Analysis / Commentary / Offseason Issues / Preseason

Preseason observations: Philadelphia Union 1-3 DC United

Photo: Philadelphia Union

The Philadelphia Union wrapped up their preseason friendlies with a 3-1 loss to DC United on Saturday night.

The Union rolled out a strong lineup, looking to get their week one starters close to a full 90 minutes. Playing in their 4-4-2 diamond shape, the Union lined up as follows: Andre Blake; Ray Gaddis, Jack Elliott, Mark McKenzie, Matt Real; Alejandro Bedoya, Warren Creavalle, Jamiro Monteiro, Brenden Aaronson; Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos. I fully expect this same lineup to be the starting XI on Saturday against Dallas, with Matt Real replacing an injured Kai Wagner. The one real surprise in the lineup was Creavalle at the 6, a spot most fans excepted to be taken by newcomers Matej Oravec or Jose “El Brujo” Martinez.

Now let’s dive into the good, the bad and the just okay or “meh” from their last preseason game.

The Good

Jamiro Monteiro: Monteiro showed why he was the main acquisition this off-season. He was recovering defensively, helping in the press and linking passes forward to Aaronson. He capped it off with a great goal from just outside the 18 off a counter attack he started himself. He also showed he is more of a threat to shoot when given the space outside the box, something the Union did too little last season.

The press: The Union’s pressing was very noticeable in the first half, with Aaronson, Przybylko and Santos pressuring defenders and forcing them to go back. While it did fade some in the second half, it’s good to see your attackers putting in hard work this early. Pressing was also noticeable when DC was able to split the Union midfield with McKenzie and Elliott pressuring the ball, making sure the attacker didn’t turn on goal. Matt Real and Ray Gaddis also moved higher up the field when a ball was played out to their respective wings, hurrying midfielders into a rushed pass.

Warren Creavalle’s defense: After a year of seeing Haris Medunjanin’s famous point-at-people defensive tactics, it was refreshing to see a defensively responsible No. 6. Creavalle is a ball winner and Curtin has always liked his defensive abilities, often bringing him on to help close games out. Creavalle did a good job tracking back and helping to break up some DC attacks and find an outlet pass to Bedoya or Monteiro.

The Bad

Midfield turnovers: Despite the added defensive responsibilities of Warren Creavalle, there were still too many midfield turnovers Saturday night. In the Union’s system, the fullbacks push up in attack, almost as midfielders. Against DC, the Union turned the ball over countless times at the halfway line, creating an easy counter attack with only McKenzie and Elliott back. Can some of these turnovers be chalked up to preseason rust? Sure. But it’s a problem that needs to be dealt with soon.

Offensive struggles: With good comes some bad. The introduction of Creavalle strengthened the defense, but he isn’t the type of player to drive the offense like Medunjanin did. Another problem from last year continues to linger: the Union being forced to play down the right side. Ray Gaddis has been great for the Union for so long, but he continues to be offensively weak. Especially with Wagner out, look for teams to overload the left side, forcing the Union down the right.

The attack: This wasn’t as glaring as the other two issues. In preseason, things are expected to be a little disjointed. Przybylko and Santos were making good runs, they just couldn’t seem to get the timing of their passes right. Also, while Aaronson did assist Monterio’s goal, I don’t think we saw enough from him to drive the attack. More time in a competitive environment is probably the likely fix, it’s just something that takes time.

The “Meh”

Here are some quick bullet points on things that were just okay.

  • The centerback pairing did an okay job, Elliott misjudged the pass leading to the first goal, and I don’t know who to fault on the penalty. They did make some good passes between the lines though.
  • Matej Oravec didn’t really impress in his substitute appearance (it took me a while to realize he was on the field). He had a couple of those midfield turnovers and gave away some fouls outside the box. If this was his chance to take the starting spot from Creavalle, I don’t think he did enough.
  • Jakob Glesnes was also just okay. Coming on for Elliott, he didn’t offer anything different on the night, and didn’t hit any of those long balls out of the back we had been hearing about and seeing on Twitter.
Stock Up

Here’s who impressed me for the Union:

  • Jamiro Monteiro: Your most expensive player should be your best on most nights, so no surprise that Monteiro was above everyone else. He seems more willing to shoot from outside the box this season, which is a good thing.
  • Matt Real: Filling in for the injured Kai Wagner, Real proved be can be a reliable backup for the season, and should be in the 18 every game. Not as effective as Wagner on attack, he still provided an option and sent crosses into the box. Recovered defensively well and got back into position on turnovers.
Stock Down

And the players who seemed stuck in preseason mode.

  • The new additions: Oravec and Glesnes probably need some more time to gel with the team, so I’m concerned but not panicking. What worries me more is that Jose Martinez didn’t feature at all in the match. We heard it would be between Oravec and Martinez for the no.6 role, but—based on this match—it appears they both lost out to Creavalle.
  • Striker partnership: Another aspect of the team that probably needs more time is the strikers. I like the idea of a target man in Przybylko and a speedster in Santos, but I don’t think Przybylko had any shots on goal, which is bad for last year’s leading scorer. Santos does seem more willing to shoot, getting some good looks away. The Union did take Santos off for Ilsinho and switched back to their conventional 4-5-1 later in the match.

Will these issues still hang around for the Dallas match? Probably. Is it going to take time for these issues to solve themselves? Yes. Will Union fans be able to wait for the final results? Time will tell.


  1. Same ol' same ol' says:

    I remain very surprised Philly is once again content to go into another season with a hole they’ll refuse to fill until the damage is done.

  2. “El Brujo” Martinez was the ONLY Union field player to play 90 minutes Wednesday against Dallas. He switched positions at halftime from DM to RCM and played well enough at the RCM spot to be counted as a potential reserve there if he is not the #1 DM ahead of Oravec.
    My own guess is that Creavalle got a long runout to prepare him for a reserve role. The minutes he might have gotten earlier have been given to Oravec and Martinez himself at the DM and to Jack de Vries at the LCM for development and evaluation purposes, and de Vries seemed to keep improving so they kept developing him.
    If as I suspect the first choice DM is the Slovakian, do not be surprised if at some point Martinez gets a start at one of the center mids. He played well there in the Dallas game.

    • Tim, I share this perspective and think it offers a reasonable explanation for Creavalle’s start at DM and Martinez’s absence.

  3. Sean, thank you for sharing your observations. I was geo-locked.
    It feels to me like it will take some time for this team to hit its stride with many players missing pre-season time due to visa issues or injury (Wagner), changing line-ups throughout pre-season, learning to operate differently without Medunjanin pulling the strings…
    So, I’m going into this season with a little extra patience.
    I’m also confident that Tanner very clearly sees the opportunities to continue to increase the roster talent, with a vision and plan to get there… always working with Albright & Co. to keep developing those relationships and possibilities.
    The challenge, in my view, is whether or not the plan can be achieved at a pace fast enough to keep up with the deep pockets of the league.
    On that note, I will add that I’m glad we’ve invested in defense this off-season… a lot of offensive fire-power has come into the league. I predict that the next round of moves will be attack-minded.

  4. I rewatched the first half last night to kill time before my indoor game.
    Thoughts from the first half:
    I like the chemistry between Kacper and Santos!!!!
    Aaronson is working well with them too, many times it was just the three of them.
    Santos starting counterattacks from opponent CKs is real! Look for more of these to come. Led to Monteiro’s goal.
    On D we are doing well in baiting them outside on their buildup then attacking. See below for caveat.
    Good chances from corners. Aaronson taking corners from right, Monteiro from left.
    Our counterattack game has stepped up!
    Bedoya had 6 touches. 2 good crosses but the rest were hospital balls. Little to no involvement.
    No build up on the right, everything flowed through the left.
    Our build-up game took a step down.
    There was a big hole in the middle of the field going forward. On the right there was no support for Gaddis/Bedoya to help work up to Aaronson.
    When we built up on the left Monteiro tucked over, Aaronson tucked over, Bedoya still way out on right, Warren sitting back. No chances for switching the field w/o going all the way back.
    I’m fine with moving on from Harris, but we still need a metronome somewhere in there.
    We gave away a lot of counterattacks with bad possession. Also, possession doesn’t seem like a priority anymore, so we are giving up the ball even more, leading to more counterattacks. Bad cycle.
    On D we are so caught up in pressing to the side any switch of field leaves us scrambling. The man on opposite is open by design, so everyone has to shift over marking and this leaves a lot of players/passing lanes open during this transition. We got DICED UP multiple times due to this.
    Yes, these are quick reflections on only one half.
    Yes, this is still preseason.
    But these are all things to look out for going into our first handful of games.

  5. OneManWolfpack says:

    I am going to give it a month and then see what it all looks like. I remember last year they lost and didn’t look good in the first two games, Toronto at home and KC on the road (I think). Regardless they got it together and began to play really well overall for basically the rest of the season. I think Santos and Kacper (assuming he’s healthy) will be excellent. They need an upgrade at RB. LOVE RAY… but I am really hoping that’s the summer addition they make.

    • In Tanner We Trust says:

      I like these points. Last year there were subtle signs of good things to come, which lead to the ATL tie, Columbus win, then later the late comeback against Dallas which confirmed to me that last year was a different team than Union Past. So I’ll do my best not to panic if they pick up 2 points in the first 3 games.

  6. I’m impressed that anyone was able to make out who was who while watching that stream. I couldn’t tell who was who

    • Absolutely correct. Jonathan Tannenwald tweeted that it was unwatchable.
      In my opinion based solely on observing the product, it is some kind of automated camera that finds the most physical movement on the pitch and follows that. I get quite a bit of my theory from the “camerawork” during pregame warmups, not only from the DC match but from the other two livestreams.
      And those inconveniences were compounded by the camera facing into the sun, not perpendicularly, but close. At the end, once the sun was down and it was dark the picture was quite useful.

  7. Does anybody know if there is a local broadcast for the union games without the need for subscription? The 2018 and 2019 seasons were great in PHL17 or ABC.

  8. Joseph Barnett says:

    there is a HUGE dropoff at forward after kacper and santos. we will be lucky to score 1 goal per game if either go down,

    • Let’s remember Burke is returning in June from SKN St. Poelten.

    • And I expect significantly more from Wooten in year 2, similar to Przybylko. You don’t score 17 goals in one Bundesliga 2 season without skill.
      For the sake of objective data, Wooten scored at a better per-minute rate (one goal every 313 minutes) than Kacper’s rate in the same league.
      Wooten in B2 – one goal every 228 minutes.
      Przybylko in B2 – one goal every 313 minutes.

  9. Joe. Barnett says:

    Who will score goals if Kacsper gets hurt or has 2nd year slump. Don’t expect him not to be injured. There is nothing behind him on the depth chart. Nothing folks if you think Wooten and Santos can pick up the slack you are delusional.and please do not mention someone who played bethlehem steel. Do something substantial now not midseason Tanner or no playoffs. no next step for union. I refuse to drink the kool aid about the defense will make the difference.b.s. total delusional b.s..

    • Wow…the season is over! Chain the gates to Subaru Park! No need to waist your time in Chester!! I wonder if I can get a refund on my ticket package. Thanks for freeing up my summer nights!

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