The Philadelphia Union is now halfway through their 2021 season. They are above the playoff line, but instead of fighting for the top spot in the east, Philly is in the middle of the playoff pack. They are showing more and more that this is the likely place for the 2021 team. The Union fails to beat a Chicago Fire side that was down a man for the majority of the match.
Union fails to beat Fire
On what was an interesting night for the Union, they failed in familiar ways against the lowly Chicago Fire. The Union concealed early, had no directness in their attack, and showed fatigue on the pitch. These are now themes for the 2021 season. It’s worth taking a longer look at why this team has regressed so much from their Supporters Shield winning form of a year ago.
Struggles at the start of halves
It’s been evident that the Union has been absolutely atrocious at the beginning of matches this year, but it actually goes deeper than that. Shout out to Todd of The Free Kick Podcast for point out this crazy stat about how the Union starts halves.
The Union has given up 10 of their 17 goals this season in the first fifteen minutes of either half. This is absolutely absurd and needs to be discussed more. There is a clear problem for this team when they start halves, and there is one big reason as to why this is.
The opposition knows how to dismantle Philly
Philly has now played in their narrow 4-4-2 diamond for over two seasons. It’s the preferred formation for their players, and it allows the team to press high and create counterattacks. However, every team in MLS now knows how the Union plays. They also know that there is little rotation in the squad, so the opposition can exploit the mistakes the Union now commits game in and game out.
This falls squarely on the players on the field being fatigued and the coaching staff for not being able to correct the problem by rotating the squad or playing in different formations. The reason the Fire scored their early goal last night was because of a miscommunication on marking Chicago’s wide player between Bedoya and Mbaizo. This allowed for a perfect cross and a good finish.
I’m going to sound like a broken record but this can be an easy correction if the starting XI can be rotated, or the formation is changed every once and a while. This could help the team get past those fifteen-minute marks in both halves and allow for more of a belief in their team defense to get out of this funk. While this is a major problem, the attack is also an issue.
No direct attacking sequences
The Union doesn’t just have issues with their mental lapses early in matches. They have problems attacking as well. Philly has one attacking player who has shown the directness needed to beat teams. Unfortunately, that player was suspended from the match against Chicago.
Sergio Santos’ speed poses a threat to the opposition. The other strikers and attackers are a bit slower and more methodical in the build-up. Kacper Przybylko is a poacher, Cory Burke is a grinder, Daniel Gazdag and Jamiro Monteiro link up the attacks. It was evident against Chicago that when teams sit deep, the Union can’t break them down.
The group of players on the field Sunday for Philly would work the ball wide to Ilsinho or Kai Wagner for crosses. There was no decisive play in the middle of the pitch to create some space to create a good look on goal. The lone attempt that was a good look was blasted by Alejandro Bedoya into Chicago keeper Bobby Shuttleworth in the 90+2 minute. This type of effort is not good enough, but the personnel can’t seem to be more direct in their attack.
Philly is still rumored to be bringing in young speedy striker Matheus Davo. His addition would add some directness to the attack. New midfielder Jesus Bueno may also be able to help with this. No matter who is in there, the Union needs to be more direct when on the ball. If they want to turn this thing around a more direct style of attacking play is needed.
Fatigue at the halfway point
Philadelphia is a tired side at the halfway point. That much was evident after the Union fails to beat lowly Chicago at home, while up a man for 56 minutes. They are fatigued at the halfway point, but not just on the pitch. The players seem mentally drained as well.
There are not many players on the roster who have the confidence at the moment to push for late goals needed to salvage points. The only players that seem to have that heart are the homegrowns that are sometimes on late in games.
This is something that needs to be fixed and fast for this Union team. It’s not an easy thing to fix, but if any team can figure out why they don’t have the heart and mental fortitude right now it’s this Union team. They have an opportunity to show that they can bounce back quickly once again with a match against Toronto FC on Wednesday.
If Philly can get things right on Wednesday against Toronto, and this coming weekend at New England, then they’ll have a bit of a break to get ready for the first leg of the CCL Semifinals down in Mexico at Club America.
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