Tactical Analysis / Union

Postgame analysis: Philadelphia Union 6-1 New England Revolution

In the Union’s 6-1 demolition of New England on Saturday, a truism emerged: The Union have a head coach who knows his team, knows his opponent, and is managing to take advantage of both right now.

A key player down injured? Next man up.

That key player down too? Next next man up!

An opponent outworking and outmaneuvering the team’s initial strategy? Change formations and selectively motivate.

The Union weathered a first half storm and then came out of the tunnel in the second half on fire. A five-goal half doesn’t happen by accident, and it’s worth looking under the hood to understand how it did.

Jim Curtin AND his players

Jim Curtin coached Brad Friedel under his own parked bus on Saturday night.

Perhaps the parked bus metaphor is an exaggeration as the Revs have some truly talented players in their XI, but Friedel’s team came in with a defense-first plan that, after 45 minutes, was working extremely well. It was a similar plan to the one the Revs used in Red Bull Arena several weeks ago to steal all three points and in Kansas City to earn a come-from-ahead, down-to-nine-men draw.

Though they had seemingly none of the ball early on, this was by pragmatic and protective design: their back line was as makeshift as can be with two starters suspended because of the aforementioned red cards. However, when the Revs got the ball, they were shuttling it to Spanish playmaker Carles Gil, causing chaos in the Union’s midfield and creating space in front of and through the Union’s back line.

As the half wore on, the Revs grew into the match and grew in their confidence (see their increasing first half possession chart below).

The result of this patience and formation was a plethora of great chances, almost all of them from directly in front of goal, and one tally in the back of the net. They were breaking the Union’s recently elite defense down at times as though there was no one in the way, and the neutral might have said the visiting musketeers deserved three or four goals to the good.

The Revs squandered chances though and were undone by some outstanding goalkeeping. At the whistle, their only score was because of a mistake by the Union.

Gil switches play, identifying the empty space the temporarily 10-man Union have ignored.

With Brenden Aaronson on the sideline determining if he could continue through a hip injury, the Union failed to temporarily modify their formation. Carles Gil saw the Union’s misaligned midfield, switched the ball, and the Revs capitalized.

The author has figured out how to add circles and arrows to his screen caps. Readers beware.

Aaronson belongs in the red circle on his half of the midfield diamond and no one fills his spot. Thus, Edgar Castillo rightly attacks that space before playing Juan Fernando Caicedo through.

The Union were on their heels in the first half and could have gotten to the interval without a scratch. Instead, they were level with the worst team in their conference because of a mental error.

It’s a simple problem, it’s a fixable problem, and it’s the kind of lapse that has haunted Union teams of old. This time, Jim Curtin directly addressed at halftime – or in this case, finally has the quality of side in which didn’t even need to.

The adjustments

Speaking of adjustments…

“It was one of those games that was completely different from the first half to the second half.” – Brad Friedel


Partially due to Aaronson’s injury and partially due to ebb and flow of the match, Curtin adjusted his preferred 4-4-2 diamond into either a flat 4-4-2 (according to Matt Doyle) or a 4-2-3-1 (according to Adam Cann). Whatever it was, the resulting switch put Jamiro Monteiro higher up the pitch in the #10 role with Fafa Picault and Ilsinho returning to their respective homes on the wings.

The Revolution are compact and forcing the Union wide, which allows Ilsinho space to attack, combine, and score.

The change opened New England’s defense completely up and took all of two minutes to pay off.

When Picault picked up a yellow card, however, Curtin quickly protected the hybrid attacker by bringing him off in favor of Sergio Santos. The coach finally has the horses to make such a fluid change and is using that depth now seemingly every match.

Santos is as much a winger as C.J. Sapong was when he was forced out wide, and like the former Union talisman, Santos inverted his position more often than not to allow Kai Wagner to overlap. Tucking in got Santos into the channels and on the back shoulder of his mark. That was enough to result in the Brazilian’s first goal, a flick from an inch-perfect cross off the German’s left back’s left foot (frankly the kind of aggressive and predictive cross rarely seen on this continent).

Overlap. Channel. Back shoulder. Goal.

The Union put their foot on the pedal after that, realizing the Revs were beaten and making sure they stayed that way. Their six-goal outburst might have been opportunism, the kind of running up the score that some coaches eschew for good sportsmanship.

The alternative mentality is twofold: goal differential matters come playoff time, and if the one team doesn’t like what the other team is doing to it, it’s incumbent upon the former to stop the latter.

On Saturday, no one could stop the Union.

Here it is, your moment of zen.


  1. Much to be positive about. Love the story of Bedoya taking care of the half time team talk. Also, love the attitude of not relenting once the goals started coming. Cobra Kai. No mercy. Should help them get a push of confidence for the rest of this month’s matches.

    Question has to be, though, how much of the team’s success is due to New England’s general ineptitude. You can only play the team in front of you. And the Union did well. Let’s see how they fare against Toronto and Seattle.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Sweep the leg

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      I didn’t have room for it in this post, but I thought New England’s issue ended up being mental. They had the Union so far on the back foot and didn’t capitalize in the 1st half that when the U scored so quickly in the 2nd , the Revs folded. I don’t put that as being bad, per se, just unmotivated.

      • I think that’s a fair assessment, Chris. By goal 4, they were done. Przybylko had time to order Starbucks unmarked before his goal.

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