Analysis / Union

Postgame analysis: Philadelphia Union 0-0 Seattle Sounders

Photo: Rob Simmons

Sometimes the unstoppable force goes around the immovable object, and the nature of each remains unchanged.

It occurred when Philadelphia Union met Seattle Sounders at Saturday evening. Each side entered the match sitting in second place in their respective conferences. Each were buoyed by five game unbeaten streaks. After a goalless draw at Talen Energy Stadium both streaks extended to six.

In the scope of a 90 minute match, it was two points dropped by the Union. The home team was visibly frustrated when the final whistle blew. The visitors exhaled and smiled. They had survived.

The Union, after all, barraged the Sounders and set the following franchise records:

  • Second-best possession numbers (67.8%). Best ever against an 11-man squad.
  • Most attempted passes in a game (637).
  • Second-most successful passes (551). Most ever against an 11-man squad.
  • Most successful passes ending in the final third (196).
  • Most successful passes in the opponent’s half (352).

While none of those numbers matter more than the scoreline, they highlight the crucial lesson from the match.

Philadelphia bullied the second-best team in MLS. The Sounders were the kids from Jurassic Park, protected by an inch-thick sunroof glass pane. The Union were the T-Rex that couldn’t figure out how to crack it.

Sometimes, these games happen. What doesn’t happen is a team of Seattle’s quality playing with nine men behind the ball against the Union and hoping for a draw. Union players and fans aren’t normally upset after drawing against an opponent average 2.00 points per game.

The soccer landscape in Philadelphia has shifted. The Union are really, truly good. They expect to be the best team on the field with a result to prove it. Anything less is a disappointment.

The Sounders’ approach

Let’s get the excuses out of the way. Yes, flying across country after a midweek game sucks. It’s valid, and there is no reason MLS should ever have a team fly 2,378 on three days rest.

Conversely, Seattle’s lineup is no excuse. Sounders’ head coach Brian Schmetzer chose to play for a draw from the onset with a negative 5-3-2 formation, but they still had midfielders Nicolás Lodeiro, Jordy Delem, and Cristian Roldan.  They still had defenders Román Torres and Kim Kee-hee. Most importantly, they had goalkeeper Stefan Frei.

Seattle parked the bus and threw the keys into the Delaware River. The Union never learned how to hotwire the vehicle.

But there can still be intricacies in a simple game plan. Just look at how the Sounders approached the first 56 minutes of action.

Seattle forced Philadelphia to attack down the right flank. There was a distinct difference in how the Sounders defended the Union’s two fullbacks. Their first approach was to deny passes in the final third to left back Kai Wagner. If Wagner did manage to get the ball, Seattle would pressure with multiple players. They’d bait the Union into switching play to where the Sounders wanted the ball— at the feet of right back Raymon Gaddis.

Gaddis’s final third passing chart

With a crowded box, Gaddis was hesitant to whip in crosses. Because of this, Seattle defenders played off and never committed more than one person to defend. They dared Gaddis to beat them on the dribble. The player never tried. By beating one man, it would force Seattle’s defenders to respond and adjust. Instead, Gaddis cycled the ball back. When he did, The Sounders’ midfield would step and try to force turnovers. With the right back upfield, they’d look to exploit that space on the counter.

It’s as likely that a failed dribble attempt would lead to a similar threat, but it would also keep the Sounders’ defense guessing. Instead, it was predictable every time Gaddis had the ball; and he had it a ton. Only midfielder Haris Medunjanin’s 115 touches were more than Gaddis’ 104. Similarly the West Virginia graduate enjoyed the game’s second highest possession share at 9.0%.

To be clear, this takes nothing away from a stellar defensive effort from Gaddis. If the Union finished one of their many wasted chances, this would be an afterthought. It does, however, illuminate a vulnerability against compact defenses.

Union manager Jim Curtin adjusted with the addition of Ilsinho on the right wing in the 57th minute. What once was an area of weakness became a source of strength. The Brazilian super sub attempted seven dribbles in just over 30 minutes, winning five against a range of single, double, and triple teams. It unlocked the defense and led to some of the Union’s best chances.

Gaddis is who he is. He a dependable defender and the right choice to play in certain situations. Curtin probably didn’t guess the Sounders would be as timid as they were.

It will be interesting to see if Curtin adjusts going forward. The backup at the position is Olivier Mbaizo. He offers more going forward, but is unproven in defense. The better option may be midfielder Alejandro Bedoya. He’s been used as a right back when the team is hunting for a goal. Would the coach trust his captain to start at right back when he knows a team will bunker down?

After all, it could be how Curtin can get midfielders Jamiro Monteiro, Haris Medunjanin, Brenden Aaronson, and Marco Fabián on the field together when the latter is finally healthy and in form.

Why the Union struggled to score

The Union failed to finish for only the third time this season and the first time since Apr. 13. This is in spite of the aforementioned record-setting numbers and 20 shots— which tied a season high.

Sure, Seattle played the way they did, but the Union also spurned chances.

Union shot chart vs. Seattle

First, of those 20 attempts, 12 came from outside the box. A staggering seven of those attempts came from Monteiro. The Union’s conversion rate has been solid this season largely because of shot selection. Going into the game, only 36.3% of Philadelphia’s 160 came from outside the box. It’s in direct contrast to the 60.0% figure against Seattle.

Overall, only 40 of MLS’s 427 goals scored so fare this season have been scored from outside the box. That’s an alarming 9.4%. To make that look even worse, only 2.8% of the 1451 such attempts have found the net in the league this year.

The Union settled in their shot selection, choosing a lottery ticket approach that never paid off.

When the Union did create opportunities inside the box, they were a bit heavy footed. Forward Sergio Santos spurned an early chance with a bad first touch. The biggest culprit may have been Aaronson. While he might’ve had his best game outside of the box, the 18-year-old struggled inside of it with too many touches, heavy touches, and bad miss that could have led to three points.

This game seems more like an outlier than anything else. Philadelphia have displayed quality when it comes to finishing this season.

And quality, all around, is what’s now expected of the Union

8 Comments

  1. Whole heartedly agree with your assessment. I think Curtin should have had Mbaizo on the bench as an option but since he didn’t he should have taken Gaddis off and moved Bedoya to right back when Ilsinho came in. If you go up a goal you don’t have to press from the wings as much so they could have shifted to help whomever ended up at right back. You have to have more of a plan than just Ilsinho as the sub.

    Gaddis is a well known player in the league and as good as he is as a defender and as great as he is as a human being I think Right Back is a priority on Tanner’s radar. Haven’t seen enough of Mbaizo to make an assessment myself but even if he is an option there needs to be an offensive upgrade there for the system we are now playing most of the time.

    Whole different discussion if anyone finishes one of their chances though.

  2. pragmatist says:

    While the team has been successful this season, it’s also been a season of learning how to be successful. It’s a new concept to this franchise, at least at this level.
    .
    I agree that Ray should have made way for Mbaizo or Bedoya to try to break through, but as Curtin mentioned, the only thing more frustrating than the draw would have been losing the game on a goal completely against the run of play. That conservative approach most likely led to Ray staying in place, given his defensive strengths.
    .
    I suspect the approach to a similar Park-The-Bus situation in the future will change. There will be adjustments, and you’ll see Ray make way for a more aggressive solution.

  3. If you can get the outside the box shots on frame through traffic (especially that dipping shot Monterio has shown) you are setting yourself up for rebound chances. It’s a solid strategy for games like this. The problem was we flubbed most of the shots. This is also now 2 games in a row where Przybylko has had multiple great looks without resulting in a goal. For all the good things he has shown that can’t continue or we are going to drop a lot of points.

  4. el Pachyderm says:

    Excellent work here Nick.
    .
    my opinion…hasn’t changed an iota since the game…if the people who are supposed to score— score… we aren’t discussing the need to sit the RB to PUSH for a goal.
    .
    To watch that match and even remotely 1. complain 2. argue for the RB to sit at any point 3. be anything short of pleased…. is to miss the point of 10 years of abject failure in this city. Likely, Jim Curtin had no idea…for the first time ever, a very talented and strong team was entering Talen hoping against hope to steal a point. This is ALL new.
    .
    Period. The end.
    .
    …otherwise, carry on as I understand this is a forum to nit pick, analyze and debate.

    • I agree. Sure, you can nitpick that we probably should have had 3 points, but for once we weren’t the team to sit in/bunker/counter against a strong playoff caliber opponent AT HOME.

  5. As much great defence as Ray plays,his offensive contributions have always been limited. I know that a different player is an option but to loose that game late would have sucked! Yes its possible that a more offensive player may have led to a goal but if it didn’t happen and they loose we would all be asking why not a defensive player. I think we could have won with this lineup. But the point certainly points to a new level of play by the U!

  6. Another reason why the Union did not score: Kasper’s head ball went straight into the goalies arms. He should have headed it more downwards toward the far post.

  7. THE RAY GADDIS SOCCER PAGE. SEEMS LIKE A MENTION IN EVERY SINGLE ARTICLE. HE’S AN AVERAGE PLAYER AT BEST. LACKS INFLUENCE IN GOING FORWARD AND OFTEN SQUARES OFF THE BALL. I DONT BELIEVE HE HAS THE ACCELERATION TO BEAT PLAYERS AND DRIBBLE TO THE CORNER. ERNST IS MOST LIKELY LOOKING FOR A REPLACEMENT.

    AS FOR THE U IN FRONT OF GOAL. IF THEY WANT TO WIN MORE GAMES THIS SEASON, THEY MUST FIND WAYS TO HIT LONG SHOTS ON GOAL. OR MOVE THE BALL AROUND THE FRONT OF THE NET IN TIGHT SPACES/TRIANGLES. OTHERWISE WE’LL SEE MORE GOALLESS DRAWS.

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