The Philadelphia Union went down to Nashville SC looking to be the first team to beat them on their home field in 2021. They had what could be seen as their preferred starting XI together for the first time in 2021, and came home with zero points. The Union look abysmal right now, and there are some reasons as to why this is.
Union look abysmal; three reasons why
Philadelphia had a golden opportunity Saturday night to move up in the eastern conference standings. New England dropped points for the second straight game, drawing at Columbus; while Orlando lost only their second match of the season to New York Red Bulls. If the Union played their game to perfection and won, they would have jumped into second place and would be two points off of first place. Unfortunately, that was not meant to be after a truly awful performance.
There are three reasons the Union look abysmal. They let Nashville set the tone of the match and score inside the first two minutes. The effort looked like past iterations of this team from inside the first 10 seasons of their existence. It’s not a great sign that the holders of 2020 Supporters Shield are showing these signs just over 1/3 of the way into the 2021 season. Here’s a look at these three, hopefully temporary, reasons the Union look abysmal.
Starting slow once again
Not two minutes into the match, the Union was totally disjointed and failed to stop a Nashville attack down the center of the pitch.
Four major defending mistakes
Both Union center backs were high up the pitch trying to attack a set-piece. Nashville dealt with it with ease. They then walked up the field.
Leon Flach tried to deal with it early by sliding in for a challenge. He mistimed his tackle taking out a Nashville player but not before the ball was advanced. The referee played advantage and Nashville had a two-on-two as they crossed midfield. Jack Elliot tried to close down Nashville’s CJ Sapong but allowed him to spray the ball wide on their right side.
Kai Wagner failed to close down the ball Randall Leal. Leal picked his head up to see Sapong sprinting down the middle of the Union’s center backs who were too far apart and still tracking back from their attacking sequence. Sapong took one touch and slotted a perfectly place shot past a sprawling Andre Blake.
Sapong was off celebrating against his former side as his new team was up 1-0 less than two minutes into the match. Did you spot the four mistakes?
Discecting the Union mistakes
The first mistake came from Leon Flach. He did his best to win the ball, and if not concede a foul to stop the build-up. However, his attempt was not the best to do either. He slid too far away from the Nashville player, giving him time to slide the ball past the challenge.
The next issue was by Jack Elliot. He saw his former teammate CJ Sapong carrying the ball in the middle of the field and tried to pressure him into a mistake. Elliot should have pulled him down for a foul, but he tried to turn CJ around and allowed him to play the ball wide to Leal to keep the attack going.
When the ball was out wide, Kai Wagner made the third mistake. He allowed Leal to feel comfortable enough to advance and pick out the eventual assist. Wagner needed to step up and pressure the ball, even if it meant that the wing was more exposed. There would have been a better chance to win the ball or concede a foul to stop the counterattack. Alas, he didn’t do that, Wagner stayed at home and let Leal pick Out Sapongs run.
The final mistake was the center-backs spacing when Sapong made his run to score. Both Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliot were still getting back from being upfield, but they ended their runs too far apart. Sapong was able to run in the space take a touch and fire before either Union centerback was able to slide to stop the eventual goal.
Here we go again
This is some of the worst defense of the season, but it happened again early on in the match. In the last two Union games, they have let in a goal before the third minute of the match. This is now a bad trend that needs to be dealt with. There will always be defensive lapses in matches, however, to have them happen inside the first few minutes totally shifts the match. It takes the Union off their game and hurts their attack as well.
Lack of cohesion in the attack
The Union’s attack has been sputtering in the past few games. While Philly has scored six goals in their last four matches, the majority of the time it has been a scrambled attack that has been disjointed. In this match against Nashville, they were disjointed after conceding two minutes in, but also they were set up awkwardly.
Dániel Gazdag, the second-highest Union transfer in team history, was brought in to be the attacking midfielder to replace Brenden Aaronson. In some of his first actions, he came off the bench and played the shuttler/number eight position as opposed to playing his attacking midfielder position. In this match against Nashville SC, he started in that shuttler position, while a more natural shuttler Monteiro played the number 10 position. It’s an interesting move, to say the least. While the two could interchange in certain instances the starting positions for both were not great.
This and playing from behind after minute two meant that the Union attack lacked the cohesion that they are used to playing when they can spark their preferred counterattacks. In this match, the Union were allowed to possess the ball and failed to produce any good chances to get a goal. They averaged under 0.52 expected goals in the match. Even though they put four of their eight shots on goal, none were real dangerous chances.
As the match went on the attack was less and less effective, their second-half expected goals were 0.15 which is abysmal. The attack got worse, after substitutions as well, which unfortunately does come down to coach Jim Curtin’s decisions.
Strange coaching choices
Starting a number 10 at the eight and an eight at the 10 is strange enough, but some of the substitution choices from Curtin were not the best tonight. The changes just did not work in this match.
Cory Burke has been on a tear scoring goals for Philly but he was taken off in favor of the pacy Sergio Santos with 30 minutes remaining. This substitution makes sense for Santos’ directness. However, Burke’s work rate was still high, while his counterpart Przybylko seemed to really be struggling against the stout Nashville defense.
On top of that substitution, Curtin took out Gazdag in the 60th minute. He had looked really good in his time on the pitch and was the main catalyst for the half-chances the Union was getting. On came on Jose Martinez, the defensive midfielder. This was a head-scratching move. Granted Gazdag is coming off of an injury, so he was likely on a minute’s restrictions. However, bringing on a defensive midfielder down a goal for the final half-hour didn’t spark any creativity in the attack.
The team looked unprepared to break down a Nashville side that had a lead. This was an all-time bad game from a good Philly team. It really looked like the early coaching days of Jim Curtin, and the play on the field looked like it as well. It needs to be fixed, and soon for Philly if they want to stay a top team in the east.
Fixing this moving forward
Looking at the stats of the match, Philly and Nashville were very even in this match. If it wasn’t for the major defensive lapse, this probably would have finished as a gritty 0-0 draw. While that result would have been frustrating as well, a point on the road against a team that doesn’t lose at home is always good.
Philly needs to get this conceding early trait gone. These lapses are the main issue, and it comes from working and focusing more on the little things in training. This team has the talent to be a true contender if they can clean up these little mistakes. I feel like this has been said since the beginning of the 2021 season, but it still rings true.
The Union now turn their attention to a Thursday night clash at New York Red Bulls. Can they get back to their winning ways and start a new streak? The Union is still a top-three team. They are two points off second place and, five points off first place. They should be able to beat their rival to get back on the right track, right?
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Mandatory Credit: Nashville SC