Philly Union soccer: Goalless non-wonders

Posted: May 08, 2014

THERE IS a basic tenet in soccer: If you can't score goals, you can't win matches. You can get a draw, which on some levels can be considered a positive result, but you can't win.

The Philadelphia Union can't score goals, and in the four-plus seasons the franchise has existed in Major League Soccer, it has never scored goals consistently enough to move into the upper echelon.

Since its inaugural season in 2010, the Union has played 142 MLS matches, including last weekend at Seattle. It has more draws (43) than victories (42), and more losses (57) than either.

So, the numbers explain why the Union has made just a single playoff appearance in 2011, a first-round loss to the Houston Dynamo.

In 142 MLS matches, the Union averages 1.18 goals per game and has scored more than one goal only 30 times.

That is a perfect recipe for down-the-middle mediocrity.

This, however, was supposed to be a different year for the Union, one during which the club finally would shed its expansion-team label, i.e., its excuses.

That has not happened, and it's not hard to figure out why the Union has gone eight consecutive matches without a victory and sits on a dismal 1-4-5 record.

As usual, the Union can't score goals, or at least not enough goals.

Considering that its score in the 2-1 loss to the Sounders came courtesy of an "own-goal" by Seattle defender Brad Evans, it's been three consecutive matches that no Union player has hit the back of a net.

The last time a "Zolo" scored was Sebastien Le Toux on a penalty kick in the 78th minute against the New York Red Bulls on April 16.

The last time a Union player scored during the run of play was in stoppage time against Real Salt Lake on April 12.

When a team can go 360 minutes without one of its players scoring during the run of play, it's going to be near the bottom of MLS, with a goal-per-game average of 1.0.

Only Montreal has a lower GPG average (.875), but the Impact has played three fewer games and has scored five of its seven goals in the five games since All-Star forward Marco Di Vaio returned to the starting lineup.

A proven striker can change a lot of things. It is the one thing the Union does not have and never has truly had.

Only two Union goals have come from players designated exclusively as forwards. Leo Fernandes, who is listed as a midfielder but plays up front, midfielder/forward Le Toux and midfielder Maurice Edu have two goals each.

Midfielder Vincent Nogueira and newcomer Andrew Wenger, who was acquired for Jack McInerney in a swap of struggling young forwards, have the other goals.

The Wenger/McInerney exchange is the latest example of the Union's inability to find, develop or acquire a top-flight, goal-scoring threat.

It started with the franchise's first major player-personnel decision, when it selected Oregon State forward Danny Mwanga with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft.

Philadelphia then drafted McInerney seventh overall.

The problem with the SuperDraft is that it has never been the place to acquire top talent because the most elite young American prospects usually are tucked away in youth academies overseas.

That is particularly true of goal scorers, who in soccer are the equivalent of quarterbacks, lefthanded top-of-the-rotation pitchers and quality basketball centers.

Youngsters with top-flight potential to stick the ball in the net generally won't be around long enough to slip into a SuperDraft.

Mwanga totaled only 12 goals in his first two seasons. After nine goalless appearances into the 2012 campaign, he was traded to Portland.

McInerney, who was 17 when he was drafted, struggled for playing time his first two seasons. But after John Hackworth took over for Peter Nowak in 2012, McInerney got playing time and looked as if he could be developing into a star striker.

At the halfway point in 2013, McInerney was on a goal-scoring tear that earned him his first call-up to the U.S. senior national team.

McInerney made the final, 23-man roster for the 2013 Gold Cup. although he did not make an appearance to earn his first USA cap.

Still, it should have been a confidence-building experience. The opposite happened.

McInerney came back to the Union and went on an epic goalless streak. He lost the favor of Hackworth to veteran forward Conor Casey.

Goals in the last two games brought hope that "Jack Mack" would bounce back in 2014. He scored in the season opener at Portland but then went goalless for three matches.

On April 4, Hackworth gave up on the 21-year-old McInerney and traded him for Wenger, who scored in his first match with the Union, but not in the four games since.

At least Mwanga and McInerney were good enough to get chances to fail. Forward Chandler Hoffman, the 13th overall pick in 2012, made only seven appearances for the Union before being traded to the Los Angeles Galaxy after one season.

Unable to develop its own, the Union has gone to the hope chest for aging strikers such as Carlos Ruiz, Alejandro Moreno and Leonard Pajoy - all of whom had left their best goal-scoring in the past.

The Union's quest for a goal scorer goes on, and, until it ends, there won't be a lot of wins, just the usual - losses and a bunch of draws.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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