Philadelphia Union drop more points on the road in 4-1 loss to LAFC

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The Philadelphia Union have been on a high as of late. They enshrined Sebastien Le Toux in their ring of honor and beat up on the Vancouver Whitecaps 4-0. This result pushed Philadelphia over the redline into the sixth playoff spot. Borek Dockal, the Union’s most expensive player in team history, made headlines as well. The Czech won MLS’ player of the week honors, and scored a perfect 10 rating whoscored.com. All of these highs created the chance for a humbling on a trip to expansion side Los Angeles FC. The Philadelphia Union had a hard time playing their style of soccer as they fell to LAFC by the score of 4-1.

Before the game

As the Union readied themselves for LAFC, they did so without two of their best. Borek Dockal would not be with the team due to the birth of his child. Haris Medunjanin was serving the last game on his suspension from his explosion in Atlanta earlier in the month of June. Being without the two put the Union at a huge disadvantage in the middle of the pitch. Ilsinho and Warren Creavalle were called upon to carry the burden of finding ways through LAFC’s swarming press, and stopping LAFC attacks.

Los Angeles was without players as well. Their star Carlos Vela is away with Mexico at the World Cup. They also decided not to play young Uruguayan Diego Rossi. His ability to create attacks out of nothing have helped propel LAFC high up the western conference standings. Even without these two out of their lineup LA’s attack was poised to take it to the young Union back line.

First Half

In the first 25 minutes the game was very open. Both sides had chances to score, but neither did. The Union tried to get into their rhythm of high pressing, and quick attacking. However they found no such rhythm. A golden opportunity came early for the Union. CJ Sapong, who has had a poor year so far to say the least, was played in on goal by Bedoya. The strikers first touch let him down, and the ball was saved by keeper Tyler Miller. That set the tone for the Union’s finishing on the day.  After that chance LAFC ramped up their attack. It was clear that the Union’s young center backs, Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie, were in for a tough day from the start.

In the 25th minute, Trusty was trying to play out of the back. He was dispossessed by LAFC’s Latif Blessing. Blessing found a streaking striker Adama Diomande who had himself a game. Dio, as Diomande goes by, was able to get to the ball in front of Mark McKenzie. Dio danced on the ball, and found an angle to get a shot off. The shot flew past the outstretched arms of Andre Blake and into the net. This goal lit a fire under the Union.

Two minutes after the goal the Union moved the ball down the field, and won a corner kick. Ilsinho sent in a great corner, finding the head of Alejandro Bedoya. Ale headed the chance to the back post, but the chance was cleared off the line by Joao Moutinho. This goal line clearance took the wind out of the Union’s sails.

As the half continued LAFC had all the possession and momentum. In the 43rd minute they made Philadelphia look silly. A possession that started at the midfield line went forward for LA. Five passes led to Dio’s second goal. On the play Union defenders were totally reactionary, sitting back waiting for LAFC players to run at them. Instead LA found open passing lanes between the stagnant defenders.

Just as the first half was dying the Union pulled one back. Marcus Epps found some room to operate down the right-wing at the 45 minute mark. He sent a cross into the box, Tyler Miller came out to get a hand to it, but it popped up to a streaking Fafa Picault who hammered the chance home. The half ended 2-1, which gave some life to the Union.

Second Half

Nine minutes into the second half LAFC dissected the Union again passing through their lines. A cross was popped up and Dio beat Andre Blake to the ball. Dio had the first hat-trick in LAFC history.

The second half was a clinic put on by LAFC. There was too much space to operate between the Union’s lines creating chance after chance after chance for LA. The Union’s lack of ability to keep the ball with out Borek Dockal in the team was apparent, but the back line struggles may have doomed Philly had Borek been there. Sapong continued to struggle in the second half.

Cory Burke eventually came on for him, but it was too late on for an impact to be had. The Union also brought on Accam for Epps and Fontana for Ilsinho. Accam used his speed to create a few chances but was often called offside, or lacked the killer instinct to crate an actual chance. Fontana came on for the Union in league play for the first time since the middle of May, but with only 10 minutes on the pitch he had little impact.

LAFC had the three points sured up in second half stoppage time. Mark McKenzie was dispossessed and LAFC had the numbers advantage. Lee Nguyen had a chance at goal that Blake snuffed out, however the rebound was there for whoever could get to it. Latif Blessing ran on the ball and tapped it home. The game ended 4-1 in favor of LAFC.

Three Takeaways

Sapong’s Play

One glaring issue the Union have had this season is getting production from their striker. CJ Sapong has been a shell of himself this season as opposed to last. He has scored just two times on 31 shots (10 on goal) this season. Cory Burke has shown well with less minutes, he has also scored two goals but on 17 shots (4 on goal).

It’s clear to see that Sapong has not earned his starting spot at this point of the season. There were times in the match where he wouldn’t even contest LAFC’s center back Ciman for 50/50 headers in the box. The concern here is that Sapong has not produced being the unprecedented starter. Cory Burke may not have more goals, but he has looked better off the ball than Sapong. At this point it would shock me if the Union don’t promote Burke to the permanent starting spot, but I’m not holding my breath.

Back line struggles

In an intimidating place where the opposition’s game plan was to dissect the Union’s young back line, Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie struggled. Bob Bradley coached his LAFC side to make the young center backs scramble and take advantage of their mistakes. This will be another teachable moment for the young pair. While it may be a ding for their confidence, the young pair will have to bounce back quick to take on Atlanta at home next week!

Is the Union’s road form is going to doom them yet again?

As the Union head to their midway point of their 2018 MLS campaign, they post a lower record than each of the past two seasons. Most of their losses/dropped points come from their road form. This issue that has been hanging around the Union since their 2014 season. If the Union are shooting for the 6th or 5th seed in the east, then they will have to play a road playoff game.

Their poor road performances has created the mentality of playing differently on the road than they do at home. The Union play to not lose on the road, and play to win at home. This mentality has created a huge problem for Philadelphia. The change of Earnie Stewart leaving after July, and the implementation of a new Sporting Director and possibly a new coach (I don’t see this happening until the offseason), will be the only thing that can change this destructive mentality.

Eastern Conference Standings at the midway point

With the Union’s loss and other teams in the east winning, the Union drop from 6th to 8th in the eastern conference. Now at the halfway point the Union are where they should be. Impressive wins at home and poor road form put them behind the rest of the competing pack in their stacked conference. With 17 games to go, the Union will have to find ways to win on the road should they want to make anything out of this MLS campaign. Having a full strength squad, and possibly taking advantage of the summer transfer window, may be enough to help the Union stay competitive for the second half of the season.

Highlights

Box Score:

Lineups:

Philadelphia Union:

Andre Blake; Keegan Rosenberry, Mark McKenzie, Auston Trusty, Raymon Gaddis; Warren Creavalle, Alejandro Bedoya; Marcus Epps (David Accam 62’), Ilsinho (Anthony Fontana 82’), Fafa Picault; CJ Sapong (Cory Burke 72’)

Substitutes not used: John McCarthy; Jack Elliott, Fabinho, Derrick Jones

Los Angeles FC:

Tyler Miller; Steven Beitashour, Walker Zimmerman, Laurent Ciman, Joao Moutinho; Benny Feilhaber (Calum Mallace 87’), Eduard Atuesta (Aaron Kovar 54’), Mark-Anthony Kaye; Latif Blessing, Adama Diomande (Shaft Brewer 75’), Lee Nguyen

Substitutes not used: Charlie Lyon; Jordan Harvey, Dejan Jakovic, Tristan Blackmon

Scoring Summary:

LAFC – Adama Diomande (Latif Blessing) 25’
LAFC – Adama Diomande (Mark-Anthony Kaye, Benny Feilhaber) 43’
PHI – Fafa Picault (unassisted) 45’
LAFC – Adama Diomande (Latif Blessing, Aaron Kovar) 55’
LAFC – Latif Blessing (unassisted) 90’+6’

Disciplinary Summary:

LAFC – Steven Beitashour (caution) 39’
LAFC – Lee Nguyen (caution) 85’

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Peace out Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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