much lately, and I have come to the conclusion that it may be easier for me to find things to write about the Union when things are going wrong, rather than when they are going right. It’s hard to get worked up about something when things seem to be okay. I guess pundits may be like lawyers in that they thrive on the misery of others.

Fabian Espindola provided some unintentional comic relief at the Real Salt Lake game. I understand he gave the River End the finger at half time.  Toward the end of the game, the Colombians behind me were going at him with a full bore verbal assault in Spanish. I didn’t get all of it, but “puta” figured very prominently.  Espindola turned around and smirked at them. He is surely in the running with Kyle Beckerman for MLS’s Worst Groomed. As pointed by of my other seat neighbor, not even female soccer players wear their hair down.

The Union continue to throw Major Molly’s Army in fans’ faces.  Just when I thought I might be able to ignore this issue and it would die out quietly, it’s back. The woman who sits next to me, who is a social studies teacher, had a field day with the factual inaccuracies in the first paragraph of the Molly story in the program for the Salt Lake game. The Union can claim they aren’t cheerleaders all they want. They are still a thinly veiled excuse to parade around young, attractive women to no legitimate purpose. There is nothing about their stated job duties that require the services of an all female squad.

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Western New York Flash Down Some Cheesesteaks

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I attended my first Philadelphia Independence game of the season on hot and humid Memorial Day weekend. Philly’s Cheesesteaks fell to the Western New York Flash by a score of 2-1 at Leslie Quick Stadium at Widener University.  The expansion Flash are on a roll in their first season in WPS. The Marta-led team has not lost any games and is leading the league. The Independence currently sit in third.

The Independence initially took the lead with a beautiful, long bomb by Megan Rapinoe. The shot, from an extreme angle, found the back of the net at the far post. However, the Flash followed up with two goals later in the first half by Becky Edwards and Marta. Marta scored on a penalty kick after a foul called on Nikki Krzysik for taking down the Flash’s McCall Zerboni in the box.

The Independence continue in their struggles against Marta and whatever team she happens to be playing for this season. Although the best player in the world was not as much of a factor in this game as in others, the teams she plays for all seem to be winners. This game was the last before the WPS teams will lose their players for the women’s World Cup.

This was my first game at the Independence’s new home at Leslie Quick stadium. The facility was not difficult to find, but the situation could have been improved with addition of a few signs along the route. There was ample free parking for spectators. Attendance seemed to be respectable although the stadium was far from full. The team had plenty of free goodies for fans, including a calendar, CD, noise makers, schedule card, bumper stickers, and programs. A picture of my booty:

Philadelphia Independence Swag

The Independence have reasonable ticket prices (starting at $15) as well as a variety of season ticket and flex plans.  They also seem to run regular ticket specials. Sunday night, for example, was military appreciation night, and the next home game will feature specials for teachers, graduates and students. I also purchased a deal for three Saturday game tickets through Living Social. The downside to all of these deals is that are quite a lot of unticketed patrons arriving at games who have to go to Will Call or trade in vouchers.  This situation created quite a line when a printer decided to go haywire prior to game time. I guess the moral to this story is to get there early.

There are a limited number of concession items (soda, water, pizza, hot dogs, etc.) available for comparatively reasonable prices for a professional sports event. Most items were between $1and $3. WPS can be a good value outing for families, youth teams, or school groups. It does seem to attract a different demographic than Philadelphia Union games. As a bonus, you might run into a Union player or two in civilian mode, who don’t seem to be recognized by the other attendees.

Here are a few shots from the game:

 

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A Midweek Septa Saga

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My fellow bloggers over at http://unholyunion.wordpress.com recently posted some interesting information about a closed Septa train station at Lamokin, about a fifteen minute walk from PPL Park.

It found it interesting in that it was posted on the same day that I had my own first experience, albeit indirectly, with public transportation to PPL Park. The friend who was attending the Philadelphia Union’s game against the Los Angeles Galaxy with me had to meet me at PPL Park.  She took Septa from 30th Street Station to the Chester Transportation Center (CTC) and a shuttle to PPL Park. Overall, she was very happy with the train service and the fact that shuttles were lined up at the CTC waiting for passengers.  She beat me to PPL Park by ten minutes despite the fact that I left around the same time by car from Haverford Township.

I can certainly understand frustration with Septa and yesterday’s experiences were a mixed bag. I now take the Paoli-Thorndale line to work after years of driving. Yesterday I was reminded of why I used to drive. On the one day that I absolutely had to remain on schedule, there was a significant service interruption on the train line in the morning caused by a power problem. I eventually gave up and drove to work as I could not afford to wait any longer. I went from being twenty minutes early to being twenty minutes late for work, and I incurred a grand total of $31.00 in transportation cost to get to work, not counting gas. You got to love Septa.

Reopening the Lamokin Station, if it is within walking distance of PPL Park, could have the potential benefits of allowing the Union to save money by suspending shuttle service, increasing use of public transportation and providing fans with more transportation options. If this is an issue of concern to you, you can contact Septa with your comments at http://www.septa.org/cs/comment/index.html or on Twitter @Septa.

As for the game, the Union managed to salvage a 1-1 tie on a Danny Mwanga goal.  PPL Park had a record crowd despite the absence of a healthy David Beckham. Although a lot of the media attention focused on the absence of Beckham, it was actually a good performance by the Union against a team that is likely to be one of their tougher opponents. The defense remained solid, and the team put forth a good effort to push forward for a win in the closing minutes. A number of other events have also occurred since my last post.  The Union lost an away game to the Portland Timbers by the score of 1-0, and I continued in my failure to find a place other than my own living room to watch away games. The Philadelphia Independence won their home opener against the Boston Breakers by a score of 2-0. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this game due to illness. The MLS players union also released the salary data for its members.

Although soccer is not as popular as other sports in the U.S., it is clear there is plenty of  media coverage of the Union. The events described in the previous paragraph have been discussed extensively elsewhere. I often don’t feel as if I have any thing original to add to the conversation in terms of context or commentary.  Last season, and until recently, I have posted something about every Union game.  After a good deal of reflection and an acknowledgment there is little reader interest in this blog, I have decided to limit my posting to times when I feel I really have something to add to a topic or it particularly interests me.  I’d like to thank my readers for their support and hope to have a chance to interact with you in the future.

 

 

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magicJack Mute in Defeat of Independence

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The Philadelphia Independence played their second game of the 2011 season which ended in a 2-1 defeat to magicJack on Sunday, May 1. The Indies went up early on a goal by Tina DiMartino in the 8th minute. Unfortunately, this was followed up by the goal by magicJack’s Abby Wambach later in the first half.  Philadelphia defender Nikki Krzyski was called for a handball. Nicole Barnhat then saved the resulting penalty kick taken by Wambach. Second half sub Lisa DaVanna scored the game winner for magicJack in the 66th minute.  The Independence are now 0-1-1 on the season.

The game was played at FAU Stadium in Florida in front of a paid attendance of 1,008. According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the crowd appeared to be no more than half the 1,224 who attended the magicJack season opener. This facility has a capacity of 1,500, well short of the WPS league minimum of 5,000.  According to the same source, requests by the media to speak to magicJack personnel involved in the win, including Wambach, DeVanna and head coach Mike Lyons, were denied by the team’s owner, Dan Borislow, who violated league policy in preventing postgame interviews. “It is league policy that any request to speak to players after a game be met by the team,” said WPS spokeswoman Crystal Fukumoto.

The gagging of magicJack’s players and coaches by their owner is an outrageous and troubling development for a team and league that are struggling for survival and need all the exposure and good will they can muster. In his short tenure as owner of the former Washington Freedom, Borislow has already developed an extremely contentious relationship with WPS over game day costs and other issues.  A quick look at the WPS website shows that the team is still referred to the Washington Freedom in some places and most of the magicJack’s page is described as “coming soon.” Borislow has yet to develop any meaningful branding or promotion for the team in Florida

It appears the squad may be permanently relocated, despite early talk of the team continuing to play some games in Maryland. No official 2011 schedule is provided on the WPS website. It’s hard to imagine this being a workable situation for fans looking to schedule their attendance or purchase tickets.  magicJack seems to be cutting all ties with the Washington Freedom, one of the best known and established women’s soccer brands and their fan base. It is a sign of how desperate WPS must be to be in a relationship with such a character as Borislow, who appears to be insisting on cut backs to WPS’ modest game day requirements that would come at the expense of producing a professional looking product. While complaining about expenses Borislow is doing little that would help to generate revenue, such as marketing or promotion, or letting the team speak to the press. I would like to see WPS survive, but I don’t think it will get much further with owners like this.

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A Difference in Fortunes

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With the Philadelphia Independence season about to kick off on April 10, I thought I would take a comparative look at Philadelphia’s two professional soccer teams. The Independence enjoyed a very successful first season, finishing with a record of 10-10-4 and making it to the WPS final in which they finally succumbed to the now-defunct FC Gold Pride. The Philadelphia Union finished their inaugural season 8-15-11, a respectable result for an expansion team but short of a playoff spot. While perhaps like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges, let’s take a look at what may have contributed to the teams’ different fortunes in their first seasons:

  1. A much smaller pond with a shorter “fishing” season: The Indys competed in a seven team league last season, and they will do so again this year. The Union competed in a sixteen team league last season which is now an eighteen team league in 2011. The MLS season is longer. The other WPS teams were all expansion teams the year before. There was a greater than 50% chance of making the playoffs in WPS. Overall, this was a more favorable climate for an expansion team.
  2. Effective goalkeeping: While the Union struggled in front of the goalkeeping tandem of Chris Seitz and Brad Knighton last year, the Indys were spoilt for choice with Karina LeBlanc and Val Henderson. While LeBlanc is gone, Nicole Barnhart has arrived from FC Gold Pride. There should be a tight battle between Henderson and Barnhart for the starting spot.
  3. Defensive depth: The Indys boast some versatile defenders and many of the forwards and midfielders also defend well. The Union, in contrast, struggled with defensive cohesion in its first season. Allison Falk, Estelle Johnson, Nikki Krzysik and Joanna Lohman all return from the 2010 squad and will be joined by several rookies.
  4. Coach of the year: Independence coach Paul Riley was named WPS Coach of the Year, Philly Soccer Page Coach of the Year and the Philly Soccer News Person of the Year. Riley was instrumental in transforming a squad that was perceived as being weak on paper at the outset of the 2010 season to one that competed for the WPS Championship. While I would certainly not call Peter Nowak an ineffective coach, he did not have the career year that Riley did in 2010.

Story lines to look for in the upcoming season include the progress of top Independence draft pick and Haverford High alumna Sinead Farrelly, whether the team can build on its previous season and best its third place regular season finish, and how the absence of Caroline Seger and Heather Mitts will affect the team. The Indys will also need big years from their star forwards Amy Rodriquez, Tasha Kai and Frida Magnusdottir. The move to Leslie Quick Stadium at Widener should be an improvement. Although John Farrelly Stadium was not far from the center of West Chester, it had the feeling of being a bit back of beyond. Chester is also a much more central location for Philadelphia area soccer fans.

Bigger questions exist with respect to WPS itself. Several teams have already folded since the league’s inception, and it is unclear if the WPS will make it through its third season and outlive the lifespan of its predecessor league, the WUSA, and see a fourth season. One of women’s soccer flagship franchises, the Washington Freedom, has been rebranded as magicTalk SC and will likely be relocated permanently. The expansion Western NY Flash has acquired and will be absorbing the salary of superstar Marta, whose last two previous teams folded. There should be plenty of interest and suspense for soccer fans both on and off the field in 2011.

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The Union’s Crack Social Media Monitoring Team Has Its Eye on You

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Yesterday I was amused to discover that @PhilaUnion is following my nail polish-related Twitter account (@nailpolishtwit). This is after it took them a good three months to follow my actually relevant Twitter account. I have been writing this blog since April, 2010. At this rate, they should find it any day now. Granted, the nail polish account does have some Union and US National Team related manicures on it, but it is something that really would only be interesting if you care about the latest Chanel or specialty polish, for example. Maybe there are some secret nail polish aficionados in the Union front office.

I was surprised that they even managed to find the account, which I only check about once or twice a day. Apparently last night someone tweeted a manicure I had posted about nine months ago here and on my other Twitter account.  I applaud the person that actually managed to find this.

I suspect this information gathering is the work the front office moles of @FakePeterNowak, in furtherance of his evil plot to monitor and control the dissemination of all news and rumors related to the Philadelphia Union. I will save them some work and reveal now that I will be wearing First Mate (navy crème) and Knotty (khaki shimmer) from the China Glaze Anchors Away collection on my nails for first kick. Information about this collection can be found here. I found this collection fun because it included colors that were suitable for both the Union and the Independence. It also contains a color called “White Cap,” but I choose to ignore that one.  I may even go crazy and use Union decals on all my nails.

I am tempted start more Twitter accounts to see how long it takes @PhilaUnion to find them. Maybe they would also be interested in the ikebana (Japanese flower) arrangement I am putting into the Flower Show?

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2011 Philadelphia Independence Schedule

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The Philadelphia Independence have released their 2011 schedule.  Once again, they do a good job of avoiding conflicts with Union home games.  The Indies will be playing their 2011 at Leslie Quick Stadium on the campus of Widener University in Chester.  Capacity at this venue is only 4500, which should provide a greater concentration of fans and more atmosphere.  Although they are not at PPL Park, they will be playing in Chester and you might be able to make a double header of it on April 16, when the Union play the Sounders at 4:00 and the Independence play magicTalk SC at 7:00.

Date                Opponent                   Time

April 10           At Sky Blue FC            6 p.m.

April 16           magicTalk SC              7 p.m.

May 1               At magicTalk SC        4 p.m.

May 8               Boston Breakers        6 p.m.

May 15             At Atlanta Beat          6 p.m.

May 22            At Boston Breakers   4 p.m.

May 29            Western NY Flash      6 p.m.

June 4              Atlanta Beat                 7 p.m.

June 12           At Western NY Flash 4 p.m.

June 18           magicTalk SC                7 p.m.

July 6              Sky Blue FC                    7 p.m.

July 9              Western NY Flash       7 p.m.

July 16            At Atlanta Beat            7 p.m.

July 23            At Sky Blue FC              7 p.m.

July 27           At Boston Breakers     7 p.m.

July 31            Atlanta Beat                  6 p.m.

Aug. 7             Sky Blue FC                    6 p.m.

Aug. 14           At magicTalk SC           4 p.m.

WPS 2011 PLAYOFFS

Aug. 17           WPS First Round Playoff

Aug. 21            WPS Semifinal Match

Aug. 28           WPS Championship

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Time to Warm Up the Bus, the Scrimmage Is Over

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Philadelphia Union 3-0 Chivas USA
September 25, 2010

The title of today’s post comes courtesy of our unofficial enthusiastic section “capo” who, when he’s done with his stadium duties, comes out to the end of the tunnel to watch the game.   He is always very enthusiastic, very loud, and neither hoarse nor less enthusiastic towards the end of the game.  He also had a few choice comments for Chivas’s goalkeeper, Zach Thornton, mainly suggesting a change in employment is in order.  After all, the Eagles do need a center.

The blowout really did have the feeling of a scrimmage. The Philadelphia Union defeated Chivas USA 3-0 and gained their second shutout in a relatively rarely multi-goal game. The three Union goals were scored by Alejandro Moreno, Fred, and Sebastien LeToux all off set pieces.  Improvement in set pieces, coupled with increased scoring and better defense, resulted in the game that Union fans had been looking for for some time.  My only area of concern is that, several times during the game, the Union had good crosses into center only to have no players on position to take advantage of them.

The second shutout under Brad Knighton may be the beginning of the end for Chris Setiz.  The Union now have some good momentum going.  Let’s hope it continues into what’s left of the season and into the next, as well.

P.S. 1) My friend thinks Jordan Harvey is reminiscent of David Beckham, at least from behind. 2) Congratulations to the Philadelphia Independence, who defeated the Boston Breakers 2-1 in their second semifinal game on a controversial extra time goal. The Independence now advance to the WPS title game against FC Gold Pride.

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