Analysis / Union

Postgame analysis: Vancouver Whitecaps 1-1 Philadelphia Union

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Take what you will from Philadelphia Union’s 1-1 road draw with Vancouver on Saturday.

The first half saw a home team with just one win and a clear talent deficit focused primarily on defensive solidity, while the visitors were similarly focused, given their 3,000-mile road trip saw several regulars staying behind in Pennsylvania.

Then a goal off a corner kick opened the match wide after halftime, when the Union stole a goal through some successful high pressing.

The takeaways? Well, here are a few.

Score one for the high press

Vancouver wanted to play out of the back. Even with the Union pushing at least three players up high on Vancouver’s goal kicks, Whitecaps goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau still willingly passed short to his center backs.

So when defensive pressure from Fafa Picault and Jamiro Monteiro forced a turnover that Monteiro’s subtly but perfectly tipped pass turned into a breakaway goal for Kacper Przybylko, it didn’t surprise.

Check out PSP alum Adam Cann’s breakdown of the play here. He explains it perfectly, including the Monteiro pass, which was easy to miss during live play. (In fact, Vancouver’s broadcasters described it as a wayward back pass from Ali Adnan.)

Another good defensive effort, another set piece breakdown

Some impressive defensive stats for you:

  • Philadelphia entered the game having allowed just 68 shots through eight games, and that 8.5 shots per game rate was the league’s best on the defensive side. (Atlanta has nudged the Union back to second, thanks to Colorado parking the bus against the Five Stripes and then the coach driving it over his players after the game.)
  • The Union lead the league in tackles per game, with 23.
  • The Union’s 10.7 fouls per game is third fewest in MLS.
  • The Union’s 1.1 yellow cards per game are the second fewest in MLS. (Red cards, alas, are another story.)

Aside from Marco Fabian, the Union have been a disciplined defensive team this season.

That said, it doesn’t mean as much if you defend well all game and then blow your marks on corner kicks and free kicks, which the Union have done a bit of this year.

On any corner kick, there are usually three players your team must prioritize: The opposing target forward and two center backs. For Vancouver, there was no target forward, so it was just the two.

Still, there was Doneil Henry getting free in the box, with Auston Trusty a step behind after tripping over Olivier Mbaizo while trying to circumvent the trio of Vancouver players strategically bunched up near the penalty spot to throw off the Union’s man marking.

Some observations on players we haven’t seen a ton of

Beyond that, we can try to conjure up some analysis, but let’s be real here: That was a defensively tight first half, followed by a second half of guys running wild and probably awfully tired.

A more valid series of takeaways may be some observations on some Union players we haven’t seen much of, as three players were starting their first games of the year.

  • Matt Freese: The 20-year-old homegrown player got the start ahead of Brazilian import Carlos Miguel Coronel. He showed fairly well in the shot-stopping department, but his distribution looked extraordinarily shaky on restarts — and often quite short. His distribution appeared stronger when he had a live ball at his feet and plenty of space, but it also seemed that Union players were avoiding back passes to Freese in a way they do not usually do with Andre Blake. Freese’s performance wasn’t bad for such a young goalkeeper, but it paled in comparison to what John McCarthy brought to the table. Between Blake’s injury and the Gold Cup, the Union may seriously regret letting McCarthy go.
  • Olivier Mbaizo: The Cameroonian finally got his first start of the year after many expected him to open the season as the starting right back. Mbaizo then proceeded to show why he hasn’t been starting. While he had some solid last minute defensive cleanups deep in Union territory, he was wasteful in attack, sending in errant crosses almost by default: He completed 1 of 11 crosses on the day, the most attempts by any Union player in a game this year.
  • Kacper Przybylko: The Polish striker got his first goal of the year, and his finishing boots looked as accurate as any Union player this year. The goal was perfectly taken, and he nearly got a second later on, but for a good save by Crepeau. Other than that, he continued to show that he is an active and physical defensive presence, so much show that the contrast makes Cory Burke’s defensive effort look even poorer in retrospect. He also played more of a role in the Union’s possession game than Burke typically does. That said, he looks like he might match Burke for the occasional clumsiness. It was a good showing by Przybylko, one that should earn him more time but not yet put anyone at ease about the Union’s lack of a top end No. 9.
  • Jamiro Monteiro: The more we see of Monteiro, the more we set in stone the notion that the Union must find the funds to lock down his full transfer. Monteiro may be the most active midfielder this team has ever deployed. His transition defense helps erase the Union’s prior fatal flaw — opposition counterattacks — his pressure rattles opponents, and his quality on the ball is just so fun to watch. He’s a keeper, without question.
And a few notes on the guys we think we know

And let’s spare a few notes on some players that Union observers may take for granted at this point.

  • Haris Medunjanin: Talk about his defensive flaws all you want, but Medunjanin’s ability to maintain possession against pressure deep in midfield is elite in MLS. Watching him effortlessly thread his way through opposing defenders to crack open their press is truly a thing of beauty to watch. More than that, the entire Union possession game is predicated upon his ability to do that.
  • Auston Trusty: Yes, it’s clear Trusty is prone to the occasional big misstep, and his default to hopeless long balls when in trouble in possession has become an obvious scouting point for opponents. But don’t overlook this: Trusty is as good an athlete as there is playing center back in MLS, he’s left-footed, and he’s just 20 years old. That open field tackle on the second half breakaway? Wow.
  • Derrick Jones: Made the 18. Didn’t play. The Union should trade him while he still has value.


  1. I found that for nearly every big face-palm mistake Trusty made, he had a really nice tackle or pass. He’s a coin toss, which doesn’t instill a ton of confidence, but I think he can learn a bit. He has been particularly poor defending the cross against a strong attacking player. Kevin Kinkead made a point I think I subscribe to, which is that Trusty has to toughen up a bit. Maybe he can study from his teammate, Aurelian Collin, who might be a front-runner for an MLS Shithouse All Star XI.

    Agree very much with your other takes on player performances.

  2. Chris Gibbons says:

    I would love if the Union faithful would have an ounce of faith in the team’s ability to judge a player’s readiness. I realize that 9 years of burning that bridge is a hard thing to overcome, but given what fans have seen from Aaronson, Monteiro, Kacper, and Coronel this season, maybe the club knows when a player is ready and when he’s not. That might speak to where Matt Real is in his development, as well as Derrick Jones and (now that there’s more tape) M’Baizo.

    • +1. Philly loves the hype train on young up and comers, but I think the coaching organization at least, has been pragmatic. As much as we want Derrick Jones to turn that corner, the coaching staff knows best and at this point, with the standings being what they are, and the product on the field being what it is, I trust their judgment.

    • I’ve had very little faith in Curtin’s judgment for years, but I’m now starting to come around to thinking he may be right about these players more often than not.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      That also means knowing when to trade/sell a player. For example, Josh Yaro left for nothing when he could have brought a return.

  3. Monteiro is such a revelation that, to be honest, I am starting to think he may be too good for this league. We need to buy him, sign him to a 3-year contract, and — if he keeps playing the way he has so far — plan to sell him at the end of next season to a Ligue 1 or EPL team for a tidy profit.

    As for Medunjanin, I find it incredibly ironic that you’d pick this match, of all matches, to sing his praises. I saw only the second half of the match, and what I saw was Vancouver running rampant through the Union midfield, with Medunjanin being responsible for a fair amount of that.

    Now I must say that, in all fairness, after 2 terrible matches to start the season, Haris has really been excellent since, and that includes on defense. But in the second half of this match he reverted to his old form. And it’s relevant because when everybody’s healthy, playing our typical formation, we got 5 midfielders for 4 slots. It would be foolish not to start Fabiàn (who, whatever his foibles so far, has a huge talent ceiling and a huge price tag), it would be absurd not to start Bedoya (who fits in that R midfield slot like a glove and has done everything we could ask him to do), and Monteiro may be the best of all of them. So that means either Haris sits, or Aaronson sits. It will probably be the kid, but I think Haris’ defensive flaws are worth talking about insofar as he reverts to form. His value is in being a “second quarterback” for the possession game so that opponents can’t just mark out the CAM, but it seems to me that either Monteiro or Aaronson might be able to fulfill that role to some degree.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Monteiro is too good for this league. You are correct, and you are correct that they should lock him up as a Union player and sell him as soon as they get an offer. Metz paid 2.7 million pounds for him and he’s still worth 1.58 according to Transfermarkt.

    • Monteiro is the best player on this team. It’s pretty clear when you watch him. Gotta lock hm up if at all possible.
      Once the team is healthy Bedoya should be starting at RB. Ray is still really holding us back on offense. I know he’s been better but this formations gives that spot so much room to work and Bedoya dominated there when he was shifted back.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Well, I picked this game because this was the assignment that I drew. 😉

      Medunjanin is what he is defensively. That isn’t changing, and there’s nothing you, I or (probably) he can do about it.

      If you’re not appreciating what he does with the ball at his feet, then you’re missing some of the fun of the game.

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