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, August 18, the New York City FC came to Talen Energy Stadium to take on the Philadelphia Union. Philly came out firing in the second half, winning the game, 2-0, after goals from Cory Burke and Ilsinho.
17,594 was Saturday’s attendance for what felt like a MLS Playoff atmosphere, with traveling fans taking up nearly two sections at TES and making their presence known for most of the game.
It was an exciting match in Chester, and there’s a lot to talk about. I’ll get right to it.
Performance of the Year?
It’s a HUGE result for the Union.
Going into the match, the Union sat fifth in the Eastern Conference and seemingly without a prayer of reaching fourth. Following the victory on Saturday, the Union now reside just six points from Columbus Crew SC in fourth.
Philly visibly dominated New York in the second half, after holding their own in the first. In the second half, the Union peppered eight shots on Sean Johnson with four SOG, while holding the visitors to just four shots on Andre Blake with one SOG.
Jim Curtin’s side worked as a team and looked complete for the first time in a long time.
C.J. Sapong did the dirty work on the right side, winning several aerial duels.
David Accam went on several blistering runs down the left flank, while Bořek Dočkal and Alejandro Bedoya worked the passing lanes and clogged the middle of the park. Dočkal earned both assists on the night, his fourth and fifth in the last five games.
Right now, it’s still probably a stretch to say that the Union catch Columbus in fourth, but if Curtin’s team continues to play like it did on Saturday, the new-look Union might just be the best side fans have seen in a while.
David Accam is BACK
Apparently penciling Accam down as Man of the Match is considered a hot take, seeing as the club’s list comprised Dočkal, Ray Gaddis, Burke, and Ilsinho. But let’s take a step back and analyze what he did.
In the 68 minutes that Accam played, the Ghanaian made himself a highlight reel. Accam raced up and down the field time and time again, nabbing three shots on goal in three shots, and showing off his sheer pace against the NYCFC defenders.
In all honesty, if Accam lasted the full 90 minutes, he probably could’ve finished and put the ball in the back of the net.
That being said, I do like Curtin’s like-for-like switch, with Ilsinho coming on for Accam. Ilsinho added an entirely different component to the game, and was able to make New York City’s defense miss, instead of just running around them, forcing them to adjust.
All the same, Accam, in my opinion, had a much better game overall when it came to wearing down the defense and forcing the NYCFC defense into uncomfortable situations. For me, the Ghanaian was the best player on the field Saturday.
How Did the 4-3-3 Work?
For the first time, in what feels like forever, Curtin altered his formation, rolling with a 4-3-3, instead of the usual 4-2-3-1.
Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the 4-2-3-1. Having a lone striker is just that, alone. Sapong has, at times, had nobody around him, making it harder for last season’s top-scorer to find the back of the net.
However, with the 4-3-3, Burke is given much-needed help up top from Sapong and Accam, and later Ilsinho. For most of Saturday’s game, New York’s backline was overloaded by the Union’s triumvirate. Philly, with three men up front, was given more flexibility.
Sapong tracked back at times to help defensively, allowing Burke to stay up top, and Accam to make runs. Each of the three players were put into positions where they flexed their strengths, which ultimately aided the Union’s midfield and attack.
Now, there is a chance that Curtin will revert back to his favored 4-2-3-1. Admitting that you could be better is important, and exploring ways to become better is just as critical. Hopefully, the Front Office recognizes this, and will continue to explore new alleys including staying with the 4-3-3.
Please be sure to check back here, next Saturday when Lister analyzes the Union’s performance against the visiting New England Revolution at Talen Energy Stadium. Until then, cheers.