Union’s point on the road in frigid Vancouver was an important one

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The Union went into Vancouver know they were going to play a team who was already in form. Their win over New York Red Bulls in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions league showed their power. 16-year-old, Alphonso Davies, added to the list of prominent attackers Vancouver had from last season. Adding ex-Sounder Freddy Montero, and two-way player Brek Shea late in the offseason makes this team supper dangerous in the attack. The Union were up against a hot team in frigid Vancouver. 

If the six-hour flight and time difference wasn’t enough, the Union had to brave the snowy Pacific Northwest. Luckily BC Place has a roof that can close. The travel, time difference and weather proved to be deterrents to the Union’s goal of starting the season off with a win. However, the Philly toughness was enough to grind out a result. The Union pulled off a 0-0 draw in their season opener at Vancouver. 

Before you all start saying this is the same old Union who can’t score and get three points, I think it’s important to understand the security of a point in the road against a western conference contender. This is a huge point! The Union didn’t score, but they showed a resolve they’ll need this season. Let’s go in-depth into the events of the game understanding that this is a huge result! 

The Union’s opening day lineup was a strong one, with only one major surprise. The crafty Brazilian Ilsinho sustained a minor injury Saturday and was held out of the opener as a precaution. This meant Herbers got the start on the right, instead of the 10, and Bedoya manned the middle of the Union’s attack. This left the eight open for Derrick Jones, whose preseason play helped him earn the start.

This was a historic start for Jones and the Union, as Jones is the first truly Union homegrown; meaning that he went through the academy, Bethlehem Steel, and now the Union first team. The strong first team also saw the debuts of Jay Simpson, Haris Medunjanin, and Oguchi Onyewu. These new faces paired with the veterans on the squad made this team a tough one to break down. Let’s look at how the Union did in their first match of 2017. 

The game itself was a tale of two halves for the Union offensively, but they looked pretty good defensively throughout the game. Philly did a good job taking Vancouver out of their normal fast paced style of play. Instead, Vancouver kept the ball. They had so many back passes to set up tries at advancing through the Union’s stout defense. A few times Vancouver looked dangerous. Especially with Davies making runs down the Union’s right side. The creative teenager almost found a way through multiple times before Rosenberry and Onyewu halted him. The defense put out fires, while the offense failed to generate much in the attack.

The attack was anything but in the first half. The Union seemed content letting Vancouver keep possession and play slow. The usual hard press from the Union’s attackers wasn’t there. This could seem frustrating to some, but it’s actually very smart coaching. Vancouver live and die by their fast breaks. By not pressing high the Union were able to take that attack away from Vancouver. When Philly did get the ball they were cautious going forward, but the counter attack opened up in the second half.

Bedoya started a spark early in the second half. The Union were able to get chances forward through him and Jay Simpson for the first 15 minutes of the half. Some good efforts at goal were snuffed out, but the blue print for the rest of the game was laid out; defend and counter. This style of play was evident by the two subs they brought in. CJ Sapong came in for Simpson; he offers more hold up for players to move off him. Fafa Picault made his MLS debut for Pontius; the speedster was in to give the Union speed in their counter. In the end the Union’s style earned them a hard-fought point on the road. So who were the standout players from the opener?

The standout is obviously Derrick Jones his first start was full of breaking up Vancouver’s attacks through the middle. Neutralizing players like Manneh, Hurtado, Davies, Montero and Shea. His play earned him high praise from his coach, calling him the best player on the field. This praise was acknowledged by MLS too, naming Jones to “team of the week” bench. His play was outstanding, and is a bright spot for the Union going forward. His addition will make for some tough decisions on personnel moving forward.

Others that impressed were, Haris Medunjanin who looked good in starting Union transition starting counter attack in the second half. Rosenberry and Blake showed the continuation of strong form from 2016. Marquez was great as the Union’s last line of defense. And Onyewu showed his strength, which is what the Union were lacking on their back line last season. Here’s him body slamming a sixteen-year-old.

https://twitter.com/TotalMLS/status/838600339632828417

Herbers, Pontius and Simpson did okay, but the lack of the attacking prowess was the reason their games were not so productive. The two subs brought possession and speed to the counter attack, and helped complete the securing of points. The Union players did well, now their focus switches to getting the attack going in the home opener.

Overall, the Union’s great defensive work held a dangerous team at bay. The offense caught some fire in the second half, and will continue to progress as they gel this season. They have a tall task going forward with Toronto at home and Orlando away being their next two fixtures. Two strong eastern conference opponents await, and this strong start has the Union poised to take the control of the east.

Be sure to come back to Philly Sports Network for a preview of the home opener vs Toronto, and a round of MLS from the first week. Until then, peace out Union fans.

 

Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

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