You'll recall their inaugural game March 25 at Qwest Field and before an ESPN2 audience: Danny Califf picks up a yellow card in the game’s first minute for running over Fredy Montero. Before the first half was out, Toni Stahl was sent off with his second yellow card.
By the time the Sounders' 2-0 victory was in the books, the Union had established a quick reputation as thugs.
With the rematch coming up Sunday, that topic has come up again. And while manager Peter Nowak wasn't available today while attending a pep rally, but coach John Hackworth was.
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Here's some of what he had to say:
I would encourage you to go look at the number of fouls we have against the number of fouls that even Seattle has. We’re not statistically a team that’s getting called for a lot of fouls. We want to play hard. OK? The game itself requires that: It’s just a tough game. I think we have a little bit of an unfair reputation for being a physical team, based on that Seattle game. Everybody watched it on national TV. We get a red card – I would say controversially so. Califf gets a yellow in the first 20 seconds of the game. Certainly. I think that a combination of playing in Seattle in front of that crowd, national TV, the perception being that we were these thugs and that’s the way that we were going to play. We have felt that actually from referees, from press in different cities, even our own fan base. But I would say it’s a little unjust. We also have played for my money some of the most attractive, attacking soccer in the league. Nobody mentions that. We have match ... data where you can see statistically that passing percentage, our amount of pure ball movement is pretty amazing for (and expansion team). That being said, we don’t mind the reputation for roughness. It’s kind of a Philadelphia thing. They like that here.
To a large degree, the numbers back up Hackworth's point. Philadelphia ranks 14th in the 16-team league with 115 fouls and is 11th with 17 cautions. The numbers are somewhat deceptive because the Union has played a league-low 10 games. However, the fact is, Philadelphia has suffered two more fouls than it has committed.
I also asked Hackworth about Nowak's criticism about Sounders' diving and Freddy Ljungberg's whining.
"I think embellishment by players – and I’m not singling out Freddy – but that plays a part in people’s perceptions. And if you’re talking about a home crowd thinking that one of there players is being fouled a lot, of course, that’s going to happen. If you’re the opposition, you’re going to think, hey that playing is diving. I would go and look at Montero when Danny Califf gets a card. He looks like he got shot and like he’ll never get up. And as soon as there’s the yellow card, he gets up and plays and ends up scoring against us. That’s just the way the game is, and you have to deal with it on both sides. But yeah, it’s not like this is not going to be a little bit of a heated rivalry. There’s already some blood in the water, so to speak."
I'll have more on that in the Friday paper.