Match Recap: 0-0 regular season finale at Subaru Park sends Union into Decision Day in 3rd place

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

It’s hard to believe the end of the regular season at Subaru Park is already here.  It’s been a long, winding road in order to get to the point that we’re currently at. 

Expectations for this season were so high after the heartbreak of last season, and while it hasn’t quite turned out to plan, a positive result on Saturday and some help around the league could help Union secure a few playoff games at Subaru Park, a venue in which Union feels confident going toe-to-toe with anyone opponent in CONCACAF. 

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Regular Season Home Finale – or MLS Playoff Dress Rehearsal, if you will

It wasn’t the most exciting game in the world and fans probably were expecting more, but at least the Union heads into the final international break of the season with a point in their pocket and 3rd place still intact. 

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union Starting XI

It was the 4-4-2 diamond again for Union, with a few changes from the side we saw against Atlanta on Wednesday.  Andre Blake kept his place in net as always.  In front of him, Nate Harriel in a strong run of form got the start, this time in his preferred position at right back. 

Jakob Glesnes and Damion Lowe make up the CB pairing, giving Jake Elliott some much-needed rest.  And in what might have been his final regular season home game as a member of Philadelphia, Kai Wagner received a very warm welcome from Union fans as he was introduced at Left Back. 

Jose Martinez got the start at the bottom of the diamond for the first time since getting injured on September 20th, Jack McGlynn and Ale Bedoya lined up on either side of him.  Mikael Uhre is the only one of the front 3 to not keep his place from Wednesday, with Quinn Sullivan coming in to link up with Julian Carranza and Daniel Gazdag in the attack

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Both teams stymied in first half

I don’t know exactly what it is, but Fall really is a special time in Philadelphia for sports fans.  When the weather starts to drop and people become straight-up feral for their teams. That energy started to seep its way into the building on Saturday night. 

The buzz around Philadelphia right now with the Eagles being undefeated and the Phillies moving on to the NLDS is infectious, and you can tell the fans at Subaru Park have caught the bug and are ready for Playoffs.  The crowd wasn’t the biggest we’ve seen at Subaru Park by any means, but you could feel the anticipation and the readiness to explode. 

Nashville started the game on the front foot, and their plan was pretty clear in the first half – get the ball to Hany Mukhtar and attack, specifically targeting Damion Lowe.  A number of times Mukhtar was able to tip-toe his way around Lowe, but each and every time Damion Lowe did well to recover and nip the ball back in the box – he did this 4 or 5 times in the first half. 

Nashville controlled much of the first 20 minutes, but due to Damion Lowe’s cleanup work, they never got a good attempt on net.  Their best look on goal came early when Mukhtar clipped a ball into Bunbury in the box, but his shot was blocked at the last second by a sliding Jakob Gleses, but the play was offside either way.  

Union started to grow into the game a bit around the 15th minute or so, but Nashville’s strong point is keeping their defense organized and compact and restricting their opponents from getting the ball in dangerous positions.  Most of Union’s early looks on net were from a distance that significantly lowers the threat of the attack, to the credit of Nashville’s positioning – Neither a Jack McGlynn shot from outside the box nor a header off a cross from Gazdag would do enough to make Willis sweat at all. 

In the 28th minute, Union had their best chance of the opening half when Quinn Sullivan found Ale Bedoya around the top of the right side of the penalty area.  Bedoya settled the ball and let a right-footed shot fly with his second touch that stung the palms of Joe Willis, who did well enough to direct the rebound of the shot away from the front of the net and out of danger. 

Ale Bedoya had another chance to break the deadlock in stoppage time of the first 45 minutes after Teal Bunbury turned the ball over in his own half.  An errant pass by Bunbury was blocked by Nate Harriel and deflected directly into the path of Ale Bedoya. 

Bedoya, with the ball in a very similar position to his first chance, took a few more touches to move inside the box and back Nashville’s defenders into their own penalty area, but his shot was once again parried away by the diving hands of Joe Willis.  Union didn’t have too many chances in the first half, but Joe Willis certainly was the reason Union failed to go into the break with the lead. 

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Second half, same as the last

The start of the second half was slow, to be honest.  Neither team really looked threatening on net in the first 15 minutes of the half.  In the 50th minute, Nashville put their only attempt on net of the entire night when Dax McCarty lifted a ball into the box for Bunbury, but Bunbury’s header was unthreatening to Andre Blake.  Union’s defense did a stellar job of limiting the number of times Nashville could get on the counter-attack all game long, and as a result, decreased the quality of looks Nashville had on net. 

The one quality look that Nashville did get in the second half came in the 51st minute from a long ball that skipped through the legs of Damion Lowe and sent Teal Bunbury on the attack.  With Damion Lowe recovering his position, Bunbury slowed his run, swerved the on-coming tackle by Lowe, and shifted the ball to his left foot inside the box to create space for a shot on net – but his attempt sailed wide of the far post to keep the game deadlocked at 0’s. 

In the 58th Minute Union found themselves with a few corners and hoped they could find the go-ahead goal from a set piece.  The first corner was played short and worked around to Jack McGlynn waiting to fire at the top of the box, but his attempt was deflected before getting to the net and out for another corner.  The ensuing corner was also played short, this time being fired into the 6-yard box towards the head of Ale Bedoya at the near post.  Bedoya did well to slightly deflect the ball behind him like a rock skipping on water, but Willis was positioned perfectly and swallowed the attempt on net with ease.  

With the game getting towards the later stages and still being deadlocked at 0-0, Union fans were trying to push their team on to find the late winner at home.  Things got a little chaotic in the 70th minute when Ale Bedoya collected the ball along the right-side line and played a ball down the line for Mikael Uhre. 

Bedoya was cleaned out by a late Walker Zimmerman sliding tackle but the ref, I thought, played advantage with Mikael Uhre running onto the ball just outside of the penalty area.  Uhre’s his first touch was a bit heavy and caused a 50-50 challenge between him and Josh Bauer in the box.  The two collided and the ball bounced astray towards the end line in the path of where Daniel Gazdag was making his run on net. 

Gazdag, who looked like he would have made it to the ball before going out of play, was given a shove from behind before collecting the ball – but after all the chaos and shouts for cards and penalties, the play was brought back to where the original foul by Walker Zimmerman took place and he was shown yellow.  Other than a chance for Nashville off a set piece that was headed behind the net, the chance for either team to grab the winner in the last 20 minutes of the game was little to none, ending the final regular season home game at Subaru Park in a 0-0 draw. 

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Takeaways 

Let’s start with the positives – I have to give a lot of credit to Union’s defense in this one – Nashville’s attack might not be clicking like we’ve seen it in the past, but I think Union did a really great job at keeping their shape, limiting the number of times Nashville could get on the counter-attack, and they did an excellent job at recovering and nicking the ball back any time Nashville was able to get on the ball and rush forward. 

I don’t think it’ll be talked about enough because fans want to see this team score goals and win at home, but it’s just Union’s 2nd clean sheet in their previous 10 league games and hopefully, that’s something positive they can build on.  Playoffs are coming and defenses win Championships, right?

Damion Lowe gets all the praise for me in this one.  90-minute start off the bench, a match-high 4 tackles, 4 clearances, a match-high 9 recoveries, 7 ground duels won, 2 aerial duels won, and a clean sheet in the books.  Man Of The Match Performance for me.  Here’s what Damion Lowe had to say after the game when asked about the challenge of going up against Hany Mukhtar all night long:

“Yeah I like those challenges because they bring out the best of me.  I have a lot to prove to myself, especially because I went through a little lull, a little rough patch a couple of weeks ago, a couple off games with both the International team and with Philly, and then had a health issue where I was a little sick.  But I’m good now, I’m playing well, I’m happy with where I’m at in this stage of the season – It’s always good to go up against big-name players.”

Union Centerback, Damion Lowe

While the defense looked great, I was disappointed to not see Union score a goal on the night.  I knew the chances would be limited with how good Nashville’s defense sets themselves up for 90 minutes.  And when Nashville does give up chances, Joe Willis has one of the best save percentages in the league to bail his defense out.  So I’m not necessarily upset with the lack of scoring, but the lack of production from the front 3 tonight, with all 3 of Union’s threatening chances came from Ale Bedoya

The combination of Daniel Gazdag, Julian Carranza, Quinn Sullivan, and Mikael Uhre off the bench combined for a total of 2 shots on net and a combined Expected Goals of just 0.22.  Again, Nashville has a really great defense so I’m not entirely worried, but I was hoping that the 3 goals on Wednesday against Atlanta were a turning point.  

When asked about the result against Nashville, Jim Curtin had this to say

“Nashville’s tough to break down, they’ve given up the least goals in the League, they don’t give up many chances. Conversely, we didn’t create a ton either, so unfortunately we cancel each other out. I hope we don’t play Nashville in a 3-game series because you guys will fall asleep.”

Union Head Coach, Jim Curtin
Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Looking Forward

Ah, MLS – a 2-week international break before Decision Day.  Because why not, right?  On one hand, it probably offers a bit of time for some players to get rest and recovery, something that’s been far too hard to come by this season.  On the other hand, It completely breaks up any momentum teams have going into the final week of the season, and of course, jeopardizes the health and fitness of anyone who gets called up to play for their national team right before the MLS Playoffs. 

I understand how much of an honor it is to get to play for your country, but I fear the day one of MLS’ best players gets hurt right before playoffs because of an international call-up.  Hopefully, someday MLS can get this figured out.  

Regardless of that, just under 2 weeks until Union travels to New England for their Decision Day match, with the result locking in their spot for the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.  With Atlanta getting a last-second draw against Columbus, Union remains in 3rd place in the East going into the final game of the season with Columbus and New England 1 and 3 points behind them, respectively. 

A win against New England secures a top-4 spot and home-field advantage in the opening best-of-3 round of the playoffs, but I don’t think I’m ready to talk about what could happen if they lose.  Be sure to check back with PSN over the international break for a digest on that situation and much more as the final stages of the season unfold.

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union