The Philadelphia Union began yesterday’s season finale match on the wrong foot and suffered mightily. Veteran midfielder Haris Medunjanin spoke honestly about the groups’ end to the season. He, like many Union fans, is bothered.
Without their two most indispensable players in team captain Alejandro Bedoya and leading goal scorer Kaper Przybylko, Philadelphia lacked unity and urgency Sunday afternoon. The opening 30 minutes left many in attendance in a worried state, wondering how a team can look so flat to start such a highly-anticipated match.
“When you don’t play disciplined against good teams, they will tear you apart,” said Haris Medunjanin – who rocked the captain’s armband in place of Bedoya (muscle injury). “We were not on the same page in the first 30 minutes. We need to play as a team.”
Medunjanin’s post-match comments solidified the main takeaway from yesterday’s loss: the team looked disjointed, flat, and out of sync.
The last-minute lineup change which placed Przybylko on the injured list shortly after pre-game warmups began may be one influential reason for the slow start, but ultimately as professional athletes, the requirement to step in and deliver at all times is an expectation. Last night, without their two best, the Union did the opposite. They fell short.
“We are already in the playoffs, yet we are playing like we are fighting for the playoffs,” said Medunjanin of the timid start to the match. “This cannot happen. The lines were too far from each other. Everything looked so bad.”
Philadelphia’s main catalyst for success this season has been its ability to press effectively as one big group. That means if one midfielder darts forward to apply pressure on the ball, the rest step up as well. This jams up the lines and causes a lot of trouble for opponents trying to move the ball away from the press.
But if just one player isn’t tuned in with the rest of the group when trying to press collectively, Philadelphia suffers.
“Everyone needs to work,” said Medunjanin. “We cannot have two or three players chilling and doing nothing. It’s impossible. If one player on our team is not doing their job, we are a bad team. When you don’t give 100% ever game then any team can beat you either home and away.”
It’s a rather harsh lesson for the Union to face as the 2019 regular season comes to a conclusion. When you consider the accomplishments this group has under their belt from the last nine months, Sunday’s flop stings a bit more than usual.
“The thing that is bothering me is that we had a good season but we ended like this,” said Medunjanin. “[NYCFC] came in the first 30 minutes like they were on vacation… they could do whatever they wanted. We were not sharp enough and didn’t finish our chances.”
The question now becomes: Should a sense of worry be on the minds of Union fans? Is this recent skid of two-straight losses for the first time since the opening two weeks of the season a sign of regression?
Perhaps a slight regression is reasonable. But perhaps not as well. Especially if you factor in the injuries to Bedoya and Przybylko and the fact that the Columbus match was at the tail end of a grueling road trip.
But if you dig a bit deeper than just the results of the last two matches, you may find solid reason to be concerned.
After match 34, teammates not playing together on the pitch is the last thing anyone wants to hear from a veteran leader. The real question becomes: Can the Union find a way to regroup internally while ignoring the outside noise?
“We need to play as a team,” said Medunjanin. “We need to learn from this. If you don’t get chances and you don’t score you’re going to lose.”
Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports