It’s no secret that the Union’s strikers aren’t the best in MLS. Philly has had inconsistent striker play all season. It seems as though ha true finisher is the one piece they’re missing to make a true MLS Cup run. The Union is 13th in goals-per-match averaging 1.4. It’s been tough to see quality chances missed in big spots. However, since the Union strikers are streaky, a tap-in or a toe-poke in the box after a scramble against Nashville could send the Union striker core into a hot streak that could push the Union to MLS Cup! Don’t believe me, keep reading!
Can the Union’s strikers go on a scoring streak?
In the home stretch of the 2021 season, the striker core was able to score eight times in 11 matches. Inside of that, they scored four goals in three straight games. This is by no means the best; a striker’s job is to go out there and score goals in every game. However, That little streak of four goals in three games is one to look to as a blueprint that could be replicated now in matches that the Union has never played before.
As the Union gets ready to take on Nashville SC in the eastern conference semifinals, they know that there are only three more possible matches left this year; the conference semis, the conference final, and MLS Cup. Is it really that farfetched to see this striker core, which is finally fully healthy, go on the kind of a four-goals-in-three games kind of run? The players are good enough to do this and the window is the appropriate size for that type of hot streak! Here’s a look at how this could happen.
The Union’s formation choice could most definitely play a factor in if the Union’s strikers can go on a hot streak. Recently, Philly decided to run a 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree formation. This only allows for one striker up top, and Curtin’s guy is Kacper Przybylko. In this formation, Kacper is called upon to try to hold the ball up and combine with the duel-10s that will be just behind him. When the Union plays this way, Kacper has been able to score a few goals, but it’s much more dependent on the midfield to create and finish scoring chances.
The flip side of this is the Union’s use of the 4-4-2 diamond. This is the default formation for the Union, and recently it’s what the team shifts to in the second half to throw the opposition a different look in the attack. When Philly plays this way, they have two different strikers with Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos. Kacper has the size and is a bit of a bull in a china shop, while Sergio is the speedster that offers more directness. The contrast in the strikers gives Philly some different ways to score goals, which is another reason this striker core could get on a hot streak.
Combination, Speed, & Grit
The Union has three strikers who all offer something different that can get a goal. Now, in the conference semifinals, these attributes could push the Union over the top if the ball can hit the back of the net.
First, there’s the player you’ll see start every game for Jim Curtin in the playoffs, Kacper Przybylko. Przybylko has shown that he can be a fox-in-the-box when he’s on, but his defining attribute is when he can combine well with the players around him. If he can combine with Jamiro Monteiro, Daniel Gazdag, or the wingbacks then he is able to make a run into the box to be dangerous. Score a goal off of this combination play in the playoffs and we could be looking at another Kacper hot streak. This attribute is important, but it’s not always the most crowd-pleasing.
Second, there’s Sergio Santos. When Santos is on the field you know exactly what you’re getting, speed. Sergio brings a directness to the Union’s attack as he’s faster than almost everyone else on the pitch. If he is on the field, he can stretch back lines to allow for a second striker or attacking midfielder to fill in those voided spaces. Sergio is a great complimentary piece to the Union’s attack and his speed alone could help the Union’s strikers go on a scoring streak.
Third, there’s Cory Burke. He’s a fan favorite who can sort of do-it-all. Burke can definitely be defined by one word, grit. Burke will run the whole time he’s on the pitch. He may not be faster than the opponent, but oftentimes he wants it more. That has been his defining quality since he began with the Union. While he isn’t usually on from the start of games anymore, Burke is a great bullet to have coming off the bench who can find a way to score an important goal.
This brings us back to how the Union plays, and the impact the strikers can have that could create a hot streak.
With the Union playing the 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree, and only having Kacper Przybylko on the field, allows for the Union to have two very good strikers to pull off the bench. This is what happened in round one against Red Bulls. Kacper started the game alone, Sergio came on at the hour-mark, and Burke was the late-sub whose only job was to grind out a goal. This formula could be one that creates a Union-striker hot streak, as they each have defined roles in these games.
Kacper Przybylko is the starter. He’s told, go out there and combine and find the early goal. Sergio Santos is the Ilsinho/Fontana. He’s told to come on when the game is flipped on its head to overwhelm the opponent and score. Cory Burke is the late on/extra time sub. He’s told to come on and run at tired legs and grind out a late goal to either win it or seal a victory.
Can this be the formula that allows the striker core to get hot at the most opportune moment? We’ll have to wait and see how things play out in the conference semifinals against Nashville. But, there’s no reason that these three can’t go on a run like they did to start the playoff push back in late September. It’s all about confidence and execution now. Being confident to get to the right place to score, and then executing. If a striker can find a way to score against Nashville, and the Union end up going to the eastern conference finals, then this could be the start to a very fun time for Union fans!
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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union, Andrew Zwarych