The post-match mood inside the press conference room at Talen Energy Stadium didn’t quite match the atmosphere throughout the rest of the stadium following Philadelphia Union’s 2-1 victory over Houston Dynamo – a win which helped Philadelphia regain sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference. Why? Philly was sloppy and Head Coach Jim Curtin noticed.
Normally, a negative tone during a Jim Curtin press conference following a Union match would indicate a disappointing loss. But not last night. Curtin’s club won 2-1 but the way in which they found the W wasn’t exactly pretty. And Curtin was quick to point that out.
“Not our best,” said Curtin right from the start of his interview. “I think our talent level on our roster is too good for a performance like tonight.”
However, at this point of the season, a win is a win and three points is really all that matters, right? Not quite.
“If we want to now be mentioned in the elite teams in this league, a performance like tonight is nowhere near good enough. We weren’t sharp on the ball, we were a bit sluggish,” said Curtin. “We took a big step back with the first half – one of our worst halves. We want more consistency and to be playing at our maximum with eight games left. I don’t want us to be a middle of the road average team.”
If you take the entire history of the club into account, a moment like last night is a rarity and perhaps a major milestone for Curtin himself. He and his team earned a victory but were happy to be critical of themselves because they know they belong in the upper tier of MLS. Which is a fresh feeling for Curtin, his players, and Union fans in general.
“I want us to take a step up and get some respect because the players deserve that,” said Curtin. “Performances like tonight are dangerous. We want to push up into the upper echelon of the league.”
Kacper Przybylko did his best to fuel Philadelphia to victory, tallying the opening goal of the match and remaining hot (seventh goal in the last nine matches). Przybylko utilized some great finishing skills when he slotted home the 18th-minute goal thanks to a team-leading ninth assist from midfielder Haris Medunjanin.
Despite the overall lackluster performance, Philly’s top goal scorer remained in form and now sits just six goals behind the club record for most goals in a season – held by CJ Sapong (17 goals in 2017). Other positives include strong showings from both Ilsinho and Jamiro Monterio as second-half substitutes and the atmosphere throughout the stadium reminded some of the 2011 season when Philadelphia last made a deep playoff run.
“I first want to thank the fans, I think they really pushed us tonight,” said Curtin.
The noise generated throughout the stands was noticed by many, with videos emerging on social media throughout the latter stages of the second half.
PSN’s Tim Lovenguth captured the scene below.
The River End was buzzing and their energy-filtered throughout the rest of the stadium. The result: booming sound, smiling faces, and an electric vibe.
The view from the press box was even better, with the noise creating a first-class atmosphere. Philly fans perhaps have finally turned a corner from the club’s sour history and for once are filled with hope. Their joy was on full display Sunday night in Chester.
“I’m pleased with it,” said center back Jack Elliott of his goal and the team’s win. “The most important thing at this time of the year is winning, and sometimes you have to win ugly which is exactly what today was. It’s important to us and where we want to go forward.”
Elliott’s goal was a result of pure grit. The lanky defender was inside Houston’s goal box attempting to free himself for a header following a short corner kick in the 78th minute. A ball from Monteiro came sailing toward both Elliott and fellow center back Aurelien Collin. The initial collision sent the ball toward the frame, where Elliott remained close by. The ball knocked off the crossbar, onto the forehead of Elliott, and into the back of the net.
“I didn’t really know too much about the first play but I was in the area,” said Elliott. “I saw it go over the goalkeeper and then I was just waiting to see what was going to happen like everyone else – waiting to see if it’s going to go over, so I just stayed and luckily it fell in the right place.”
Elliott scored his second goal of the season and his fifth career MLS goal with the header and his celebration seemed to signify a bit of relief along with exaltation considering the goal was a game-winner.
Post-match, Union captain Alejandro Bedoya continued his ‘man of the people’ ways and inked his name on a new piece of artwork from the Sons of Ben. Just one week removed from reaching international news headlines, Bedoya returned home to Chester, received a raucous ovation, and captained his side to a very important home victory.
The passion throughout the team is real. It’s evidenced each week. And Bedoya is a major factor behind this 2019 Union team’s emergence as a new elite MLS club.
So despite not putting on a perfect performance Sunday night, Philly notched yet another win and set a new club record. What record? With a 13-6-7 record, Philadelphia is now six games above the .500 mark for the first time in club history.
Perhaps we ought to think more like Kacper then. “I don’t care how it went in, but it went in,” said Kacper of his early goal. “If you’re near the top [of the table], you win games like this but if you’re further down a bit in the table you probably lose this game. So, who cares? Three points and they’re very important.”
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union