Last Saturday, the Philadelphia Union traveled to Columbus to play in the first installment of a home-and-home, against Columbus Crew SC. They lost 1-0 on the day, after an unfortunate own goal by Joshua Yaro.
In what is the first edition of Three Takeaways, I take a closer look at the adjustments Jim Curtin and the Union should make in tonight’s pivotal rematch against the Crew, at Talen Energy Stadium.
Strengthen the back line
No one would dare to speak ill of John McCarthy, at the moment. He’s not Andre Blake. No, he’s John McCarthy, and he’s a more than capable starter in Major League Soccer. Curtin sure thinks so, too.
McCarthy has been forced into making several spectacular saves a match, recently. So often the back line has failed the Union’s No. 2, and has forced McCarthy to hold his own back there.
Read the runs
Time after time, Columbus got away with little streaks downfield that the Union ultimately failed to recognize and mark up on players running in behind. Example A: Ola Kamara nearly went top shelf on a volley that he should have never had time for. Instead, Kamara should have been forced to play with his back to goal, with a center back on his back.
It nearly cost them a goal (or two). Again, without the heroics of McCarthy between the sticks, the Union would have found themselves picking the ball from out of their net, and on more than one occasion.
They have to get better at reading the long ball.
Get. Guys. Back.
For once, the Union have considerable depth.
Even with all the players the Union were missing on Saturday — Andre Blake, Fafa Picualt, Chris Pontius, Derrick Jones, Fabian Herbers, Roland Alberg, Oguchi Onyewu, and CJ Sapong — they managed to stay in the match against Columbus, even if it wasn’t pretty.
It’s encouraging to see younger guys like Adam Najem and Marcus Epps play beyond their years and look fairly comfortable on the field. Nevertheless, the absences were still noted.
Offensively, the Union sorely missed Picault’s speed on the wing, as well as his ability to play on both sides of the ball. They also desperately missed Sapong’s strong hold up play, which allows for guys to join in on the attack.
In the back, the Union’s backline appeared to miss the strong, veteran presence of Onyewu.
Although Yaro was able to go toe-to-toe with several of Crew’s more speedy players, he was often drug out of his position, leaving Jack Elliot alone in the box. And despite Elliot’s considerable size advantage, he isn’t yet able to boss opposing guys in the box like Gooch.
Joe Lister is a contributor for UnionFanTV. Check back soon for the next edition of Three Takeaways. Be sure to also check out the latest U in Preview, which takes a closer look at tonight’s match against Columbus.