Philadelphia Union shake off the rust in season-opening draw

It was a brisk day on the banks of the Delaware River when the Philadelphia Union took on Minnesota United in the first game of the 2022 MLS Season. It was evident both teams were rusty throughout the 90 minutes as the points were split in a 1-1 draw.

Union Show Rust

CHESTER, PA – DECEMBER 05: Philadelphia Union Midfielder Jose Martinez (8) and New York City FC Midfielder Maxi Moralez (10) battle for the ball during the second half of the Major League Soccer Cup Playoffs match between New York City FC and the Philadelphia Union on December 5, 2021, at Subaru Park in Chester, PA. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Both Philadelphia and Minnesota were playoff teams last season. Minnesota fell in the first round of the playoffs, while the Union went on a run to the eastern conference final. The two-month offseason didn’t seem to do either team any favors.

A back and forth affair

From the opening whistle, it was clear that both sides liked to press the other. Minnesota did a good job doing this in the middle of the field. They turned their press into a counterattack just minutes in but couldn’t put the finishing touches on their break.

The Union tried to do the same, but their attack would then come from wide positions with runners advancing up the pitch. Philly had room to operate on the wings, and their fullbacks were tasked with getting forward and putting in good crosses, but the service was lacking.

On one of these Union build up’s they lost the ball; Minnesota sprung a counter immediately. Oliver Mbaizo was high up the field and had to make a long recovery run to try to stop the attack. Minnesota’s Franco Fragapane beat the Union right back in a foot race and played a perfect ball into the box. In the midst of dealing with the break, the rest of the Union backline got pulled out of position enough for Minnesota’s Robin Lod to smash a shot past Andre Blake. Minnesota took a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute.

The Union was down, but not out. They mounted attacks of their own following the Minnesota goal. On one occasion they were able to rework a corner kick that was poorly cleared. Centerback Jakob Glesnes found himself on the ball on the right-wing. Instead of his normal shooting heroics, he put in a perfect cross that found the head of Cory Burke. Burke headed home the effort to tie the game at one in the 35th minute.

The remaining 50 minutes of the match saw both teams keep their style of pressing high to create quick attacking opportunities, but both sides lacked the ability to find the final pass or the finishing touch. Minnesota was the closest to doing so in second-half stoppage time, but Blake came up huge to save the point for the Union. 

The match ended in a draw. An opening day point is never bad, but it’s likely the Union will look back on this one in the future as dropped points. Especially after the team shakes off the rust.

Three takeaways from matchday one

The match ended with the points split between the two teams. All in all, it’s not the worst result in the world, but could have easily been three points for the home team. Here are three takeaways from the 1-1 draw against Minnesota.

Oliver Mbaizo gets burned again

The main takeaway from this game could be that right back Oliver Mbaizo got burned again on Minnesota United’s goal. Mbaizo was the one who got beat twice in the eastern conference final and looked a bit shaky in the season opener. Homegrown Nathanial Harriel is waiting in the wings for his chance to play that position. Could we see it coming sooner rather than later? 

Midfield struggles

Another thing that looked to be the main source of the rust was the Union’s midfield diamond. There were moments of 2021 from the midfield disrupting passes and starting attacks, but things just seemed off for portions of the game. Martinez was on the ball too much, Flach couldn’t put passes together, and Bedoya made runs that didn’t come to fruition for the team’s attack. Gazdag did do well combining with the forwards, and McGlynn and Aaronson did come on to provide youthful options, but the midfield was struggling in game one.

A learning moment

This game will be a learning moment for the 2022 Philadelphia Union. Head coach Jim Curtin said as much in his postgame press conference. He said that the game was clearly not their best and that it looked like the first game of the season; Curtin continued by saying the last 15 minutes of the first half looked like “Union soccer.” The team will learn and get better as they gel over the first few weeks of the season. Now the focus shifts to next Saturday as the Union travels to Montreal!

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Photo Credit: Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire