The Union are in the midst of a busy summer coming off of the Copa America break, playing a whopping 5 games in 15 days! They played the first two last week, beating Harrisburg in stunning fashion in the fourth round of the Open Cup, and lost a less than thrilling game at NYCFC on Saturday; the dog days of summer are here!
It was a difficult day for the Philadelphia Union last Saturday, as they lost for the first time since April. NYCFC’ big money players came to play against the first place Union; Lampard, Villa, and Pirlo all got on the score sheet. The Union looked like they couldn’t adjust to the smaller field of Yankee Stadium. Players that had been standouts, Chris Pontius, Tranquillo Barnetta, and Keegan Rosenberry, seemed sloppy. Because of the small field, each touch needed to be perfect and passes needed to be precise; unfortunately, they were not.
The Union were stifled at every turn Saturday. especially in the first half. The Union’s bad turnovers led to NYC goals by Lampard and Villa; silly fouling gave Andrea Pirlo, the world-class Italian, the chance to score his first MLS goal. Philadelphia seemed disjointed. Yes Vincent Nogueira was no longer with the team, but other players needed to step up to fill the void. They needed to find ways to play their game on the smaller field.The Union failed to do that in the first half, but one player did help turn the Union around for the better in the second half.
Roland Alberg came on and the Union changed their shape to try to get some momentum in the second half of the game. Instead of their 4-2-3-1 formation they usually play, Curtin changed it to a 4-1-4-1. The back four stayed the same, and so did Brian Carroll ahead of the them. Then Philly moved to a four across midfield of: Pontius (Ilshino when Pontius was subbed), Barnetta, Alberg, and Le Toux. Herbers played in the striker position. This formation seemed to help the Union go forward and attack, and did not have too many defensive ramifications on the short field; they just had to worry about long balls over the top which, somehow, the Union dealt with. The Union pressed NYCFC in the second half thanks to Alberg and the formation change.
Philadelphia started to pester NYCFC, and got into some dangerous positions, but their finishing touch was off. It seemed like the Union wouldn’t be able to score at all in the game, that is until Herbers won a penalty in the 55th minute. Alberg was the one who approached the ball and waved off the Union’s usual spot kick taker, Sebastian Le Toux. Alberg made use of a good stutter step and slotted the ball home. to cut the deficit to two goals. This play was also important as it was NYCFC defender Jason Hernandez’ first yellow card of the game shown for committing the foul in the box.
Hernandez was shown a second yellow thirty minutes later, and sent off with a red card in the 85th minute. Three minutes on, the Union found a second goal. This was also the result of a bad play by NYCFC, but it was not from a foul. Instead, an NYCFC defender “Brilliantly” put the ball in his own net. It was a well hit corner from Barnetta that found the head of Carroll; Brilliant tried to head the ball away, but put it in his net instead. The game tensed up in the final minutes of stoppage time. The Union threw all their men forward for an even later corner, even keeper Andre Blake. The ball was sent in, it bounced around and found the foot of Alberg. He took on an NYCFC player man to man and got tripped up inside the box. The referee deemed there was not enough for a foul, and blew the final whistle. The Union lost for the first time since April.
This loss hurt, but the boys fought hard to try to rectify early mistakes. they come away from the game only losing by one, not three, which is immense when you think of goal differential. The late game no penalty call could have gone either way, and that day it went NYCFC’ way. The Union wont dwell on the NYCFC result as they have to face Chicago Fire and Vancouver Whitecaps this week. It was a tough result but a good learning experience for the players.
The Union take on an injured Chicago Fire team Wednesday night at Talen Energy Stadium. Chicago will be without key players for this mid-week match. The Fire beat the Union earlier this year 1-0 in Chicago. The game was overshadowed by the extreme weather that day. It snowed, rained and was both windy and sunny during that match in a true battle of the elements. The Union played a good game against Chicago but couldn’t find the back of the net. CJ Sapong hit the post twice in the past meeting. This meeting will be different.
The Union can break the franchise’s home unbeaten record by getting a tie or a win. It is a bounce back game; in 2016, after a loss the Union have won every single time, and this time should be no different. They have the chance to keep Talen Energy Stadium the fortress they want it to be, and they can keep their grip on the Eastern conference. Coach Jim Curtin always stresses that home games are the most important games to get good results, and the Union have played play good attacking soccer at home this season. Don’t expect to see a formation change like last game, the Union want to keep their formation so they can play their game successfully. With the Fire having injury concerns look for the Union to come out running at Chicago’s problem areas, and press high to create chances. This is the game where Philly can put this past weekend’s loss behind them and continue their great 2016 run!
Photo credit: USA Today Sports