With playoffs already clinched for Philadelphia Union, each of their remaining games in the regular season serves as an opportunity for the team to climb the Eastern Conference standings and give them the best possible path for returning to MLS Cup Final for a 2nd straight season. Though the team is dealing with injuries and a busier schedule than ever before, 3 points is the expectation when Union plays at home, and FC Dallas felt like a good opportunity for Union to win their game in hand and take sole ownership over the 2nd place spot in the East.
Union Starting XI
Jose Martinez, Jakob Glesnes, and Julian Carrana were all officially listed as “Questionable” leading up to Wednesday night’s match, and with Union’s road game against Eastern Conference opponent Columbus Crew on Saturday, it’s probably best they got some rest in this one, but the fact that they didn’t make the bench at all leaves room for some worry to creep in that the injuries they’re dealing with are a bit more serious than we thought, but we’ll keep on eye on that situation as we progress.
Andre Blake took his spot in net, with Kai Wagner, Damion Lowe, Jack Elliott, and Oliver Mbaizo in front of him in the defensive backline. With Jose Martinez out of the lineup, Jesus Bueno got his second straight start at defensive midfield, with Jack McGlynn and Ale Bedoya, making his 200th start for Union, on either side of him in the diamond. Daniel Gazdag took his normal position at the 10, with Mikael Uhre and Quinn Sullivan as the two forwards up top.
Sullivan’s go-ahead goal whipped out by Velasco Golazo
We know Union doesn’t care about possession even when at home, and Saturday night was another example of that. Philly was out-possed by a total of 56% to 44% in the first half and was out-passed 245 to 177, but Union still out-shot Dallas 10 to 3 and accumulated an Expected goal total of 1.03 compared to Dallas’ 0.48.
The first big chance came from the Captain, Ale Bedoya in the 17th minute. Kai Wagner sent a cross in from Marteen Paes’ right-hand side which was headed on by Ale Bedoya. Bedoya’s initial attempt was blocked by a Dallas defender before getting to net. Ale Bedoya one-touched the deflection onto net but the attempt went safely into the hands of a well-positioned Paes to keep the game at 0.
Because of their comfortability in their lack of ball position, Union often turns to the counterattack to create goal-scoring opportunities, and there aren’t many better examples of the one that gave Union a 1-0 lead Wednesday night. In the 25th minute, Union keeper Andre Blake collected the ball in the box and quickly threw the ball to the left side of the field to left-back Kai Wagner.
Wagner took one large touch from the Blake pass with no one in front of him, leading him well into Dallas’ half of the field with defenders rushing to get back. Wagner sent a ball into the box with his left foot on the second touch which perfectly split two Dallas defenders, and was controlled on the bounce by home-grown Quinn Sullivan. Sullivan controlled the ball so neatly with his first touch, squared towards net, and absolutely ripped the ball into the bottom left corner, beating Paes to his right-hand side and giving Union a 1-0 lead just about halfway through the first half.
Sullivan got the opportunity to start and impact the game on Wednesday night, and Sullivan made no mistake with his chance, finishing it off with what looked like confidence to me. It was a perfect counterattack, and by MLS rules, Andre Blake became the first Union keeper to record an assist in an MLS regular season match with his throw-out to lead Kai Wagner on the attack. The picture-perfect assist by Wagner resulted in the crowd chanting “Pay Kai Wagner” once again.
Up to the point of the opening goal, Dallas hadn’t really put any pressure on Union’s defense or Andre Blake, but the 10 minutes following the goal were eventful and mostly for one player. Just a few minutes after the opening goal, Dallas’ Alan Velasco was shown a yellow card, which I believe was for dissent or something he said to the referee.
In the 35th minute, Dallas Right Back Ema Twumasi dribbled his way through the midfield and with a heavy touch past the backline, was able to sprint past Union defenders sending Dallas on the attack. Twumasi ran onto the ball he sent into Union’s defensive 3rd and sent the ball into the middle of the field near the top of Union’s penalty area.
Alan Velasco ran onto the pass and put the ball on net with his first touch, but the shot didn’t have much behind it and Andre Blake was able to swallow it up pretty easily. Well, that seemed to be the mulligan for Alan Velasco, because just a minute later a Damion Lowe headed clearance found its way to Velasco outside on the penalty area.
Velasco trapped the ball down, let the ball bounce once, and struck the ball better than you ever could with a swinging right foot and blasted the ball into the side netting to Andre Blake’s left-hand side. The shot was like a missile, swerving its way through a number of bodies in the box and hitting its intended target in seconds.
There wasn’t much Andre Blake could do about it, to be honest. If you have to critique Union on conceding here, maybe you can ask Damion Lowe to do better with his clearance, or Jesus Bueno to close Velasco down a little quicker, but this one mostly has to be chalked up to a beautiful equalizing goal from Velasco.
A few minutes after Velasco’s equalizer, Union had the opportunity to take the lead again off a corner, but Jack Elliott’s header went just over the bar, and the teams would go into the second half tied 1-1.
Second-Half owned by the Keepers
The second half was much more about the goalkeepers than it was anything else. Andre Blake had to be sharp early in the second half, with Dallas getting their first opportunity just half a minute into the final 45. Alan Velasco found himself along the end line inside Union’s penalty area and fizzed a ball toward the middle of the penalty area.
The pass was flicked on perfectly by Jesus Jimenez, but Andre Blake was positioned well and kept the ball out of the net, Jack Elliott cleared the ball to safety. Union’s best chance at taking the lead again came in the 54th minute when Kai Wagner sent another perfect ball into Dallas’ penalty area. Ale Bedoya arrived onto the ball at the back post and headed it on net with a lot of pace behind it, but Paes was really strong to two-hand the ball over the net to keep the game level.
In the 65th minute, Mikael Uhre found the ball amidst some chaos and let a left-footed shot fly from outside the box, but Paes made another great save diving to his right-hand side. In the 77th minute, Dallas got a chance to take the lead when Jesus Ferreira was sent in behind Union’s defense and made his way into the penalty area. Ferreria’s final touch before shooting worsened his angle, and the attempt on net was deflected out for a corner by Andre Blake tight against his left post.
In the 82nd minute, Dallas thought they stole all 3 points when a free kick was sent into the box and headed towards the middle of the box. Paul Arriola attempted to one-time head the ball into the middle of the net but missed on the chance. Arriola was able to get up from his failed attempt with the ball still in front of him and poked the ball into the back of the net before any Union defender could react. This one felt soul-sucking, to be honest.
Fans started boo-ing, people started leaving early with less than 10 minutes to go, and you could hear a pin drop in the stadium. Dallas was celebrating, knowing 3 points on the road were likely coming their way. But just as the celebrations ended and fans leaving made their way down the stairs, the “VAR Check” message came up on the video board, and after a lengthy review it was ruled that that during
Arriola’s initial failed attempt at playing the ball on net, his arm touched the ball in the box before he was able to poke the ball into the goal. It’s a harsh one for Dallas, but it absolutely saved Union from losing a game at home, something that seldom happens.
Though Union still had 5 minutes plus 7 minutes of stoppage time to find a winner after the disallowed Arriola goal, Union never really mustered up a good opportunity to find that late goal, and the game ended 1-1.
4 Straight Draws, 4 games left
So it’s 4 draws in a row for Union, 3 of them coming at home, and it kind of feels indicative of Union’s season, which just hasn’t felt right to some fans from the first kick-off in February. Heading down the final stretch of this season, a big positive point for Union was that 5 of their final 7 games were at home.
With just 2 home games left, Union has just 3 points from those 5 games, and opponents like Dallas and Charlotte felt like the easiest opportunity to collect 3 points, which happened in neither. Nonetheless, the Union still finds themselves in 3rd place in the East on 50 points with 4 games left in their season.
Getting to first place is far from likely at this point(though I suppose is still technically a possibility), but securing 2nd place in the East could prove to be huge when it comes to playoffs and the road back to MLS Cup.
The final 4 games of the season could result in a lot of movement throughout the Eastern Conference playoff picture, with all 4 of Union’s opponents currently being inside the playoff line. Next up, a road match against Columbus Crew on short rest and amidst dealing with a few injuries. Be sure to keep up with PSN this week for all updates and news surrounding Union’s final stretch of the season.
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