Analysis / Commentary

Postgame analysis: Philadelphia Union 3-0 Montreal Impact

Photo: Paul Rudderow

With four wins in five matches, Philadelphia Union have a lot to be optimistic about. The Union are winning the matches that they need to be winning, and this latest shut out against Montreal Impact was enough to grab the third place spot and send a statement to the league that the Union are looking towards the playoffs.

Diamonds in the rough

Early on, the biggest hopes for a successful Union season came from big signings in midfielder Marco Fabian and striker Sergio Santos. It is a testament to the depth of the squad that the Union have been able to dominate with neither player. In fact, it was stellar performances by unexpected players that played a role in allowing the Union to win so comfortably, through what head coach Jim Curtin referred to as the “next man up mentality.”

Aurelien Collin put in a strong performance, reminding Union fans that center-backs don’t have to be 20-years-old to be good. In fact, Collin blocked the most shots (3), which could have changed the course of the match if he hadn’t been there.

Matthew Freese stepped up into the goalkeeping role with skill, allowing the Union to secure their shut out. Surprisingly, the Union have a fantastic depth to their goalkeeping squad sheet between Freese, who put in a great performance against Montreal, and Carlos Miguel Coronel, who has been making the USL highlight reels since he came on board.

Midfield domination 

Both Bedoya and Medunjanin had a fantastic game. More than 1 in 4 of the Union’s touches and 1 in 3 passes came from either midfield player, meaning that the Union have been able to assert more domination in the midfield. Both players look to have developed after a slow start to the season and have been in the swing of things as of late.

Brenden Aaronson had a promising performance as well. The statistics show that he still has a lot to learn – he had the most dispossessions (4) and the most unsuccessful touches (4) – but he looked creative and willing to experiment with through-balls, flick-ons, and aggressive runs. If the Union look lethargic at times, it was Aaronson who looked the most hungry to play beautiful soccer. If he can be more judicious in the risks that he takes, he could have a lot to offer the Union going forward.

Looking at the big picture, it has become exceedingly clear over the course of the season that the Union midfield are able to shift into top gear when other teams sit back and play defensive football. Montreal looked very complacent against Philadelphia, and this allowed the Union to set up runs and distribute the ball with relative ease. The real question going forward will be whether the Union can succeed against more aggressive teams that put pressure on the Union; Montreal did look dangerous when they had the ball in the final third of the pitch, and that is something that the Union defense and midfield will have to work to patch up if they want to succeed against bigger MLS sides.

At times, it also looks like the Union still fall back into the patient, possession-based style that was drilled into them last season, but they have been getting better at launching counterattacks through the midfield that create opportunities, rather than distributing the ball around the field until opportunities open up.

Sorting out the endgame

The Union have a plethora of options up front, so it was interesting that head coach Jim Curtin went with Corey Burke and Ilsinho, leaving their two paciest players – Fafa Picault and David Accam – on the bench.

The Union attack did well however, if not in volume then in quality. The Union are usually a “shoot ten, make one sometimes” team, but they were able to put 3 goals away out of 4 shots. If the Union can maintain even half of that efficiency, it will be a major contributor to their success this season.

It was also obvious to see that Burke has been tasked with holdup play, which he has done with success. In that regard, it seems like Burke should be starting for the team since he is the only player capable of that style of play outside of Kacper Pryzybylko, who is still relatively new to the squad. For that other offensive slot, there is the Union’s current top goalscorer David Accam, last season’s star winger Fafa Picault, brand new signing Sergio Santos, and of course, Ilsinho. The question remains: who will be the most effective in that role?

Ilsinho, who started there against Montreal, did not have his best performance. He has done a great job this season in improving his stamina and becoming a more well-rounded midfield-focused attacker, but he has also seemingly lost the agile footwork that allowed him to break through defenses last season. Whereas last year, he could reliably get past a player in order to send off a penetrating cross or shoot, it seems that this year he gets shut out.

If Ilsinho doesn’t start, then it seems like David Accam is the natural choice. He has shown a resurgence this season in the matches that he has played, scoring three goals so far. His goals per 90 minutes (1.12) actually outnumber all of the other players competing for a front line spot combined.

When Picault was subbed onto the match, there was an immediate observable effect as he was able to sprint down the right wing and create open space. Both Accam and Picault are good at this, and having either of them on the pitch is something that Curtin should think about going forward. The ability to break past the opposition’s final defensive line is something that both Accam and Picault bring to the Union lineup, and it is an important enough asset to justify starting one of them alongside Burke.

Overall, the Union attack – and the rest of the team as well – has looked very good. The stretch from the end of March to the beginning of May is the one that the Union need to get the majority of their points from, and they have been accomplishing just that. They will go into another stretch of challenging matches starting in mid-May, beginning with a rematch with Toronto FC. Now is the time to perfect their approach as much as possible, get the maximum number of points, and get ready to see how their style holds up against the big sides in the MLS. If the Union’s match up against Montreal Impact was any indication, the Union are on the right track.

One Comment

  1. Ilsinho wasn’t a striker. Curtin reverted to a 4-2-3-1 with Ilsinho on the right, Aaronson on the left, and Monteiro in the middle.
    Given the likelihood of the Impact sitting deep coming into the game, the thought may have been less about pace over-the-top with Fafa or Accam and more about getting a player (Ilsinho) who can break down compact defenses on the field. Score first, then the Impact have to chase the game and throw numbers forward more – then it is time to bring on your speed threats.

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