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Three Takeaways — Montreal vs. Philadelphia

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Welcome back to another edition of Three Takeaways, a segment in which I dive in after each Philadelphia Union match, revisit and take a closer look at what went well and what ultimately did not.

On Saturday, May 12, the Union traveled back to Canada for the second time in two weeks, to take on the Montreal Impact.

Philadelphia defeated Montreal 2-0, with both Corey Burke and Haris Medunjanin bagging their first goals of the season. A victory saw the Union improve to 3-2-5 and cement their position at the bottom, at 8th place in the Eastern Conference.

But, without further delay, I’ll break it down.

Is Corey Burke the New CJ Sapong?

For many fans this season, CJ Sapong has been a let down.

Sapong, who led the Union with 17 goals last season, has just one through 10 games this campaign. Noticeably, the Union’s target-man hasn’t played the same. Last year, Sapong was a handful for opposing backlines. He was physical and intimidating.

But since the playoff loss to Toronto FC, No. 17 hasn’t shown off any of those traits.

So, with Sapong out of the lineup against Montreal, due to hip problems, Jamaican international and all time leading scorer for the Bethlehem Steel Corey Burke stepped up, and in a big way, too. Burke, lining up as the starting forward, recorded his first career Philadelphia Union and MLS goal to fire the visitors ahead, 1-0. 

Burke’s goal came in a fairly aggressive manner, thumping a header off a Ray Gaddis dish in the 43rd minute. Burke nearly put one behind Montreal keeper Evan Bush earlier, in the 31st minute. The Jamaican showed off his footwork, before letting off a laser that was palmed away by Bush.

However, Burke all but canceled out his goal, picking up a red card in the 58th minute, leading to a one-game suspension against Real Salt Lake at Talen Energy Stadium. 

I want to see more of the Jamaican in future games, although I’d like to see Burke deployed first off the bench, and then more as part of head coach Jim Curtin’s Starting XI.  

Why Saturday’s Lineup Deserves to Stay

Against the Impact, the Union made several, major lineup changes.

David Accam, Jack Elliot, and Fabinho were left on the bench, while Fafa Picault, Mark McKenzie, Gaddis, and Burke earned spots in Curtin’s XI.

Personally, I think the Union should continue to deploy this squad moving forward.

Now, while I’ll admit it isn’t the best possible XI, they did pull off a road victory, something the Union hasn’t done much this year nor in the last year. In fact, the Union’s last win on the road came more than 364 days ago. 

Also, and I think this is important to note, Philadelphia’s lineup on Saturday consisted of several players who normally warm the Union bench for 60 minutes or more, waiting for their opportunity.

On Saturday, Curtin gave players like Burke and McKenzie their opportunity, and they both took it. 

In rotating the team, and giving players the opportunity to impress, shows Curtin’s faith in the team as a whole, in those players, and in the process of developing each player part of the First Team.

Given the performances of the players that started on Saturday, I believe they deserve more opportunities on the field; they showed they deserve at least another look from Curtin.

Gaddis pushed up the field, joining and contributing to the attack.

McKenzie looked solid and composed in defense. 

Overall, the players who normally watch from afar were able to change the pace of play, from the backline to the attacking front, something the “regulars” have not been able to do in recent games. 

Fans might not see this lineup again for a while, however, I personally wish to see Curtin give this lineup another run-around. 

Finally. Some Consistency

Since March, the Union have gotten off to a fast start in most games. But they noticeably run out of steam for the rest of the match. Consistently.

However, in Montreal, Philadelphia managed to play 90 minutes of electric soccer. Curtin’s team managed to push up, get good looks at Bush’s goal, and pepper countless shots that gave the home crowd a good scare.

It was a performance in stark contrast to the team fans have watched in Chester, which has spent the majority of its time dug in, on defense. Against the Impact, the Union managed to spend more time than normal in the attacking third, causing the home backline to backpedal.

Now, while the Union weren’t perfect by anyone’s standards, they did show considerable improvement and managed to control the tempo of the game. Curtin’s boys got up close and personal with the Impact, matching the home side’s physicality, they didn’t give up on defense, either. Philadelphia was dominant on offense, and to me, that improvement is the most important takeaway from the game.

That said, Montreal is certainly not the strongest team in MLS. They’re, statistically speaking, one of the worst teams this season. But neither are the Union. And, at this stage of the Union’s season, any win helps, especially any road win.

Make sure to check back next week, when Lister analyzes the Philadelphia Union’s latest performance, with his latest Three Takeaways. Until then, cheers.

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