Philadelphia Union concede in the dying moments for a second consecutive game, what’s going wrong?

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

It’s happened again – The Philadelphia Union have conceded a last-minute, game-winning goal for the second match in a row. At least it didn’t happen with a 2-man advantage like it did against Miami on Saturday night, but Lucho Acosta’s late winner will surely cut just as deep for Union and their fans, as DOOP fail to win again. Just one win in the previous 12 games for Union, one of the worst runs of form in the club’s history.

Starting XI

Jim Curtin tried something different on Wednesday, but something that he’s used against Cincinnati on the road before. A 5-back formation, with 3 midfielders, and 2 forwards up top. Here’s how Curtin lined up his team in the Queen City (Not Charlotte, the OTHER Queen City…):

GK: Oliver Semmle
RB: Oliver Mbaizo, CB: Jack Elliott, CB: Nate Harriel, CB: Jakob Glesnes, LB: Kai Wagner
CM: Leon Flach, CM: Jesus Bueno
CAM: Jack McGlynn
ST: Mikael Uhre, ST: Tai Baribo

Tai Baribo got this first start of the season for Union with Julian Carranza on his way to Feyenoord. Jesus Bueno also received a rare start for the blue and gold, his first since Union faced Seattle (the make-up game) on April 30th. Featured on the bench were 5 players yet to make a first-team appearance with Union; Andrew Rick, David Vazquez, Sanders Ngabo, CJ Olney, and Olwethu Makhanya.

Union copa america
WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 20: Philadelphia Union midfielder Jose Martinez (8) jumps on top of the pile with defender Olivier Mbaizo (15), forward Mikael Uhre (7), midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (11), forward Julian Carranza (9), and midfielder Jack McGynn (16) as they celebrate after Uhre’s first half goal during the Philadelphia Union versus D.C. United Major League Soccer (MLS) game on August 20, 2022 at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire)

Kelsy opens scoring with header in first-half

Despite starting the game with some encouraging signs, it was FC Cincinnati that struck first blood near the half-hour mark. Lucho Acosta was granted some time and space along the left sideline and whipped in a cross to the middle of the box. Both Nate Harriel and Oliver Semmle must have been mesmerized by the MVP’s crossing ability, because both players were cemented to their spot which left Kevin Kelsy with a free header to give Cincinnati a 1-0 lead.

Tai Baribo opens Union account at last

Just before half-time, Union got themselves back in the game with a goal from the most unthinkable of players – Tai Baribo. Jakob Glesnes carried the ball up the pitch past the midfield line and played it out to the right side for Olivier Mbaizo. Mbaizo ran onto the ball, played a cross into the box, and found the head of Mikael Uhre towards the far post. Uhre headed the ball back across goal for Tai Baribo, who volleyed the ball into the back of the net, bring the game level at 1.

Union concede another early 2nd-half goal

Despite the goal, Union had a pretty decent first-half, just like they did against Miami. But also just like they did against Miami, Union came out of the locker-room and weren’t ready to pay – and they suffered the consequences because of it. Early in the second half Cincinnati sent the ball up the pitch for Kevin Kelsy to run onto. Union had enough bodies back to defend the opportunity, but everything got messy when Jack Elliott attempted to step in front of Yuaya Kubo, running onto the ball inside the penalty area. It didn’t seem like there was a ton of contact, but Jack Elliott’s leg made enough of a collision with Kubo’s to send Lucho Acosta to the PK spot, which Acosta made no mistake with. 2-1 Cincinnati early in the 2nd half.

Jesus Bueno equalizes with his first Union Goal

Despite going down early in the 2nd half, Union showed resiliency like they often have this season and tied the game at 2 just 6 minutes after Lucho Acosta’s PK. Coming in the 55th minute, Kai Wagner sent in a corner from Roman Celentano‘s left-hand side that found it way through the back and to the back post. Jesus Bueno was able to muscle off his defender, get to the ball first, and stab it home after taking one bounce off the pitch, bringing Union level again, and marking Bueno’s first MLS goal.

Luca Orellano Golazo resortes Cinci’s lead

Just 5 minutes after Union’s 2nd equalizer of the game, Luca Orellano restored Cincinatti’s lead with an absolute missile from midfield. Orellano received the ball along the left sideline just inside their own defensive half, and carried the ball a few yards forward unattended. Orellano surveyed the field, loaded up, and unleashed an almost 60-yard ping that caught Oliver Semmle out of goal, and tucked just under the cross-bar, tickling the back of the net on the fly. An incredible shot from Orellano, but another one that Oliver Semmle will want back.

Tai-ed Up, again!

With time winding down and the game moving into stoppage time, Union found an opportunity to level the game once again from the foot of Tai Baribo. In an almost exact replica of the first goal, a ball was lifted towards the back post from the left side of the pitch, which was heading back across goal by Chris Donovan for an awaiting Tai Baribo, who smashed the ball home. It was the 2nd goal of the night for Baribo, who scored his firs goal as a member of Union earlier in the night, and drew the game level at 3-3 with minutes to play.

Acosta wins it at the death

With time winding down and Union looking to steal a point or even more on the road, Markus Anderson carried the ball into Cincinnati’s defensive half with Quinn Sullivan making a run down the opposite side of the pitch. Anderson spotted Sullivan, but was unable to fire a cross-field pass with his left foot to spring Sullivan on the attack, and instead attempted to dribble around the defender. Anderson attempt was shut down, and Cincinnati quickly transitioned into attack-mode, searching for a winner later in the game. Cincinnati played the ball down the left side of the field and laid it off for Lucho Acosta just outside the penalty area. Acosta danced around a few desperate Union defenders and eventually let a right-footed shot loose, beating Semmle to his left-side and handing Union their 2nd consecutive last-minute loss.

Match Takeaways

1) Tai Baribo earned more minutes
Tai Baribo is someone who, justifiably at times, has been the recipient of really harsh criticism since arriving in Philadelphia last August. The truth is, however, Baribo has seldomly earned an appropriate opportunity to show Jim Curtin and Union fans exactly what he’s made of. Prior to Wednesday’s game, Tai Baribo had appeared for Union 10 times and had just 2 starts (one of which was a makeup game, where he was subbed out before the game actually started) for a total playing time of less than 300 minutes. He’s barely sniffed the pitch for Union so far.

Image Credit: Philadelphia Union

But because of injuries, international duty, a mid-week match and Julian Carranza set to leave for Dutch club Feyenoord, Tai Baribo earned an extremely rare start for the Blue and Gold on Wednesday night, and took full advantage of the opportunity. Baribo logged 89 minutes, completed 15/16 (94%) of his passes, created a scoring chance, exhibited his ability to both hold up the ball and wait for support and stretch his legs and chase after long, direct passes, and scored an important equalizer for Union – twice.

I’m not saying to call Tai Baribo into the office tomorrow and tell him he’s the new Julian Carranza for this team, but I find it incredibly hard to understand why Tai Baribo hasn’t gotten more playing time this season. Jim Curtin has spoken on it in the past, and alluded to the fact that players control their own destiny through hard work and commitment in training, which Curtin says Baribo has been showing lately. Maybe it really was just a matter of getting Tai Baribo to buy-in and train the way Jim Curtin would like him to. But regardless, a big game for Tai Baribo, who should definitely see more playing time while we wait for a permanent Julian Carranza replacement.

“[Baribo was] Excellent, and that’s not just because of the goals – It’s because of the work-rate, to be able to run and fight that way until he couldn’t run anymore. He’s worked hard to get this start, and now he’s certainly left a really great impression with the coaches, put in a great shift, and will certainly get more playing time. Obliviously when he’s behind Julian it’s tough to get minutes, but obviously Julian’s not here anymore and Tai did his job and stepped up and scored 2 big goals for us”.
-Jim Curtin

2) This team switches off too quickly

Earlier in this season, we heard Jim Curtin cite that a good number of goals his team are conceding are uncharacteristic, but as the season goes on, bad trends continue to spring up around this team. For the second game in a row, and the 7th time this season, Union conceded a goal within the first 15 minutes of the second half, the 2nd most of any team in Major League Soccer.

Union played pretty well in the first half, despite Oliver Semmle and Nate Harriel falling asleep for FCC’s opening goal. I thought Union responded to the early goal well, found the equalizer, and looked ready to push for the lease come the 2nd half. But just a few minutes in, Union make another costly mistake, and it ends up costing Union a goal just minutes after coming out of the locker room.

Not only that, but THREE times on Wednesday night Cincinnati was able to score less than 10 minutes after Union had, once again exemplifying this teams ability to shut-off and not put all their focus on the field.

“It hurts, we do work very hard and the players never quit, but maybe we need to work a little smarter. Because even the PK, we have plenty of numbers there…kind of from nothing, thought we had it covered well and it was going to be cleared, but it deflects and leads to a breakaway for them. It hurts, painful, we need to a better job at the start of the second half”
-Jim Curtin

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

3) When it rains, it pours…and right now Union are caught in the storm without an umbrella

Wednesday night’s last minute stoppage time winner for Cincinnati marks the second consecutive loss of that nature for Philadelphia Union. It’s the 5th time this season that Union have conceded in the last 15 minutes of the game, 3 of which resulting in a Union loss. Real Salt Lake’s last minute 30 yard stunner courtesy of Alex Katranis on April 27th was a shocking way to lose, but Union keep finding more ridiculous ways to drop points late in the game, losing 2-1 to Inter Miami at home with a 2-man advantage, and now giving the ball up while on the attack, and being hit on the counter attack in stoppage time.

Markus Anderson is getting a lot of blame for Cincinnati’s late winner which I think to be a bit harsh. Sure, Markus Anderson needs to be better on the ball, and needs to make a smarter play there – ping the ball across the field to Sullivan, keeping things in FCC’s defensive half, OR, run the ball to the corner. Like I said, 20 year old, inexperienced Markus Anderson needs to be smarter on the ball – but I reject the idea that he’s on the hook for this goal. 9 Union players are behind misfile when Anderson losses the ball, none of which were able to stop the counter attack coming the other way. 3 Union defender absolutely whiff on challenges just outside the box, just before Lucho Acosta places his shot in the bottom left corner. The whole team has to be better on that one, in my opinion. Once again…this team switches off too quickly.

  • Looking Forward

The bad results keep coming and so do the fixtures – Union will have another quick turnaround with Charlotte FC coming to Subaru Park on Saturday night. Charlotte are coming off a 2-2 draw at home against Orlando in a game where The Crown went down to 10-men in the opening half. Charlotte put themselves ahead in the game with 13 minutes and change to play, despite being down a man, but conceded an equalizer 5 minutes or so later to Orlando’s Facundo Torres.

Union will still be short handed on Saturday with players out in International Duty, so I’d expect to see Union youngsters make up the bench again, and likely another Tai Baribo start.

DOOP only have 1 win in their previous 12 games, and are winless at home in their previous 7 games at home since the opening of Union Yards, and have just one win at Subaru Park all season. It’s a drastic difference from the form this team has had at home for the last few seasons, but Jim Curtin feels confident that this team can still turn things around in the 2nd half of the season.

“I’m going to stay positive in the group, I believe in the guys and I know we can get things turned around. We just need that first little impetus to get the ball rolling forward”

-Jim Curtin

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union