The Philadelphia Union are headed to the 2018 MLS playoffs! A convincing 5-1 win over Minnesota United secured the place in the playoffs and gave the Union 50 points on the season (breaking their record for most points in a season). Thanks to Montreal Impact’s 3-0 win over Columbus Crew SC, the Union now sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, two points above Columbus!
The Union had an up-and-down end to September. Philadelphia beat very good teams in Seattle and Sporting Kansas City, lost to Houston in the US Open Cup Final and drew Columbus in a crucial match. As the calendar swung to October, the Union knew they could secure their spot in the 2018 MLS Playoffs with a win over Minnesota United. On a beautiful Fall night, Talen Energy Stadium was packed full of fans and mascots as the Union secured a playoff berth.
From the blow of the first whistle, the Union were a cut above Minnesota. They dominated the ball, and the middle of the pitch. Minnesota looked comfortable in conceding possession, even though their defensive positioning has been atrocious this season. The Union exploited this, and scored early and often.
In the eighth minute Cory Burke got the scoring started. Some build up play found the foot of Borek Dockal. The Czech saw Cory Burke running off the shoulder of a loan Minnesota center back, and lofted the ball over the top. Burke used his momentum to poke the ball forward while boding his defender. Burke was in on goal, and put a shot that snuck under the dive of Minnesota keeper Bobby Shuttleworth. The Union had the early lead and were nowhere near done scoring.
The onslaught continued in the 17th minute. The Union had the Loons pinned into their own half, with Borek Dockal on the ball. Dockal drew defenders toward the middle and found a wide open Keegan Rosenberry on the right-wing. Keegan took a touch and rifled a low cross into the box. Alejandro Bedoya made a great run and got to the ball; he deflected it past Shuttleworth and gave the Union the 2-0 lead. With a secure lead the Union kept their foot on the gas.
In the 23rd minute the Union had a free kick from the center circle. While Minnesota was scrambling to get into position, Haris Medunjanin play the kick short to Keegan Rosenberry. He was allotted space in the center of the pitch and moved the ball forward. Fafa Picault made a great run between Minnesota’s center backs, and Rosenberry found him. Fafa let took a touch, taking the ball into the box, and fired a shot. Shuttleworth, who dove the wrong direction was beaten. The Union were up three before the quart-hour mark.
The game settled down for the last 20 minutes of the first half. Minnesota pushed forward a few times, but couldn’t put together many good oppertunities. Right before halftime, the Union were pushed the tempo again and were rewarded. Borek Dockal was on the ball in the middle of the pitch and drew defenders toward him. He played the ball wide right to Sapong. A slip from his marker let him run straight towards the Minnesota box. As the Loons scrambled to pressure him, Sapong found a wide open Picault on the left-wing. Fafa took a touch with his right foot, and waited to pick his spot. Minnesota defenders seemed locked in place, as Fafa placed a perfect shot. Picault opened his hips, and curled a shot past Shuttleworth. Not long after, the whistle blew for half time. The Union were up 4-0!
The second half started and Minnesota tried to get back into the match. They looked more organized, and looked to hit the Union on the counter. Under 10 minutes into the half Minnesota found their breakthrough.
Darwin Quintero showed a great bit of skill to dribble through the Union’s midfield to get into the attacking third.. He played a one-two with Angelo Rodríguez to get into the Union’s box. Quintero fired a shot; Andre Blake was in position to save, but the ball squeaked out from under him and into the net. Just like that, Minnesota was on the board, and looked dangerous.
Seven minutes after the goal, the Union brought in their closer. Ilsinho was finally fully healthy and came into the match. From the minute he stepped on the pitch he was a game changer. His moment was very good on the right-wing, and his combination play with right back Keegan Rosenberry was top-notch. Minnesota had a hard time keeping possession, and when the Union won it they looked to play Ilsinho moving forward. He was rewarded for his strong play in the 79th minute with a great goal.
As the game entered its final stage’s Ilsinho found himself on the ball in the middle of the pitch in the attacking third. He played the ball wide for Fafa to have him try to create a chance. There was nothing there for Fafa, so he played the ball right back to Ilsinho. With not much movement ahead of him, Ilsinho decided to create a chance for himself. He made one defender miss him, and took two touches. With no other options he fired a shot from about 30 yards out. The ball whipped to the lower right corner of the goal, dipping halfway through its flight, found the back of the net. The swerve and dip of the shot confused Shuttleworth, and the Union found their fifth goal of the night.
After 10 minutes of back-and-fourth play. Alan Chapman blew the final whistle. The Union clinched a spot in the playoffs!
The defensive shape bent but didn’t break. A major talking point heading into this match was the play of the defense; more specifically, the Union’s defensive shape. In past matches against Montreal and Houston, Philly’s defensive shape was compromised by counter attacks. This was a major fear against the strong Minnesota United counter attack. The shape bent at times but never broke open. While Trusty and McKenzie showed their youth at times, they did well to keep Minnesota at bay.
Super sub Ilsinho made his presence felt. Ilsinho changed the game when he came on in the second half, and could do so for Philadelphia moving forward. His injury concerns will likely keep him out of the starting 11, but having him in the 18 is enough to win games. Before he came on, Minnesota found some life as they scored their goal. Ilsinho offered a great outlet for the Union when they were on possession. The Brazilian’s skill is crucial for the Union’s success.
PLAYOFFS!?!? The Union are in MLS playoffs for the first time since 2016. They are not backing into the playoffs like they did two years ago. This will be the clubs third trip to MLS’ postseason, and the first time they have secured a spot there with two games to play. The Union now sit on 50 points, which is their highest points total ever in a season and there are still two games to play. With their win and Columbus’ loss, the Union jumped them and moved into fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Should they hold this place, they will play the knockout round playoff game at home vs Columbus. The Union now have two weeks off, their next match is October 21st at home vs New York Red Bulls.
Philadelphia Union Lineup:
Andre Blake; Ray Gaddis, Auston Trusty, Mark McKenzie, Keegan Rosenberry; Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya; Fafa Picault, Borek Dockal (Warren Creavalle 77′), CJ Sapong (Ilsinho, 61′); Cory Burke (Jay Simpson 86′).
Unused Subs: John McCarthy; Jack Elliot, Fabinho; Derrick Jones.
Head Coach: Jim Curtin.
Minnesota United Lineup:
Bobby Shuttleworth; Jerome Thiesson (Alexi Gomez, HT), Francisco Calvo, Brent Kallman, Michael Boxall; Miguel Ibarra, Fernando Bob, Rasmus Schüller (Ibson, 76′), Maximiniano (Harrison Heath, 70′), Darwin Quintero; Angelo Rodríguez.
Unused Subs: Matthew Lampson; Eric Miller, Wyatt Omsberg; Mason Toye.
Heda Coach: Adrian Heath.
PHI: 8′ Cory Burke (Borek Dockal)
PHI: 17′ Alejandro Bedoya (Keegan Rosenberry, Borek Dockal)
PHI: 23′ Fafa Picault (Keegan Rosenberry, Haris Medunjanin)
PHI: 44′ Fafa Picault (CJ Sapong)
MIN: 54′ Darwin Quintero (Angelo Rodriguez)
PHI: 79′ Ilsinho (Fafa Picault)
PHI: 56′ Alejandro Bedoya – Caution; unsporting behavior
PHI: 72′ Fafa Picault – Caution; unsporting behavior
MIN: 72′ Alexi Gomez – Caution; unsporting behavior
MIN: 75′ Fernando Bob – Caution; unsporting behavior
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Peace out Union fans!
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports