The main problem facing the Philadelphia Union is plain for everyone to see. Their strikers are not scoring goals. This was the case for most of the 2021 season, and it has carried over into the first two games of the MLS Cup Playoffs. This issue is mainly because the Union doesn’t have an out-and-out goal scorer. They have streaky strikers who go through major hot and cold streaks. Could the Union’s strikers end their cold streak in the eastern conference final and get hot heading toward MLS Cup?
An end to the cold streak in ECF?
The Union might be a little light on players who play striker if any of their forwards end up on the health and safety protocol list later today. However, If the Union’s strikers want to end a cold steak that has plagued them for what feels like an eternity then whoever is leading Philly’s line will have to do three things well. Those things are:
- Get more involved in the build up play
- Actually put an effort on goal
- Get into the good positions and be instinctual
If a Union striker can execute these three things against an NYCFC side that will allow for this to happen at points in the match; then maybe just maybe, we’ll see this slump end at the best possible time for Philly.
Get more involved in the build up play
Whether it’s Kacper at the top of the Christmas tree, or Sergio and Cory coming off the bench, the strikers need to get more involved with the midfield in Philly’s build-up play. Since switching to the 4-3-2-1, whoever has been up top has been limited in the build-up and it’s been frustrating, to say the least. In this formation, the dual 10’s run the show. If they were able to combine with the striker and create some easy give and goes to stretch the defense the attack could be so much more lethal.
A lot of this falls to Kacper Przybylko. He’s been the consistent starter for the Union and hasn’t looked great when isolated. He has been slow to get into the play to combine with Monteiro and Gazdag and seems to get bullied when it comes to holding the ball up or going for headers. In a match that might feature a few starters missing due to health and safety protocols, if Kacper is the striker, he’ll need to get more involved. combine with the 10’s, make a crucial pass, and then move into a dangerous scoring spot. Once that happens it’s all about finishing.
Actully put an effort on net
The Union’s striker’s cold streak has been personified by how many misses they’ve had in these playoffs. The Union’s style of play and crowd atmosphere has helped them get the better of New York Red Bulls and Nashville SC. There were plenty of moments in both matches where a ball was played to a Kacper or Sergio, and the effort on the net was poor or nonexistent. This needs to change and fast if the cold streak is to end.
The Union’s tactics allow for them to be the better team for the full match, whether it goes 90 or 120 minutes. Starting in the 4-3-2-1 allows for a good combination to create an attack. Flipping to a more direct 4-4-2 diamond allows for fresh legs to run at a tired backline. Add 19,000 screaming fans pushing you on and the output should be better from the guys whose job it is to score goals. It seems as though the attackers are thinking way too much when they need to just be instinctual.
Get into the good positions and be instinctual
The Union’s strikers can be good finishers. We’ve seen it from all three of them at spurts in their MLS careers. Every time the Union strikers get on a hot streak, they find themselves in the right spot at the right time and are not overthinking the situation. This is what the Union strikers have to do in the conference final should they want to play the hero to send the Union to their first-ever MLS Cup.
Przybylko, Santos, or Burke will need to get into a mental zone to break this cold streak. The Union practice getting into really good spots, Jim Curtin calls it the green zone. This is the area inside the 18 years box and the penalty spot. The strikers seem to get to these spots and then think about what they’re doing too much, and bundle their chances. If I’m Jim Curtin, I’m telling whoever is up top to stop thinking so much when the ball is coming to them; tell them to do what they do best. Turn off that brain and do what instinctually feels right. Whether it be a placed shot or a smashed shot. If one goes in watch out, this cold streak just might be snapped.
If one would just go in…
All the Union needs from their strikers is for one shot to make its way over the line for a striker. Once that happens, the confidence will flood in. When that confidence comes in the strikers will stop the overthinking and they’ll feel much freer to influence the game by combining with the midfield, actually putting shots on net, and getting into good spots and not overthink what they need to do.
This all hinges on who is playing for Philly. But it would be another “That’s so Union” moment for there to only be one healthy striker and for that striker to score a brace that takes the Union to their first-ever MLS Cup Final. Let’s see what happens, and keep that Posidelphia up!
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