Union fall flat in most important stretch of 2017, can they bounce back vs Dallas?

The Philadelphia Union have been a stereotypical Philadelphia team throughout their short seven years of existence. Two playoff appearances in their seven years; the rest of the time the Union have been outsiders looking in. In the rollercoaster ride that has been 2017, the Union entered a crucial stretch in need of points. July presented six games for Philly, five of which were agaisnt eastern conference teams near them in the table. The opportunity to climb up in the east was in July. When it was time for Philly to prove they could be contenders, the Union fall flat.

The Union went through this crucial stretch, and are still on the outside looking in. Now is the time to analyze the month of July’s good and bad, and move on into August wiser, and better.

A decent start.

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The Union opened July by thumping New England 3-0 at home. Some great goals were scored, and the defense looked solid. This was the last match that the Union had Chris Pontius and Andre Blake before they left for the Gold Cup. Fafa Picault dazzled with his pace, producing a great to Ilsinho’s goal. Jack Elliot continued to show that he is a rookie of the year candidate. The Union took that win and knew they had a short turn around heading to Kansas City.

What we learned:

The Union are a good team at home. When they get a shorthanded team come to Talen, they take care of business. Giliano Wijnaldum may have become the starting left back over Fabinho. It was all a matter of time before this happened, Giliano showed his worth vs New England. Jack Elliot showed why he is starting over past standouts Yaro and Marquez. The Rookie has put out fires and shown good distribution from the back. All in all this game showed positives for Philly, but it was against a shorthanded team.

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The Union went into Kansas City having won only one game on the road this season. Both teams were hit with Gold Cup call ups, and the game play showed. SKC played their young players and they produced. After a scoreless half  SKC found the breakthrough. The Union fought and were awarded a PK thanks to Sapong’s hard work, Alberg slotted the chance home, and the Union escaped the first place team in the west with a draw.

What we learned:

The Union defense struggles when spread out. SKC did a great job of doing that on the sequence that led to their goal. Roland Alberg showed he can score PK’s but offered little else from the 10. He has shown that he can get goal for a team a that needs them, but the distribution/ability to make key passes is lacking. CJ Sapong showed why he is the Union’s best offensive player. His ability to create hold up play created the Union’s goal, and is the reason the offense has had any spark. John McCarthy showed some great skill; looks like he’s learning the superman ways from Andre.

A road collapse.

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The Union traveled to Montreal for a midweek clash, and they looked like picking up where they left off in Kansas City. An early sequence found Fafa in on goal. He took a shot on an acute angle instead of squaring the ball to players wide open in the box. The Union then conceded. Fafa found his goal at the end of the first half. But early in the second half the Union’s defense wasn’t up to the task. Wijnaldum had a tough game, getting beaten on both Montreal goals.

What we learned:

The defense has issues on when to step and when to keep their shape on transitions. Both goals were instances where the defense was stuck between stepping up to an attacker, and relying on the shape of the defense to snuff out the chance. The Union have an innate ability to miss the final key pass. There were instances where the team had oppertunities to get their second goal but no one could link that final pass past the defense. Fafa’s missed pass opportunity sparked heated conversations between the team.

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The Union took the loss to Montreal and went to Columbus and looked even worse. This was the first game back for Alejandro Bedoya since he returned from the Gold Cup. He was the lone bright spot. Sapong, Fafa, and Alberg were all out due to injury/suspension and the offense felt their absence. No offensive flow was found with Simpson, Epps, and Najem in the game. Epps and Najem got their first starts in a hard place, they looked okay early but couldn’t break Columbus down.  Josh Yaro got a start at center back; he produced the games only goal, an own goal.

What we learned:

The Union cannot get their offense going without CJ Sapong this season. Simpson left a lot to be desired. He seems to be heading towards one of the worst Union signings, per how much he’s getting paid and how much he plays. The defense needs to do a better job helping the offense. There were many times where the outside backs failed to get forward to support the failing attack. Haris Medunjanin is capable of a pedestrian game. For the first time, it seems like, the Union’s Bosnian sensation was not able to dominate the middle of the field with his passing.

A short-lived jumpstart.

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The Union came out firing at their house four days after their loss at Columbus. CJ Sapong returned to the lineup, and gave the Union offense; a goal and two assists to be exact. Some fireworks occurred when Sapong drew a penalty. He and Alberg fought over who would take the penalty. Captain Bedoya came and helped settle the issue, letting Alberg take the penalty. Roland missed it. Sapong went on to celebrate his goal with everyone except Alberg. The Union looked good thanks to Sapong’s spark.

What we learned:

CJ Sapong is the man the Union need leading their attack. Roland Alberg’s body language turn his teammates off, and have caused some fans to turn on him. Marcus Epps has shown he can be lethal from the wing; getting his first professional goal. This team can fire on all cylinders when they get their attack going early.

A disappointing end.

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The Union ended July going to New England, a place where they have dominated over the past few years, and getting buried 3-0. Chris Pontius came back to the squad after winning the Gold Cup with USA, and barely left a mark on the match. Alberg was quiet. Sapong couldn’t help the offense create anything.John McCarthy made some amazing saves and was the only bright spot for Philly. The defense was flat, and let players run by them. IF this was a case of playing a lot of games in a short amount of time, then coaching/player rotation needs to be questioned.

What we learned:

John McCarthy will be a quality MLS keeper if/when Andre Blake is sold. It’s time to rotate the defense again. Rosenberry, Fabinho, Yaro and Marquez are all hungry, I’d leave Elliot on the back line and pick three of last years starters to fill in the defense. Alberg’s days at the 10 may be numbered; he had another game with zero key passes. The Union season, and playoff hopes, are slipping away quickly.

Taking seven points from six games in July will not make a playoff team. Now the Calendar turns to August, and new challenges await.

Can they bounce back vs Dallas?

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The Union have never beaten Dallas in their seven-year history. If they want to make the playoffs they will need to pick up wins in their remaining home games, that means they will need to beat Dallas. A tough task, but one that can be done through discipline, and keeping possession. This style of play calls for a lineup like this:

McCarthy; Fabinho, Elliot, Yaro, Rosenberry; Medunjanin, Bedoya; Epps, Ilsinho, Fafa; Sapong.
Subs: McGuire, Gaddis, Onyewu, Jones, Najem, Pontius, Simpson.

This group would be able to keep possession, and push the envelope going forward. Epps and Fafa starting on the wings gives the Union the speed to get behind their outside backs. With Sapong’s hold up play, Ilsinho’s ability to make defenders miss and the speed on the outside could make the attack hard to deal with. The middle of the field has the players the Union need to help facilitate the attack, and help out the defense. The defense gives the Union speed and ability to play out of the back. This side would give Dallas problems, and could stop their great attacks.

Will the Union be able to bounce back after a disappointing July? They need to for the sake of their playoff hopes!


Follow me on twitter @TGing21 for Soccer Twitter fun! Coming soon: A look back at what the Gold Cup win means for USA’s future, a look at if the Union will make a move in the summer transfer window and a look at if the Union will be able to get a bounce back  win vs FC Dallas. Until then, Peace out!


Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Union writer. A passion for the beautiful game drives me. Twitter: @TGing21

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