The Philadelphia Union have been able to win games in the group stage of the MLS is Back Tournament by slim margins while not playing their best soccer. In their Round of 16 match against New England Revolution, Philadelphia played the best they have all tournament, and found a way to win another match 1-0!
This match was a tight one between two sides that were very organized. The Union had their first choice starting 11 on the pitch with Jose “El Brujo” Martinez back from his suspension. New England was without their star attacking midfielder Carles Gil. This forced Gustavo Bou to play centrally at the number 10 position for the Revs. New England’s gameplan under head coach Bruce Arena has been to keep possession to breakdown their opponent. It was clear from early on that the Union would not allow that.
While the Union had the better share of possession for the first half, they also were very disjointed. Jim Curtin spoke on this in his postgame press conference, he said at times Philly had two blocks of five, one in defense and one on offense. without the connection in the midfield, the Union relied on long balls to try to create chances. When this didn’t work, New England was able to counter.
New England had one instance where they broke the Union’s lines Tajon Buchanan was sent in on goal, but Union keeper Andre Blake was able to rush out get his fingertips on the shot to push it wide.
As the first half drained to a close, a Union build-up was filtered back to left-back Kei Wagner. Wagner took his space and moved toward the Revs 18, and saw a great run from Sergio Santos. Wagner played him into the box and Santos’ first touch set him up for a shot on goal. Unfortunately, Sergio pulled the shot wide in what was essentially the last kick of the half and the match was nil-nil at the break.
As the second half kicked off, it was clear that both teams made adjustments. For Philadelphia, they broke up their banks of five to try to play into their counter-attacking style when they dispossessed the Revs. New England came out in the second half determined to possess the ball, and get it to their attackers Buska and Bou for chances on goal. New England dominated the first 20 minutes, while the Union were determined to bend yet not break, always looking for the chance to counter. In the 63rd minute, the Union found their counter-attacking opportunity and made New England pay.
In a sequence that looked like a New England fast break. A wayward pass was intercepted by Kai Wagner at midfield. The German left-back moved forward and saw Jamiro Monteiro who had moved to the center of the pitch. The ball was played to Monteiro who was allowed time to pick his head up and see runs in front of him. One of those runs was from Sergio Santos off the shoulder of the New England defense. Jamiro dinked a perfect ball over the top to find the run of Santos. The Brazilian took a perfect touch and then blasted home a left-footed shot past the onrushing Matt Turner. The Union led 1-0 and did not look back!
For the rest of the match, Philadelphia was content to sit and look for counter-attacks. Not long after their first goal, they went into a water break, where Jim Curtin rallied his boys to stay disciplined and look for more counter-attacking chances. While Philly was not able to capitalize on another counter-attack, they were able to stay sound defensively.
The Union had five blocked shots and was able to keep the Revs from having a real attacking threat in the second half. Their bend but don’t break approach worked, and at the end of the second half, the Union actually found themselves on the ball more than New England. They frustrated New England, and their head coach Bruce Arena. As the minutes ticked off the clock it was evident he was not happy with his team or the officiating. As the final whistle blew, Arena was actually given a red card for abusive language toward a referee.
The Union are on the quarterfinals!
The Union was able to grind out another win. This is their third one-goal win in four matches of the MLS is Back Tournament! While the attack can still do better it’s clear this side is able to structure themselves well. The chemistry from the backline, and having a keeper playing at an MVP level is what is needed to move on in a knockout style tournament. If the Union can continue to defend well, and find more ways to score goals they will be hard to beat.
Philly will know their opponent after a late-night match on Sunday night. Philly will take on the winner of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Sporting Kansas City!
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Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports