For the first time ever, the Philadelphia Union played a game without Danny Califf on their roster.
For the first time ever, Michael Lahoudthe midfielder who came over in the trade that sent Union original Califf to Chivas USA late last weekstarted for Philadelphia.
And for the first time ever, reserve goalkeeper Chase Harrison made an official MLS appearance.
Yes, there were many firsts when the Union took the field opposite FC Dallas on Saturdaynot to mention a few injuries and suspensions the club also had to overcome. Despite all of that, however, the Union managed to snap a three-game losing streak and pick up a point with a 1-1 draw.
Heres more on Saturdays game and a look at the week ahead:
Three thoughts from Saturdays game
1. The Union had gotten used to playing without Califf this season because of a couple of injuriesbut it was still weird seeing them play a game without him on the team. The first Union captain, Califf embodied this city by playing fearlessly and physically, and quickly become beloved by Philly fans. Like Michael Orozco Fiscal, Sebastien Le Toux and other ex-Union players, however, Califfs stay in Philadelphia ended quickerand messierthan most people expected, with the potential trade dragging on for almost a week and Union manager Peter Nowak saying Califf wished to return to his native California (which Califf later vehemently denied). Getting a promising young player like Lahoud (and cash) for the aging Califf could turn out to be a smart move, and Nowak may turn out to be a master architect with a grand plan for the future. But right now, he feels more like the guy from that Seinfeld episode who is a bad breaker-upper. And he really seems to be alienating a lot of fans in the process.
2. As if playing without Califf wasnt enough, the Union were also missing suspended midfielder Freddy Adu, injured goalkeeper Zac MacMath and injured left back Gabriel Farfan for Saturdays game. Later, starting stalwarts Gabriel Gomez and Carlos Valdes also left the game with injuries, putting the Union in a serious bind. But Harrison, who gutted through a hit to the head and a rolled ankle to make a couple of huge saves, and other Union reserves came up big to help Philly pick up a hard-fought point. Between Harrisons valiant effort vs. Dallas and Chris Konopkas big-time performance in the clubs recent friendly vs. FC Schalke, Nowak appears to be vindicated by not bringing in a proven veteran to back up the 20-year-old MacMath.
3. Considering the Union were without their best playmaker in Adu and were working Lahoud into the midfield, the offense performed relatively wellat least after a mostly lethargic first half. Around the 60-minute mark, the Union came alive and began to exert the same kind of offensive pressure they did the previous week vs. New York. Despite the clubs 2-6-2 overall record and poor offensive stats on the year, thats certainly a positive sign moving forward.
Three questions for the upcoming week
1. Well, the good news for the Union is that theyre playing the only team beneath them in the standings. The bad news is that if they lose to winless (and pointless) Toronto FC (0-9-0) on Saturday, there will be even more reason for concern that this season has gone awry. The question is just how much panic will there be if for Union fans and officials if Toronto earns their first win of the year against them?
2. Between MacMath, Harrison, Gomez, Valdes, Gabe Farfan and Roger Torres, the Union could be missing a lot of players Saturday because of injuries. It will be interesting to see how some of these guys progress throughout the week. Perhaps the biggest area of concern is with MacMath, who has suffered two blows to the head in recent weeks and has been battling concussion symptoms. With so much attention given to the long-term effects of concussions, the Union cannot afford to jeopardize MacMath by rushing him back. And if Harrisons ankle doesnt heal in time either, the Union could very well start their third-string keeper in Konopka. And if they do that, who would they bring in to back him up? Either way, it will certainly be a busy week for the Union training staff.
3. Before being sent off late in the first half of last weekends game against the Red Bulls, Adu was enjoying what was easily his best game as a member of the Union. Now, after missing three straight halves of soccer because of that red card, can Adu pick up where he left off this weekend in Toronto? If the Union hope to rise up the standings, theyll certainly need to count on him.
Fact of the week: After Valdes came out of Saturdays game, the Unions backline consisted of Raymon Gaddis, Michael Farfan, Sheanon Williams and Porfirio Lopez. Coming into the season, none of them was thought to be center backs.
Quote of the week: I couldnt ask for anything more about the city, about the fan base, about my time here. Its been unreal. What California kid is presented with the opportunity to go back to California and would rather stay in Philly? But thats the way it was.Danny Califf, shortly after his trade to Chivas USA was officially announced
Player of the week: Just for playing most of the second half on one leg, Harrison gets the nod. His two stops also come on shots from point-blank range. All in all, it was a fine MLS debut for the professional journeyman.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com and CSNPhilly.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin. The Inside Doop appears every Monday.