The Union have had an interesting two-week stretch, playing four games in 11 days..consisting of three league games and one US Open cup fixture. Philadelphia split the games; winning two and losing two. The team are in an interesting run of form. They have lost three out of the last four league games, but are still a top 5 team in MLS. Their recent play is inconstant and shocking when you look at how solid this side has been all year. To understand this inconsistent play we need to look back at the good, bad & ugly from the past four games.
June 22nd vs Chicago Fire 4-3 win.
GOLand Alberg! Earnie Stewart’s first signing came up big in this match! Roland Alberg was responsible for all four goals for the Union. He only got credit for three of them, see why here, but his play was the reason the Union came out of the match on top. Another good take away was Tranquillo Barnetta filled the 6 role that was left open with the departure of Vincent Nogueira. Barnetta is a good short-term fix; his skill set is one that looks to make the combination plays to get players forward. Look for a long-term replacement to be brought in over the summer transfer window.
The Union got scored on in the first two minutes. To be fair, it was a brilliant piece of skill from the speedy David Accam. Accam stole the ball off the foot of Ken Tribbett, ran past Brian Carroll into the box, and put the ball past an out-stretched Andre Blake. The Union were trying to play possession by switching the play, but when the ball was forced backwards Accam attacked, and won. Philly started slow and let Chicago gain an early lead. If it wasn’t for Roland Alberg’s heroics, the Union probably would have lost.
Restarts. The Union defense had a bad night when they gave Chicago corners and set pieces. With a three goal lead in the second half, Philadelphia let Chicago back in the game. A quick corner was played and the Union defenders were not ready. Substitute Joshua Yaro was late to react to a cross and Razvan Cocis found the back of the net. The Union were also late to defend another corner. This time the ball was allowed to fall right at the penalty spot, and Khaly Thiam was able to hit the ball past Blake. This defending is unusual from this 2016 Union group, and is something that they continued to struggle with.
June 25th vs Vancouver Whitecaps 3-2 loss.
Resilience. The Union took an early lead thanks to GOLand Alberg, but later found themselves down 3-1. In the past this team would’ve quit after being down by two; not this team. The Union pushed to close the gap throughout the second half. It took them until second half stoppage time, but they found a second goal. A good header from Leo Fernandez hit the post and bounced out to Chris Pontius who put the ball in the open net. This team did not quit. They lost a tough game against a good opponent, but at least they tried when going down by two.
Defending set pieces. The Union gave away the equalizer in the first half off of a corner like last game; except, this time the fault was on a player who has made very little mistakes all season. Andre Blake went up to intercept the corner, like he’s done all year, but this time the ball bounced off his hands. The ball fell to the head of Andrew Jacobson who headed home the tying goal. This was the first time Blake failed to catch or clear a ball from a corner and concede, but the marking wasn’t great from the defenders either. Jacobson was wide open on the goal. This is a problem the Union need to address, but Vancouver’s real threat is on their counter attack.
Transition Defense. The Union lost the game because of Vancouver’s counter attack struck twice in this game. One was from a box to box run from Kekuta Manneh, and the other was a good piece of transitional passing that lead to a goal. Vancouver’s transition game killed Philly. The Union looked tired as Vancouver kept pressing and quickly pushing the ball down the field; they could not keep possession for long, but when the Union did have possession they threw numbers forward. This was disastrous; Fabinho and Rosenberry were pushing too high and rushed to get back when possession was lost. This was the case on both transition goals scored by Vancouver. It was just not the Union’s day for pressing high, but they got their pressure right in their next game.
June 29th vs New York Red Bulls 2-1 win.
Survive and advance. The Union move on the quarterfinals in the US Open Cup after beating NY Red Bulls 2-1. Philly had a monster second half where their pressing helped them overcome a first half deficit. Two goals scored by Chris Pontius came from great passes by Ilshino (See both of them here: Goal #1 Goal #2). Under Jim Curtin the Union have had a stellar Open Cup record; they have only lost twice in the past two years, and that was in the final of both tournaments. This team continues to survive and advance, and who knows, maybe they will finally win it all this year.
The first half. The Union did not look like themselves in the first half. Off of a corner they allowed a second ball to bounce in the box and Mike Grella pounced on it and opened the scoring. Tranquillo Barnetta was once again, playing the number six role, but he kept moving forward. He took the same space as Roland Alberg and both suffered. Rookies Rosenberry and Yaro seemed off in the first half. The discombobulated Union only conceded once but looked bad. Thank God they turned it around in the second half and found a way to win.
Coaching ejections. Late in the second half Philadelphia’s assistant coach Mike Sorber was ejected. There was little said about why after the game, but that was probably because another coach was ejected from the game. New York’s head coach Jessie Marsch was ejected. He was mad about the refereeing and crossed the line. The ref threw him out, and Marsch threw balls literally. He picked up two balls on the sideline, he spiked one ball and threw the other. His spike got him a touchdown signal from his long-time friend and opposing head coach Jim Curtin; see the amazing picture proof of this here. As much of an amazing spectacle as it was, it was probably the ugliest thing that happened on the field.
July 2nd vs Houston Dynamo 1-0 loss.
The false 9. This game was the first time the Union started a game with a false number 9; they were without a striker because of injury, but looked decent. They played good combination play in the heat of Houston, and looked like they deserved to get a 0-0 draw from the game, but Chaco Maidana. Towards the end of the game striker CJ Sapong made his first appearance since before the Copa America break. He came back and looked like his normal self for the 27 minutes of the game. which is a good sign of things to come!
Officiating. I’m not going to blame the refs for the result of the game. A team that only has 2 shots on goal does not deserve to win. The reason the officiating was bad because of the second yellow shown to Yaro late in the game. The call was made by a ref who was nowhere near the play. Yaro stuck his leg out and the Houston attack made the most of it. From the refs vantage point it looks like a sure foul, but that vantage point was over 20 yards away. The take down is a foul as Yaro sticks out his leg and does make contact with the Houston attacker, but if the ref was with the play I doubt he shows Yaro a second yellow. Heres the play; decide for yourselves
Creavalle’s foul. In second half stoppage time Warren Creavalle gave away a foul just outside of the box. Then ex-Union player Christian “Chaco” Maidana stepped up and place the free kick into the top left corner of the net. His goal that was named goal of the week sent the Union home without any points. This type of foul is one that Creavalle has a Knack for committing, and is something the Union can not let happen if they want this season to progress even further.
The Union have had a bumpy Summer thus far, and it could get bumpier this weekend as DC United comes to town. The team look to keep their hot streak versus eastern teams alive against DC. But their rivals have just acquired lethal winger Lloyd Sam from the New York Red Bulls. He’s a player that has torched the Union in the past, and his quality service to a striker of Fabián Espíndola quality is enough to give this Union follower an ulcer. The Union need to get back to their consistent ways as this season moves into its second half. If they don’t they will most likely be in a lower position come playoff time.
Mandatory photo credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports