Postgame / Tactical Analysis

Postgame analysis: Philadelphia Union 3 – 2 Minnesota United

Photo by Earl Gardner

The Union stole three points from Minnesota United on Saturday afternoon.

Strategically, the team shifted their formation from Wednesday’s 4-2-3-1 back to a narrow diamond 4-4-2, their preferred shape for 2019. The Union were narrow in this match, as much as they’ve been in all season. That sort of familiarity in form didn’t make the team’s outing any more beautiful however. United forced the Boys in Blue into a plethora of bad decisions and poor positioning, wreaking havoc in the middle and forcing fullbacks Ray Gaddis and Kai Wagner into endless pirouettes and recovery runs.

And yet, the fact of the matter is the Union won.

Conceding possession and 29 shots, needing 36 clearances that felt more like 360, 15 blocks that felt infinite, and nearly a half a dozen bookings that could’ve been a baker’s, the Union won.

Talking tactics today feels a bit like describing the decision-making process of choosing the underpass under which one desperately parked the minivan while the tornado bore down. Interestingly, there is a corollary:

Stay compact. Bunker. Survive.

Perception v. Reality: Midfield edition

Data courtesy of WhoScored.com

The Union’s midfield were overrun on Sunday, and each player in the diamond is guilty in their own way.

  • Brenden Aaronson just wasn’t up for it this week, finding only 19 touches in 69 minutes of work. This is what mathematicians call a regression to the mean, a term that is often used derogatorily but is truly an essential part of an athlete’s growth. It is, however, a part of the growth process that looks in the moment like a player getting worse.
  • Alejandro Bedoya, lauded at one point by the broadcast team for his work ethic in chasing down a ball, was only chasing said ball because of his own heavy touch that let it get away. Don’t get Union fans started on his clearances… (Devil’s Advocate: Would the reader prefer Bedoya’s haphazard lumps in Minnesota over Marco Fabian’s attempt to dance through traffic in Toronto that ultimately led to Alejandro Pozuelo’s free kick goal?)
  • Haris Medunjanin was part of a defensive group that were pulled and stretched in every sort of direction, pressed into service far more often than necessary because of the team’s inability to keep the ball. As the metronome, it’s his problem if the Union can’t keep time.
  • Jamiro Monteiro? Most folks in this author’s soccer orbit thought it was his worst match in a Union shirt, bullied and cornered, double-teamed and harassed, slow to make the obvious pass and worst on the team in WhoScored.com’s “Bad control” category.

And yet, the fact of the matter is the Union won.

For all the things they did wrong, this foursome scored two of the team’s three goals, connected on 86.4% of their passes as a group, and collectively contributed 10 tackles, 8 interceptions, 7 clearances, and a blocked shot in their day’s work.

Stay compact. Bunker. Survive.

Andre Blake in: Superman Returns?

For much of 2019, Andre Blake has been a bystander. Going 90 minutes at a time and facing only a flubbed shot or two, the Jamaican hasn’t looked his former super-self because a phone booth transformation hasn’t been required.

Just being Clark Kent was sufficient.

On Sunday, in the face of so many shots that LMFAO and Lil’ Jon might cry “Uncle,” Blake put together a few more for the highlight reel. Requiring a measure of courage more than one of deft, Blake put his body on the line to earn his four stops, each one more valuable than the one before.

One is certain, however, that Blake will want at least Minnesota’s first goal back. Hassani Dotson, he of 7 total professional matches and of 0 total shots prior to kickoff, found Blake’s near post from distance. Sure Blake was screened and yes the outcome was unlikely enough to not truly prepare for it, but it’s the kind of the flunge the Union keeper must parry (in fencing a flunge is “a combination of a lunge and fleche.” Fore more fencing terminology, this is a good resource).

Gut checks and the Tao of Jim Curtin

Indeed.

On the road, in a beautiful new building where the hosts were unbeaten, serving as extras in the new progressive officiating experiment known as The Allan Chapman Project, fighting all the emotions that go with trying to get off the schneid in a wide open, back-and-forth, chippy-as-all-get-out affair with, oh by the way, your primary rival looming ahead of your midsummer holiday…

***GASP***

the fact of the matter is the Union won.

This is Jim Curtin’s team.

Of what might a defensive-minded skipper approve? Certainly enough blocks to build a brick wall.

Taking one’s chances when they come? You betcha, as they say in Minnes-OH-ta, and the Union scored on nearly a quarter of their attempts.

Making smart fouls and grinding out a result with a heaping tablespoon of second half gamesmanship? Loons head coach Adrien Heath told epluribusloonum.com:

“I thought they were very, very good at, shall we say, being professional: knowing when to stay down. I thought it broke the flow of the game, when we had the energy of the crowd going.”

Check and mate.

This is the squad Jim Curtin has always wanted. This Buddy Ryan’s Gang Green, Fred Shero’s Broadstreet Bullies.

This team is Gritty.

OK. This team is Phang-ey, perhaps.

Either way, it’s Jim Curtin’s team and the Union are in first place in June for only the third time in team history. To boot, he’s managed this feat with a roster that will consist on Saturday of (at best) 19 available first team players.

9 Comments

  1. get off the schneid
    oh yeah

  2. The game was a hot mess, but might have been better played than the Champion’s League Final, during which Liverpool gave a graduate level class on how to win without completing a pass.

    Still, it was, as has been said, a win based on guts, grit and tenacity. I’ll take that. I’ve seen this team play better and can forgive them for a lapse.

    One thing I’m thinking about is that I’d like to see an attacking homegrown player progress. How many academy products over the last few years have scored on their debut only to struggle and fade? I’d hate to see the same happen to Aaronson. I hope someone in the organization can coach the kid to improve.

    • Tim Jones says:

      Two Academy products have scored on their first team debuts, Aaronson and Fontana.
      .
      The Academy has not yet produced scorers who have impacted matches for Bethlehem. There have been competent placeholders in the past. But Bethlehem’s goal scorers have not had academy backgrounds.
      .
      And few have been Americans at all. Cory Burke is Jamaican. Seku Conneh played for Liberia and came from Holland. Eric Ayuk is Cameroonian. Santi Moar is Spanish. Chris Nanco is Canadian. James Chambers is Irish.
      .
      Adam Najem is an American but plays in the midfield.
      .
      Ryan Richter is an American but played outside right back.
      .
      Neither Shanyder Borgelin nor Patrick Bohui have scored.

      • Didn’t Pfeffer score on his debut? Or close to it? Also, I’m less concerned about what the goal tally is than that the progress, whether that’s as a forward or attacking midfield.

      • Just to point out here, because I think it gets forgotten. But Fontana is only 19 years old and from the beginning the organization has projected him as more of a box-to-box than a #10. The reason I believe we haven’t seen much of him is simply because Bedoya is ahead of him on the depth chart at his best position.

      • Why won’t Jim give Bedoya a break? Maybe even spell him late in a game once in a while? I hope Fontana at least gets some cup minutes. Not sure how these players can progress if they can’t make it out of training.

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    Good that the team won, but hopefully they don’t try to win too many more like this since it’s not really a sustainable style for this team to succeed in the long run.

  4. All I could think was, if Ray completes a pass we riot.

  5. I don’t mind that they played kinda ugly. The fact is that the squad was tired. The midfielders and the fullbacks especially just looked worn down as all hell. Combine that with being on the road, in a new stadium full of rabid fans, and it’s not surprising that they wouldn’t play their best match. I will only be concerned if they continue to play like this after the Gold Cup break. (Though I sure hope they look better at home against our hated rivals next week.)

    Late in the match, after Ilsinho came in for Monteiro, it looked like the Union lined up in a Pine Tree 4-3-2-1, with Bedoya-Haris-Creavalle across the back, Fabian-Ilsinho in front of them, and Kacper alone up top.

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