The Philadelphia Union heads to the early-season international break on a high after defeating Portland 3-0. This game could have been a lot closer than the scoreline indicates. One specific thing helped the Union cut down Timbers.
Union cut down Timbers 3-0
Portland entered this match with 10 players listed as out on the injury report. However, they came in on an impressive two-game win streak. Gio Savarese had his team up for the challenge of keeping up with other teams out west. In a game where both sides played the same style counter-attacking style of soccer, there had to be something that set one of the two apart. This match was pretty much even across the board when you look at stats, so why was Philly able to win 3-0? That would be because of the execution of set pieces.
Philly scored all three of their goals off of set-piece opportunities. They were able to beat their marks and were the quickest to a second ball if there was one. This is the sole reason the Union got these three points.
Goal one: perfectly placed free kick
The Union has struggled to find a lot of success from dead-ball situations in the past. However, through the first eight games of the 2021 MLS season and the four CCL games, Philly has been able to look dangerous when they get a free-kick or corner. This first goal against Portland shows just how dangerous they can be.
A free-kick was awarded to the Union about 40 yards from the goal. Philly brought all of their big guys forward for the opportunity with Kai Wagner over the ball. Next to Wagner was Mbaizo on the left and Monteiro on the right. This drew three Portland players away from the line of defense they set.
Speaking of that line of defense for Portland, it was more like two clusters. The Timbers had a cluster of four defenders guarding three Union players and a cluster of two guarding three Union players. Kai Wagner saw that the Union had a man unmarked, who just happened to be team-leading scorer Kacper Przybylko.
Wagner put a perfect ball into the box that made Portland keeper Ketterer come off his line. The ball was put right on Przybylko’s head and he had an open net to hit as Ketterer wasn’t getting to the ball first. It was 1-0 Union off of great awareness and execution to make the team that made the mistake pay. The next two goals came from wanting it more than the opposition.
Goal two: flicked on corner routine and perfect runs
Philly has worked some cool corner kick routines over the past few years thanks to flick-on headers. Usually, they’ll have Alejandro Bedoya run near to the post and have him flick on to find another runner in the box. The idea is to draw defenders away from their marks to allow for a tap in goal. Philly did this but in a different way against Portland.
In this instance, the Union got their goal thanks to another perfect ball from Wanger and a perfect run from Przybylko. Wagner found the head of Przybylko who was allowed to rise up and see his options. He was just outside the six-yard box and couldn’t get a lot of power to get it past Ketterer on the near post or place it far post. So his next best option was to flick on.
Portland had no players on either post and Ketterer was staying at his ear post thanks to the run by Przybylko. Philly had two players inside the six-yard box. Jack Elliot and Sergio Santos we both being defended, but it didn’t seem like their markers were expecting Kacper Przybylko to flick the ball toward them. This is exactly what Kacper did.
The ball found the foot of Elliot and then the foot of Santos. Both players were able to redirect the ball, but Santos’ redirection ended up in the net it was 2-0 Union just after the half-hour mark!
The Union thought they got the third right before halftime off of another corner that was flicked on by Jack Elliot to Leon Flach. Flach put the ball in the net but was ruled to have controlled the ball with his hand to set up his shot. Philly went into halftime up 2-0 and continued to make Portland pay on set pieces.
Goal three: being the first to the second ball
In the past, Philly has been called out for the effort they put into Winning second balls especially off of restarts. It seems like that trend is no longer happening. Three runs this team makes on set pieces now are matching the level of service that is coming to them which could be huge for this team moving forward. The effort was definitely there against Portland on the third goal.
17 minutes into the second half the Union found their third goal off of another corner kick. This time Wagner let Monteiro send a ball into the box. It was perfectly weighted for a delayed run by Second half substitute Cory Burke.
Burke ran by two Portland defenders to get his head to the ball which forever a reaction save from Ketterer. The ball stayed in the six-yard box and everyone watched it except for Burke. He never stopped his run even after heading the ball; the momentum took him right to the rebound. It looked as if Burke was trying to get the ball around Ketterer, but with little power. As the ball trickled to the goal line, Jack Elliot and a Portland defender rushed to it. Elliot got their first and tapped it in. An east goal for him and secured three goals and three points for Philly.
The hustle and determination to score on three set pieces in three different ways is a huge confidence boost for Philly. They executed perfectly and now have some time off.
Three other takeaways
Andre Blake and the backline is still spectacular
Andre Blake and the backline have only allowed one goal in the past five matches. Blake is good for at least one moment of brilliance per game that denying the opposition and the backline is very sound.
They may still miss players like Mark McKenzie and Ray Gaddis, but they are still hard to break down. If they can keep this momentum going against some of the stronger attacks in MLS they will stay near the top of the east!
Paxten Aaronson’s debut
On a day where his older brother started for the senior US Men’s National team against Switzerland, Paxten Aaronson made his MLS debut in the 89th minute. He had little involvement, but for a few moments, it looked like Brenden was out on the pitch again. The brothers move so alike when getting to positions to attack.
Union head coach Jim Curtin said he was always going to put Paxten in this match, but said the crowd helped bully him into doing it. Paxten is his own player and shouldn’t be compared to his brother too much. However, it’s hard not to when Paxten is praised to be even better than Brenden.
2nd in the east; Three weeks off
The Union finishes this early season sprint on 14 points. That is good enough for second place in the eastern conference, just three points off of New England for the top spot. The season is a long one and we aren’t even a fourth of the way through it yet, but this Philly team looks like they’re going to be at or near the top of the east in 2021.
Now the Union gets a three-week break from MLS play. Some of their players will be playing in this international window for their countries, but their next action for Philly won’t come until June 20th at Atlanta United! The schedule comes fast and furious upon their return, we’ll have you covered with analysis on your Philadelphia Union here at Philly Sports Network!
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Mandatory Credit: PHILADELPHIA UNION, ANDREW ZWARYCH