Rank and File: Union at Chicago
Two thoughts from me, then your player ratings from this past weekend's game.
If you look hard enough, you can see the Chicago skyline from the press box at PPL Park. It's about 15 miles from Bridgeview to the Loop. (Jonathan Tannenwald/Philly.com)
With another Union game coming up Thursday, plus the looming World Cup and my work with our Flyers coverage, I didn't have time to watch the full replay of this past weekend's Union-Fire game.
So there's no Take Two this time, and I'm not sure there will be one for this week's game at Kansas City either. I'm going to offer two thoughts of my own before turning things over to our reader panel.
The first is that I've watched the closing moments of Saturday's game, and I'm convinced Alejandro Moreno was pushed over in the 18-yard box right before Abbey Okulaja blew the final whistle. Go back to the game highlights here. You have to get to the last few seconds, but you'll definitely see it.
Moreno was knocked down by Wilman Conde right as the ball arrived in the box after being sent in from near midfield by Stefani Miglioranzi. Fire goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra caught the ball, punted it away, and Abbey Okulaja blew the whistle.
"And a stumble there," J.P. Dellacamera said on the WPVI broadcast. There wasn't a replay afterwards, though, as the game ended a few seconds later.
Okulaja was looking at the play. If he didn't see the contact, then his linesman should have. I know Moreno has a reputation for going down easily, and Saturday's game was not Okulaja's best in my opinion. But I thought it was a foul. Let me know what you think in the comments.
My second thought is that it really saddened me to see Toyota Park well short of full for Saturday's game. I'm sure the threatening weather had something to do with it, as did the Fire's middling record and style of play this season. But this is a franchise that used to regularly draw big crowds at Soldier Field - I'm talking close to 20,000 fans on a regular basis.
A significant portion of the Fire's fan base lives in the city of Chicago itself, and within that a lot of them live north of the Loop. It takes almost an hour to get to Bridgeview from there, whether by car or by public transportation.
Some Fire fans take buses from the Loop that are chartered by Section 8, the team's long-established supporters club. Anyone else who doesn't want to drive has to do what I did Saturday.
I took the subway to Midway Airport, a half-hour ride from the Loop, then wait for a bus from there to the stadium. The bus ride takes 15 minutes and the bus runs every 20 minutes, starting two hours before a match. That's fine, but after a match the bus back leaves 30 minutes after the final whistle. It's not a lot of time, and it's impossible if you have to stay at the stadium to do interviews and such.
I didn't rent a car because I knew that taking a cab from the stadium to my hotel near Midway would be far cheaper. But as I made my way to Toyota Park, I spent a while chatting with some Fire fans who were going the same way. All of them lamented how hard it was to get to the stadium.
This isn't to say that teams can't be successful playing in suburbs. But it's become pretty clear at this point that young urban professionals are a key demographic for Major League Soccer. It's a group of people who came of age at the same time the sport grew up in this country.
Some of us played the game growing up, whether on school teams or youth clubs or just in the backyard. The 1994 World Cup showed us the game's potential, and soon after that MLS arrived. Now that group of former youth players has grown up, and has some disposable income to spend. They've chosen to spend it on soccer.
It may or may not be coincidental that this group has chosen in fairly large numbers to live in urban areas where a car isn't necessarily required. I don't think it's a coincidence, however, that most of MLS' best fan bases watch games in stadiums that they don't have to drive to.
D.C. United fans pack the Metro to travel to RFK Stadium. Same with Toronto FC fans, the TTC's streetcars and BMO Field. Seattle has decent public transit, but more importantly Qwest Field is right on the edge of downtown. So a lot of people walk to the stadium.
Fire games at Soldier Field had that same vibe. You could take the subway or commuter rail to the stadium, or even take a decent walk from the Loop. At Toyota Park, though, the view of the skyline from the press box looks at times like a mirage.
Everyone knows that a system of MLS teams playing in NFL stadiums can't work in the long run. Seattle is the exception, of course, but there aren't as many teams in that market for the Sounders to compete with. Soccer-specific stadiums are the way to go, and the cost of land is a lot lower in suburbs than it is in cities.
So instead of Los Angeles, MLS has Carson. Instead of Dallas, it has Frisco. Boston hasn't ever been officially on the map. And now the Union are on the clock. We know that there are going to be shuttle buses from the Chester Transportation Center R2 station, and the 113 bus does run from outside the stadium to 69th Street Terminal.
But none of it has actually been put into practice yet. It will soon, though, as PPL Park opens 19 days from today. That's when we'll finally know whether the lessons of Bridgeview have been learned.
We shift gears now to some equally optimstic prose: your player ratings from Saturday's game.
Chris Seitz: 6.57
- "Let's give credit where it's due. Seitz has evolved from liability to strength. He also looks like he's becoming a leader, which would be a huge positive for the Union." (Nathan M.)
Cristian Arrieta: 3.29
- "Even though he's a former USL Defender of the Year, Arrieta looked slower than molasses going uphill in January." (Andrew Dillon)
Danny Califf: 4.71
Jordan Harvey: 5.14
- "Brings a lot on the wing to the attack. He knows his role and he should stick with it." (Ed Fagan)
Michael Orozco Fiscal: 4.86
- "I'd like to see him distribute to the midfielders and create something offensively like he has occasionally in the past." (Ed Fagan)
- "Great in possession, but can't seem to create much in the offensive third." (Jeff P.)
Stefani Miglioranzi: 3.14
- "I literally spent the match waiting for him to be pulled. From the early yellow card you could see it wasn't going to be his night." (Ed Fagan)
Kyle Nakazawa: 4.43
- "Nakazawa was kind of invisible in this game." (Bryan James)
Shea Salinas: 5.14
- "The more I see of him, the more I like his speed and versatility." (Jeff P.)
Roger Torres: 4.40
Nick Zimmerman: 3.86
Sebastien Le Toux: 5.71
- "Le Toux puts this team on his shoulders. Definitely the best player on the field for the Union. We need more guys with his skill and hustle." (Andrew Dillon)
Alejandro Moreno: 4.86
Danny Mwanga: 6.57
- "I'm baffled. He looks slow and unmotivated until he has the ball on his foot. Once he actually has the ball he's one of our most dangerous attacking players." (Ed Fagan)