Yesterday we were able to watch the Philadelphia Union’s second preseason game which took place at 3 PM against the Chicago Fire in sunny Florida. For the most part, this article will cover the first sixty minutes of play when both teams had their full-strength teams. However, really quickly, I would like to touch on the second phase of play involving most of the newcomers from the academy. Here’s a look into how the Homegrowns shined and other takeaways.
My first thoughts are Paxton Aaronson is quite good on the ball, Nathan Harriel is decent going forward and defending but not great at either yet, and Bendik and Collin should only play in dire times.
Paxton moves in out of tight spaces very quickly, almost as if he has glue on his boots. However, his decision-making was rather suspect. When he did make the right decision it only came off about 70% of the time. I’m am sure he will improve and catch up to the speed he needs to play at to be a regular in the MLS, but I’m not sure it will happen this season.
Remember the name Nathan Harriel
Now for Harriel, I could see him breaking into the starting 11 at some point, as I was not overly impressed with Mbaizo. Harriel did some good things such as playing balls down the line to streaking forwards and recovering back and sliding the ball away to safety. He did make some mistakes. However, he’s young and already almost as good as Mbaizo going forward. The homegrown is already better than him defensively, so I expect to see him out on the pitch with the first team sooner rather than later.
The “dynamic duo”
As for the “dynamic duo” of Collin and Bendik, there isn’t much if any good to discuss. Bendik conceded the only goal. Even though there wasn’t much for him to do he and Collin were both in at the time. Collin is slow and not positionally aware enough to make up for his lack of pace. Bendik is what he is, a third-string keeper and nothing more.
Takeaways from the starting XI
Now on to the starters and the takeaways I had from the first 60 minutes. There were some issues on the backline, with the Captain and moving the ball wide. There were also some positives in the ways Fontana and De Vries played!
Issues on the backline
The first thing I noticed was how susceptible the Union is to the counterattack. Both of Philly’s outside backs (Mbaizo and Wagner) like to get forward almost too much. This leaves The Union’s CB’s either 2v2 or 2v1 depending on the opposing team’s formation. Considering The Union does not have much pace on the backline (should change once Findlay arrives) this is a problem. Given Philly’s high press tactic, if another team breaks the Union’s line, they are in on an easy counter that tends to be 3, 4, or even 5v2 depending on where they recover the ball. A remedy for this could be having Martinez sit deeper when Philly has possession to increase numbers back if they give the ball away.
To piggyback off that, the defensive line, specifically the center backs, had real trouble playing out of the back. They attempted to pass up the field a number of times and were unsuccessful. Most of the time giving the ball away and trying to play pretty when it wasn’t on. Now credit to Chicago and their high press as it worked well in stopping the Union from playing how they wanted to. However, all teams are going to see they struggle with this facet of the game and adjust. The Union either needs to vastly improve in this area of playing out of the back or seek out different ways to push the ball up the field. Whether it be long balls to a holdup forward, or having Ale and Monteiro get wide in possession to give more options to the CB’s.
Could the captain be losing a step?
Another issue I noticed which was sad but expected was how slow Ale Bedoya looked. He’s 33-years-old so a slowdown was to be expected. Even though he can still give a good 65-70 minutes per game what happens when he’s injured or needs a sub? I don’t see good enough depth at that position which could be detrimental to the Union’s season whether Ale stays healthy all year or not. Hopefully, one of the homegrowns (Jack McGlynn or Cole Turner) can step up and spell Ale at times. Or, maybe a signing is on the cards for his long-term replacement?
Issues out wide
Moving to the wide areas, the crossing was probably the aspect of the game that bothered me the most. On too many occasions they got into good crossing areas only to play the low cross very slowly and horribly placed. De Vries, Mbaizo, Fonatano, Ale, Wagner, and Monteiro were the main perpetrators of these poor crosses with Mbaizo also being very inconsistent with his aerial balls.
Fontana and De Vries stood out
To end Philly actually has some positives! Starting with the two youngsters as Fontana and De Vries were bright spots in an otherwise disappointing performance overall. They weren’t involved as much as I would have liked. However, when they got on the ball they made things happen. They played through balls and ran at the defense making the Chicago midfielders and defenders uncomfortable. De Vries did miss a fairly easy chance, but he will get that finishing touch with time and preparation. Remember he isn’t typically a forward so there are some aspects of his game he needs to tweak to adjust to his new position.
De Vries and Fontana also helped lead the counterattacks at a surprisingly quick pace considering they didn’t have an overly pacey forward on the field which will change and help these counters once Santos returns. Monteiro was also very solid as per usual and was also vital on times when the Union both wanted to counter and the times when they decided to slow the game down.
All in all, it was a lackluster performance. With Santos and Burke missing, El Brujo taken out early due to injury, and Findlay yet to arrive, I still have hope for a good season. However, I am not getting my hopes up in regard to a repeat of last year unless the Union brings in some players come in the summer window.
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union