Three Takeaways: Atlanta United vs. Philadelphia Union

Opinion, Three Takeaways

Welcome back to the latest edition of Three Takeaways, a segment in which I analyze each of the Philadelphia Union’s matches throughout the season.

Philadelphia Union traveled to Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday to take on defending champions Atlanta United. After 90 minutes of hard-fought play, the game ended with a 1-1 draw as the Union wrapped up a two-game, away stretch.

Philadelphia was without No. 10 Marco Fabián, who was ejected the previous game against Sporting Kansas City. Fabián was replaced in the Starting XI by Homegrown Brenden Aaronson, who scored the lone goal for the Boys-in-Blue in his debut.

There is a lot to talk about, so let’s get to it.

Aaronson Shows Out in Debut

With Marco Fabián suspended for his ejection against Sporting, the Union called upon 18-year-old Homegrown midfielder, Brenden Aaronson to start in his absence at the Union’s No. 10 role.

Aaronson, like Fabián, scored in his debut and made a strong argument for seeing more time on the field. Now, before you say that an 18-year-old couldn’t possibly replace a traveled international player like Fabián, I will point out that 10-year-old Ronaldo was lightyears ahead of the present-day, 16-year-old me. Age isn’t a factor here.

However, I don’t believe that the Union will give Aaronson many more looks in the Starting XI at this time, so fans will have to wait to evaluate him beyond one standout performance.

In the meantime, let’s look at the intangibles.

Aaronson was able to move the ball around, and showed more at the No. 10 than Marco Fabián has through two games this season. He’s was able to move the ball around the field, and create space for himself.

Looking at the numbers, Aaronson had a better opening than Marco Fabian had against Sporting, though not as good as the Mexican’s opener against Toronto Football Club, according to the Audi Index.

I don’t think that Aaronson should be the hard start for the rest of the season, but I do believe the Homegrown should be given more time to prove himself off the bench, so that he might be able to become a consistent member of the Starting XI in the near future.

Controlling the Center of the Box

Two of the three, non-PK/own-goals scored against the Union so far this season have come, interestingly enough, from the exact same scenario. Be it a scrap inside the penalty area or a pass to a lone man standing on the penalty mark, both have resulted in goals conceded by the Union.

To me, this is negligence by the coaching staff. Despite an obvious problem rearing its ugly head, the staff hasn’t worked to correct it, and Atlanta was able to exploit it against Philadelphia. If it happens again, I’ll be even more disappointed. Jim Curtin and his staff are supposed to be working to make this team the best version of itself.

This seems oddly specific, however, it is focused on a broader subject. The Union’s coaching staff has to be held accountable for its actions, or it’s lack thereof.

This scenario happening once is bad enough, but consistently leaving a man open in the most vulnerable place on the field is unacceptable. Fans will surely hope that this is the last they see of this.

Woah, We’re Halfway There

Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve done it. We’ve officially reached the halfway point, before I call for Jim Curtin to be terminated.

The Union have had a poor showing in each of their opening three games. They fell 3-1 at home to Toronto, fell 2-0 on the road against Kansas City, and drew Atlanta 1-1 in a game where it seemed they would finally earn three points.

To be clear, I’m not calling for Curtin’s dismissal just yet, I won’t do that until around match five or six. However, Curtin has shown that he most likely isn’t the leader the team needs.

I’ve given him some leniency this season with the entry of Ernst Tanner as Sporting Director, in the event that Earnie Stewart was the puppet master, running things behind the scenes. However, Curtin has shown that he is still unable to get the best out of his team .

To be clear, it isn’t just Curtin who I’m disappointed with. Marco Fabián hasn’t exactly lived up to the hype. Midfielders Warren Creavalle and Haris Medunjanin have been poor. The players also deserve criticism when and where it’s due.

Make sure to check back in next week when Lister analyses the Union’s play against Columbus Crew SC at Talen Energy Stadium.

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Three Takeaways: Union vs. Toronto FC

Opinion, Three Takeaways

Welcome back to another edition of Three Takeaways, a segment in which I collect my thoughts about what went right, and what didn’t, in each of the Philadelphia Union’s matches.

Three Takeaways has returned, and just in time for a disappointing 3-1 defeat courtesy of Toronto Football Club, at home to open the season.

Saturday’s game offered a first look at the Union squad that Sporting Director Ernst Tanner has assembled during the offseason. The most noticeable additions came in the cameos of German defender Kai Wager and Mexican midfielder Marco Fabián in the Starting XI. Absent from the team was veteran striker CJ Sapong and defender Keegan Rosenberry.

But, without further delay, it’s time to kick off the first edition of Three Takeaways for the 2019 Philadelphia Union season.

New Year, New Union?

For years, the Union have praised the 4-2-3-1 formation and its effectiveness on the field.

However, with the departure of former Sporting Director Ernie Stewart to the United States Men’s National Team and the hiring of Tanner, the Union have opted for a new style of play, running a 4-1-2-1-2 at Talen Energy Stadium last Saturday.

Philly came up short on the day, but they did dominate in possession, 61.8 percent to 38.2 percent, as well as shots taken, 17 to 8. To a certain extent, the gamble made by Tanner and head coach Jim Curtin seemingly paid off, showing fans that the Union is capable of dictating play under the new formation.

Branching out is something that the Union has needed to do for the past few years, and Tanner’s entrance has shown that Curtin will have the ability to play with the team to find what’s best as opposed to staying with an archaic system that failed to notice the need to change in the organization.

First Game Woes

Philly may have led in possession and shots, but outside of that, they had little to show for on offense.

Many fans were expecting to see a big impact from marquee signing Marco Fabián in his first start for Philadelphia, and by the numbers, he performed quite well. Fabián finished with seven shots, three of which being on goal, including the Union’s only goal.

But Fabián did not look as attractive, as his numbers would otherwise suggest. He didn’t show the same energy that last year’s No. 10, Borek Dockal did, and he moved the ball around the field noticeably less.

Overall, the Union had trouble threading the seams and finding passing lanes to run into.

It looked as if Philly’s game plan was to utilize the speed of Fafa Picault and exploit the TFC backline. Picault certainly got in behind and saw plenty of the ball, but was unable to make anything of his opportunities.

Going forward, Picault is going to need more help from his midfield partners, especially from the feet of Fabián.

Looking Forward

Nevertheless, it’s the first game, the season is not dead, and signing Marco Fabián was not some mistake the Union will live to regret. Picault is undoubtedly a mainstay in the Starting XI, too.

I don’t believe this game should be looked at as a marker for the rest of the season. 

Philadelphia has many new components to it, and the team is going to adjust and mesh throughout the season. Changes should, and most likely will, be made. Formations may not be adjusted, but players will be moved around and set plays will change.

Through all this, though, the team must maintain its focus on the prize, MLS Cup.

I believe the team has the potential to do something great this season, and I will continue to say that until the Union lose sight of their target.

Check back in next week when Lister collects his thoughts on the Union’s performance against CONCACAF contenders Sporting Kansas City. Until then, DOOP On.

Noble: My Reaction to NYCFC vs. Philadelphia Union

News, Opinion

Editor’s Note: Philly Football Daily’s newest contributor, Wyatt Noble, reacts to the Union’s loss to NYCFC, in what is Noble’s first for the site. 

Philadelphia Union looked plain hapless at times during Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the New York City Football Club.

But despite missing out on the opportunity to secure their first home playoff game since 2011 and playing some of the worst soccer imaginable during the first half, it’s not time to panic for the Union. In fact, there may even be cause for optimism heading into a knockout round rematch with NYCFC.

There’s no denying the Union looked out-of-sorts during the first half, with the team conceding three goals in just over half an hour, managing a measly three shots and 31 percent of possession.

And then there was the noticeable infighting between two of the Union’s best players in Borek Dockal and Cory Burke to couple the off-ball stagnation. Philly’s young, touted backline seemed afraid to touch the NYCFC players they were tasked with marking.

But looks can be deceiving, and so can stats.

New York central defender Maxime Chanot did well to shake off and rise above C.J. Sapong, before nodding in City’s first goal in the eighth minute. But the header itself was a pretty tame one, one that Andre Blake would normally save with ease.

Expect Blake to make this kind of save nine times out of 10 and on Wednesday night, too.

Then, Auston Trusty’s unfortunate own goal in the 10th minute could have broken the Union’s spirit completely. Despite being two-nil down, Jim Curtin’s team began to claw their way back less than five minutes later, courtesy of Burke’s tenth goal on the year.

 

It’s probably safe to assume Trusty won’t be scoring any more bangers for opposing teams this season. Only time will tell, however. 

While the Union conceded a third goal in the 34th minute, their play at the other end going forward improved drastically. Nevertheless, the Union’s back-four must do better than they did on this play that ultimately led to New York’s third goal, courtesy of their captain David Villa

Pivoting to the positives from Sunday’s loss.

Down two goals at the half, the Union came out fighting, and were it not for a series of stellar saves from Sean Johnson, which included a penalty stop on Fafa Picault in the 59th minute, the two teams would’ve been level.

New York’s backline looked susceptible to through balls, and Dockal often found himself with more space than he knew what to do with.

Philadelphia ended the game with a 45 percent share of possession and nine shots to boot, but with some sharper finishing and admittedly a little bit of luck, it could have quite easily been enough to win this game.

Putting this loss to the side, the Union have only been beaten once in their last six games away from Talen Energy Stadium, and it just so happens that the rematch with NYCFC will be another away game. 

Sunday’s 3-1 scoreline may have some City fans feeling confident heading into Wednesday’s rematch, however, it’s important to remember that New York has won just three of its last 11 games. And that is counting the game on Decision Day.

Remember, this New York team was eyeing up the Supporters’ Shield midway through the season. But after the departure of its head coach, Patrick Viera, the team’s form dropped off drastically.

If the Union can correct the unfortunate individual errors that ultimately cost them a home playoff game, there’s no doubting Philadelphia will be well-prepared to right its wrongs from Sunday and remind the league why it finished with a franchise record 50 points this season.

Kickoff for Wednesday night’s knockout game is slated for 7:00 P.M. EST, and will be broadcasted on FS1 as well as UniMas.  

 

Three Takeaways — Philadelphia Union vs. NYCFC

Opinion, Three Takeaways

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. 

 

 

 

Three Takeaways — New England Revolution vs. Philadelphia Union

Opinion, Three Takeaways

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 11, the Philadelphia Union traveled to Foxborough, Massachusetts, to take on the New England Revolution. History repeated itself as another Philadelphia sports team was victorious against a New England one.

Despite the victory, the Union certainly did not play their best, however, they currently sit fifth in the Eastern Conference and are in a Major League Soccer Playoff position if they can hold onto it.

We have a bit to talk about, so I’ll get right to it.

The Union Didn’t Deserve to Win

In the first half, the Union didn’t dominate. Nevertheless, they still found themselves leading 2-0 after Jack Elliott tucked two balls into the back of New England and keeper Matt Turner’s net.

However, in the second half, the Union fell apart.

New England peppered 16 shots on Andre Blake, putting six of them on goal. New England maintained control and majority of possession until Fafa Picault drew a penalty in the 76th minute, which he converted from the spot.

New England had chance after chance before the penalty that gave the Union a little breathing room. Nevertheless, the visitors were forced to work for every touch. I don’t know exactly what coach Brad Friedel said to his team in the locker room, but the Union weren’t able to adjust to the adjusted level that New England played at in the second half.

To clarify, I don’t think that Saturday was a total collapse on the part of the Union. Philly did have a solid first half, and the two goals from Elliott certainly weren’t accidents on the part of the Englishman.

Philadelphia most likely would not have scored on the play that led to Picault’s spot kick goal, however, there were several other build-ups that the Union could’ve finished, and they always looked destined to knick a third goal.

By no standards was the Union’s play great, but three points is three points. In this case, it was six, with the two clubs separated by just a point in the East.

Hopefully, Curtin and his team will recognize what went wrong and look to fix it before next week’s game against NYCFC, a team that could hurt the Union if Philadelphia does not change their reaction to when all goes awry.

Andre Blake, MVP?

It’s no secret that Blake has the potential to be the best keeper in MLS, and an overall solid keeper in Europe. However, what is holding the Jamaican back is that the Union haven’t been offered enough for the Jamaican international star.

On Saturday, Blake showed once again why he’s one of the best in the league, keeping the Union in the game throughout the constant barrage on goal from New England’s attack. Blake stopped ball after ball, limiting the Revs to just two goals from their 26 shots.

For me, the two best players on the current Union roster are Bořek Dočkal and Blake, and against New England, Blake showed that he is undoubtedly No. 1 in the team, and nearly indispensable.

Blake did almost too much, as the back line let New England get off too many shots from wide open, leading to shots that made life rather difficult for the Union keeper. Philly’s  backline must hold its own to keep Blake comfortable between the sticks. Until then, the Union will have to rely heavily on their MVP.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I am content with John McCarthy as the starting keeper, but he doesn’t have the same shot-stopping capabilities as Blake. For the right price, I would be willing to let Blake take a flight across the Atlantic, but until then, the Jamaican will remain the best player in Curtin’s team and the rock behind the backline.

What Happens to Herbers and Elliott?

Ilsinho is set to return next Saturday against NYCFC, which begs the question: what will happen to Fabian Herbers, and later Jack Elliott upon the return of preferred central defender Mark McKenzie?

Herbers was called up from Bethlehem Steel FC when Ilsinho went down against the Chicago Fire, and since then has made a visibly positive impact alongside converted winger C.J. Sapong.

Moreover, since Herbers’ return to the First Team, fans haven’t seen much of David Accam on the field. Now, it’s unlikely that Herbers and Accam will switch places and Accam will be sent down to Bethlehem, due to the Union Front Office’s desire to save face. However, at the moment, Herbers might deserve a place in the First Team more than Accam.

In just a few games, Herbers has made an impact with the team, and he can and should make an argument to Curtin against his dropping.

Fans know what will inevitably happen to Elliott when McKenzie returns from his knee injury. Elliott will probably return to the bench, waiting for another chance to prove himself to Curtin.

However, Elliott deserves more. He had a great game against New England, putting his two goals aside. Elliott also had a solid game defensively, slowing down the Revolution attack on breakaways and sticking to his assigned man, reminding us why he was a Rookie of the Year finalist last year.

McKenzie is both a promising and solid defender, but if Elliott continues to play at the level he is at currently, McKenzie should have to work to regain the starting center back position.

Be sure to check back next week, on Saturday, when Lister breaks down the Union’s performance against the visiting New York City Football Club at Talen Energy Stadium.