Analysis / Commentary

Postgame analysis: Philadelphia Union 2 – Toronto FC 1

Philadelphia Union’s match against Toronto FC was perhaps the first real test of the “new” Union side that has been able to collect 13 points in its last five matches. The matchup highlighted the growth that the Philadelphia side have experienced since losing to Toronto on the opening day of the season. Breaking down the gameplay behind the Union’s fresh win, there are three major takeaways to keep an eye on going forward as the Union face some challenging opponents.

The Union continue to click up front

Comparing the Toronto and Philadelphia offense on Saturday was like looking at night and day. Toronto had dangerous runs with very little defensive interference on Philadelphia’s right side, but they weren’t able to translate any of their four on-target shots onto the scoreboard, whereas the Union converted their chances with clinical efficiency and bagged two goals from just five on-target shots.

More impressive was the way that the goals happened for the Union, both of them representing the prototypical goal that is the sole purpose of Philadelphia’s new style of football philosophy – dynamic transition plays that force the other team on the back foot and give a split-second opportunity to put it home for the Union. As the Union scored two goals to guarantee their first place spot in the East, the rest of the MLS is seeing that their strategy on the pitch is working out and the chemistry on the Union team is as strong as it’s ever been.

Resilience = points against big teams

Another major difference between this Philadelphia team and the team of years past is resilience on the pitch. When Toronto hit in the equalizer right after half-time, the Union were able to stay on the front foot and force a response through Jamiro Monteiro’s match-winning goal just 17 minutes later. Rather than crumble or give away momentum in the match, the Union were able to regather their forces, bring on a goal-hungry player like Brenden Aaronson, and snatch a winner.

Interestingly, before Toronto’s goal, the Union had only two shots in the match. After Toronto scored, they shot seven times in 40 minutes. Keeping up that level of resilience and thirst for goals will be essential as the Union battle top-level Seattle Sounders next week. More importantly, that resilience is exactly what the Union will need if they hope to advance in playoffs this year, the undeniable goal for this rejuvenated Philadelphia team.

Individual brilliance + team dynamism = beautiful football

The team has been dynamic, adaptive, and creative enough to find the opportunities needed to win against every kind of opponent. When the players play well, it makes the team look better, but when the whole team plays well, it makes the individual players look stellar.

Kai Wagner had a fantastic match against Toronto and was directly responsible for the Union’s opening goal through his run down the wing and his cross into the box. More impressively, while Wagner was aggressively attacking, his side of the pitch remained impenetrable defensively. Only one successful Toronto dribble went through Wagner’s side, compared to the four that came through Ray Gaddis’ side. Wagner has been a revelation for the Union, and it’s looking like he will remain so going forward in the season.

The Union midfield has likewise been phenomenal. From new players like Monteiro and Aaronson, to stalwarts like Bedoya and Medunjanin, the Union midfield looks great. Monteiro has been incredibly agile and omnipresent in the midfield, while Aaronson brings a fire to the attack. Bedoya looks like a captain and is playing on a different level in the new system, while Medujanin has been an engine firing on all cylinders this year.

One last shout-out must go to Carlos Miguel Coronel for outstanding goalkeeping for the Union since Blake and Freese have been out with injury. He has been MLS starter quality since his first minute for the Union, and has been instrumental in helping the Union not miss a beat since losing Blake. If Philadelphia’s backup goalie was any less good, they would not be first in the East right now, so a lot of praise deserves to go to Coronel.

Questions to think about going forward

While the three takeaways from Saturday’s match give a lot to Union fans to be thankful and excited about going into a stretch of three home matches at the end of the May, there are still some questions that Philadelphia will be thinking about:

  • What will be the role of Marco Fabian going forward? The huge investment put into him means that he will likely be starting, but he has looked lackluster so far this season compared to even Aaronson.
  • How will the Union patch up the right side of their defense? It was incredibly exposed against Toronto, and while Gaddis has done a great job stepping up to the challenging role asked of him, the team will need to figure out a solution if they want to avoid being punished on that side going forward.
  • Will the Union be able to win key matches against the big teams? Saturday’s match against Toronto was important because it started to answer that question, but upcoming matches against Seattle, D.C., and Houston this summer will be integral in showing that the Union can take the tough competition they face at the end of the season when they will battle LAFC, NYCFC, and Atlanta.

3 Comments

  1. Your point about resiliency is important. And it was absolutely palpable watching the match. As soon as Pozuelo scored, rather than hanging their heads and folding, the Union just completely came to life. It’s as if they said, “Well damn, it’s time to get to work on bringing home these 3 points for real.” That is remarkably difficult to do in the 65th minute of a road match, against a top team, with a crowd of 22,000 cheering against you.

    I would love to know more about the dynamic of how that happened. Was there one player who energized them? Did Captain Bedoya give them a pep talk on the field? Or was it just some collective thing? Because whatever it was, THAT’S exactly what they’re gonna need to bring home some silverware this season.

    I can’t believe I am talking about the Union bringing home silverware this season…

    • The Truth says:

      In this regard, this is unlike any other Union side we’ve seen. I can’t remember the last (or any) time I sat on my couch watching the opponent equalize and thought “no problem.”

  2. Of the big matches against playoff-caliber teams, the Union have Seattle, Portland, Houston, Atlanta, and LAFC at home, and Chicago/DC home & away. I’d say in our current form, the rest of the schedule is looking pretty favorable.

    It’s about to get weird.

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