The Union went into a rainy Chicago and played one of the wildest games of the 2021 season so far. Even though the field was waterlogged, the Union let the Fire blaze. Philly is not happy with the result on the road, but it is what they deserve because of their equal bad and good play at Soldier Field.
Union let Fire blaze; allow three goals in draw
In a match that ended in a 3-3- draw, Philly rotated four players in their starting lineup. Jim Curtin did this to save legs on this third match in seven days. It was an opportunity to give first-ever starts to center back, Stuart Findlay, right back Alvas Powell, and homegrown midfield, Quinn Sullivan. Chicago came out in what has been a normal starting XI. The match probably should have been postponed an hour or so due to the water on the field at the start of the game which made things dicey. The sloppy field set the tone for the match for the entire ninety minutes. Here’s a look at the highlights and how things played out:
There was an equal amount of bad and good from the Union in these difficult conditions. Let’s take a look at both the bad and the good from this match to see the main takeaways and how the Union can move forward to another difficult stretch to start July.
The Union had a rough time in Chicago. An early own goal and two lapses on set pieces allowed Chicago to score three goals in one match. Before this match, they only had scored four on the season. Obviously, this is not ideal.
While the conditions and the game congestion can be seen as justification for not winning at Chicago, the Union aren’t leaning on excuses like they used to. There are three main issues from this match that can be seen as the bad from the game. Jim Curtin will use these bad instances as teaching moments for his squad as they move forward.
Mental lapses on set-pieces
The biggest problem on the day for the Union was mental lapses on set-pieces. Chicago’s second and third goal came from a free-kick and a corner in which Union players lost their marks. Chicago made them pay, for those critical mistakes. This is not the first time this season where Philly has switched off on set-piece defending, and it’s come down to one player missing their mark. Jim Curtin spoke about this after the match last night.
“It still comes down to, when we play man to man, knowing what your responsibility is and not losing your man.” – Jim Curtin
On the two goals Chicago put in the net, it was clear that his assessment was correct.
The first set-piece goal was a free kick that proved that the Union let the Fire blaze. Flach didn’t pick up the run of Sekulic, which was his man. The ball was perfect and the finish was great, but the opportunity might not have been there if Flach runs with Sekulic and puts a body on him to stop the chance.
The second set-piece goal was off of a corner. A ball was perfectly whipped into the box and substitute Mbaizo couldn’t pick up the run of Pineda who hammed the chance home. This is another instance that if Mbaizo isn’t caught flat-footed he may be able to put Pineda off.
The Union will be working on this and can learn from it. Not running with your mark is unacceptable on set pieces. If a player gets blocked away from their mark, that is what it is, but not running with your man leads to goals.
Too much rotation leading to lack of sharpness
Jim Curtin chose probably the best time to rotate his squad. The final match of a three-game-in-seven-day stretch prompted four changes. The only problem was that there was a clear disconnect at times when the Union looked to play fast in transition.
When the ball was won off of Chicago, the normal distribution was off a bit. Leon Flach being in a more wide position made things shift more to the left side instead of centrally. This limited the Union’s ability to find the best wing to begin an attack down. With no Bedoya and Mbaizo, Philly had no real attack down the right-wing, unless one of the strikers made a run into the channel down the right.
The Union still had a good attack. They created chances and scored three goals, but without their normal starters in their preferred positions the flow was just a bit different.
This will have to happen sometimes to ensure players don’t get burnt out, but it was clear that the Union was trying to play the same way they do with their starters, and that they didn’t adjust enough to be as sharp as they normally are. The players on the field and Jim Curtin will need to be better at adjusting if this type of rotation is needed in future games.
Jack Elliot at the six
The Union tried to play Jack Elliot at the six from the start of this game. It’s an interesting experiment. He has played there before and has been moved to that position in a pinch as an in-game move. It was clear that this experiment might not be one that they try again.
Jack is a great defender and an above-average passer, but he struggles when he’s asked to be shifty and move the ball in the center of the park. You could tell that the positions he was in were uncomfortable for him. The field conditions didn’t make things any better either. He and other players had trouble turning and controlling their feet.
Jack Elliot is a better center back, and should still be the starter in the position over Stuart Findlay. The six-position will be a question mark at times this summer. El Brujo could possibly be at the Copa America for a longer. Leon Flach could make the Gold Cup roster for the USMNT. That leaves either Jack Elliot or Cole Turner as the six’s on the depth chart.
It might be time to give the homegrown Turner a chance in a pinch and move Elliot to his preferred centerback role.
Even though the Union Let Fire blaze, there were also some very good things that happened in this match as well. The Union was able to show their quality at times, and on another night that would be enough to take three points.
The Union scored three goals, are integrating new players into their team, and have shown that they are not okay with just taking one point on the road like they were in years past.
Quinn Sullivan’s Golazo
17-year-old Quinn Sullivan scored the Union’s first goal on Saturday night. He became the Union’s youngest goalscorer in team history. Could he be the next homegrown success story akin to Brenden Aaronson or Mark McKenzie?
His play this season has been sporadic, but Sullivan has looked solid when he comes on the field. In this match against Chicago, he played the right shuttler position and did alright. There wasn’t too much of a drop-off in form. However, he and Powell didn’t click the same way Bedoya and Mbaizo have down the right. Of course, we will all remember the goal he scored in this one.
he hit a perfectly timed scissor bicycle kick off of a corner kick that stunned the crowd at Soldier Field. It’s an amazing effort that mesmerized Union fans. There are only so many words that can describe it. Watching it again gives it justice.
Dániel Gazdag looks damn good
In his midweek press conference, Jim Curtin said he was surprised that Dániel Gazdag was progressing the way he was. He even mentioned that Gazdag might be able to feature in the match against Chicago. In the 60th minute, he did just that.
Gazdag had 30 minutes to show what he had on the pitch, and he was definitely an offensive spark. He was able to combine well with Monteiro, and another substitute Przybylko. He is shifty with the ball on his feet, can play a nice cross, and even helps to track back defensively.
In just 30 minutes, he looked like a really dangerous piece that the Union will utilize a ton moving forward. Another full week of training could help him impress enough on his return from injury, that he could make his first start here soon!
This team isn’t satisfied with road draws
The Union Let Fire blaze, but they are not sitting back and saying that they are happy with the one point. Jim Curtin said as much in his post-game presser:
“A tie on the road, we’ll take it, but we’re not happy. On a different night, we play a little cleaner, little more disciplined, it should be 3 points.”– Jim Curtin
In years past the Union would kill for a draw on the road. They would sit in, defend and not play real soccer at all. Now, this team has a true identity that they look to utilize whether they are at home or on the road. Philly is not satisfied with this result and will learn from it as they move into even more road matches.
With the return to a more normal lineup, the sharpness should return, and with more training on set-piece defending Jim and the coaching staff will drill home that you always need to run and fight to stay with your mark.
On to the next match
This match was tough, the Union let the Fire blaze, but now it’s on to the next match. The Union had to Nashville next Saturday. It’ll be their first-ever match in Music City USA. It will be a tough one as Nashville is always defensively sound, especially at home.
The Union will have another opportunity to show that they will push for three points on the road, and it’ll be points they need. Orlando and New England both are ahead of the Union in the standings and have a game in hand at the moment. Philly is two points behind Orlando and four points behind New England. If they want to keep pace with them and push for the top of the east, they have to get more away wins.
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Mandatory Credit: Chicago Fire FC