The Philadelphia Union opened up their phase one restart of the MLS regular season on the road against the New England Revolution. The fourth-place Union (8 points) were in for a physical match against the ninth-place Revs (6 points), which resulted in a split of the points.
The Union came out in their formation of choice a 4-4-2 diamond. The only change from their normal starting 11 at the MLS is Back Tournament is that Matt Real came in at left-back for Kai Wagner who was out of the 18 due to a leg injury. Homegrown’s Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie are still starters for the Union for now, as their interest overseas grows.
The Revolution were without head coach Bruce Arena, who is serving his red card suspension that he received after his side was knocked out of the MLS is back Tournament by the Union. They lined up in a 4-2-3-1. Newcomer Matt Polster came in next to Kelyn Rowe in the holding midfield spots. Gustavo Bou was forced to the playmaking midfield spot as their normal number 10 Carles Gil is still out with an injury.
It was clear from the start that both were getting back up to speed after about two weeks off.
As the match began, both teams looked to play their game. Philly came out flying, and New England looked to impose their will physically. in the first seven minutes, Sergio Santos and Jamiro Monteiro both needed treatment after taking knocks from New England players.
It was New England who had the first real chance, as Gustavo Bou rifled a shot on net that Andre Blake was able to push aside after making a miraculous diving save. It was clear that the Revs were on the front foot after that.
Some nice interplay came from the home side on multiple occasions inside the first 25 minutes. They were never able to find the finishing touch, hitting the post or finding a Union defender. They also had many corner kicks, the Union were able to thwart all, but New England was able to keep Philly in its own half for the most part.
On one occasion the Union were able to break from a corner. Jamiro Monteiro started a break and had numbers forward. He found Brenden Aaronson wide left. He finds Kacper Przybylko who puts a good shot on goal, but it was stoned by New England’s Matt Turner.
At the end of the first half, New England put on more pressure but was not able to find a breakthrough. That was largely thanks to the efforts of Mark McKenzie. He disrupted many of the New England attacks and was definitely the MVP for the Union in the first half of the match.
Heading into the half, the Union had 52 percent of possession. They still looked their best on a counter-attack, and when they had possession, Philly struggled to find the right pass in the attack. the match went to half time 0-0.
The second half would prove to be more of the same.
As the second half kicked off New England looked to pick up where they left off heading into half time. A flurry of chances came in and the Union stood tall to stop them. Philly looked to break that pressure with a counter that was almost lethal.
Jamiro Monteiro took the ball upfield and found the run of Kacper Przybylko. Kacper picked up his head and saw the run of Brenden Aaronson into the box. Aaronson was in on goal and tried to round Revs keeper Matt Turner. A little chip was made by Aaronson, but Turner was able to get just enough on it to keep the ball out of the net.
The teams continued to go back and forth. Union left-back Matt Real almost made the Union go up with a rocket of a shot that was pushed wide by Turner. The game shifted a bit when the Union made their first change.
Ilsinho came in for Sergio Santos in the 63rd minute and the Union shifted from their 4-4-2 diamond to a 4-2-3-1. Martinez and Bedoya sat in the holding midfield spots, while Aaronson moved wide left, Monteiro moved to the 10, and Ilsinho went to his mark wide right. With the Union conceding more possession they tried to widen the field on the Rev’s and exploit wide spaces. Unfortunately, for Philly New England made changes to counteract this.
One minute later, New England brought on Tajon Buchanan for Teal Bunbury and DeJaun Jones for Brandon Bye. These changes gave New England some more speed out wide. It proved good enough to stop Union counter attacks.
Even though New England made those changes. Aaronson, Ilsinho, and Monteiro combined well to create some half-chances, but there was no finishing touch on the chances created.
As the match progressed, the Union looked to turn the tie again with a double change. Wooten came on for Przybylko and Mbaizo came on for Real. This shifted Ray Gaddis to left-back while Mbaizo played on the right. Wooten was asked to hold play up as a lone striker. The shift in structure actually played better for New England.
With Gaddis on the left, the Revs attacked him. Ray seemed out of sorts at times, with no help on his left shoulder like he would have on the right side. New England tried to attack his side and created some chances, but poor finishing cost the Revs a chance at a win.
The last five minutes were hectic for both sides. New England were inches away from a win, if not for a perfectly timed Jack Elliot slide stopped his chance. The Union could have called game with the last kicks of the ball. Ilsinho had the ball on the right-wing and neared the New England box. He played a one-two with late sub, Warren Creavalle, and was in on goal. A lunging effort from New England center back, Andrew Farrell thwarted the Union’s chances.
The match ended nil-nil, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to take from the match.
The homegrown centerback with transfer links to European clubs was huge for the Union in this game. He constantly put out fires and looked cool as a cucumber in dangerous situations. His stock seems to be rising every minute of every game he plays for the Union, and we’ll have to enjoy it while we can.
Union made intentional subs
In the MLS is Back Tournament, and for most of this coaching career with the Union, Jim Curtin has failed to make subs in times where the game needed something different. That was not the case tonight. We all knew Ilsinho was going to come in the match at some point, but his contributions were not the only shift in tactics. The addition of Mbazio and Wooten with about 15 minutes to play was a good call. The fresh legs allowed Philly to offer something different, and even though it didn’t pay off with a goal, it was nice to see the intent to try something to get all three points especially in a road game.
The final product is still missing
The Union are a fun team to watch when they can pull off instances of the beautiful game, the problem for them is that there are nights where they just cannot do that. Philly is most comfortable in transition moments; moving from defending to attacking. The problem with that is that their counter is not always perfectly polished. They’re missing a final pass or a finish to reward their great build-up.
On the flip side, when the Union are forced to try to break down opponents they freeze. Without Ilsinho on the field, Philly has no playmaker to break teams down. Their chips and crosses into the box lead nowhere.
These issues will continue to plague Philly as more and more teams see how to frustrate them. New England was able to do this to Philly tonight at times. Jim Curtin and the Boys in Blue will have to find ways to counteract this problem fast as their next match is in five days against the New York Red Bulls!
A point is on the road and a clean sheet is still a good result as Jim Curtin mentioned, after two weeks off the defense is showing it’s the real deal; if the offense can catch fire in the coming weeks, we could be seeing a Philly team competing for a top spot in the eastern conference.
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union