Analysis / For Pete's Sake

Match analysis: Philadelphia Union 2-1 Inter Miami CF

Photo courtesy Major League Soccer

Two games, two wins in the MLS is Back Tournament: it’s a good start for your Philadelphia Union.

Both games have featured some moments of brilliance. But neither has been a fully dominant performance, as Jim Curtin acknowledged after Tuesday’s victory over Inter Miami.

“Not our best night in terms of how we want to play,” said Curtin. “We weren’t ourselves, which was disappointing, but the good news is that we found a way to beat a good team.”

A counterattack to remember

Before getting into what the team could improve, let’s look at the standout moment from the match — the Union’s devastating counterattack that culminated in a Kacper Przybylko winner.

“That goal is an example of how the Union want to play,” Curtin said post-match.

Here’s what stood out:

  • None of this happens if Ilsinho doesn’t attempt to play a brave pass instead of knocking the ball out for a corner. Under pressure at the touchline, the Brazilian’s vision to see the open man and wherewithal to execute a difficult pass is what unlocks the whole play.
  • I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a player execute two perfect dummies in one play before, but that’s the trick Jamiro Monteiro pulls off here to, first, sneak the ball out to Brendan Aaronson and completely take his defender out of the play. He comes back at the end to draw the defense away from Przybylko.
  • After the dummy, the Union are off to the races. This is where team speed — not always a club hallmark over the last few years — comes into play. Aaronson is fast. Monteiro is fast. Even big Striker Muffin is fast (and look how quickly he reads the play and gets up to full speed). The speed and awareness combine to put the Union into a 3-on-1 breakaway, with four hapless Miami defenders who can’t catch up to the rush.
  • Finally, it’s just a great ball from Aaronson to spot the open space Przybylko is sitting in, and a great finish by Przybylko to create the space and angle necessary for the finish.

All around, a great team goal, and easily the best piece of play produced by Philadelphia so far in Orlando.

Possession is nine-tenths of the law

So why was Jim Curtin unhappy after the game? He described the team’s performance as “sloppy,” noting that “from the opening whistle, we took two touches when we should have taken one touch.”

The stats bear out an inability to hang onto the ball. The Union were out-possessed 55% to 45%, a trend that was consistent across both halves, and managed just a 74% pass completion rate.

My explanation: the Union, in their transition from a 4-2-3-1 team built around a dominant midfield to a 4-4-2 counterattacking side, are still trying to figure out the combination play necessary to generate quality chances in the box.

(By way of comparison, in Philadelphia’s famous draw last season against LAFC, they matched the Supporter’s Shield winners in possession basically 50-50 and completed 83% of their passes.)

Also a little concerning is that the Union aren’t creating much in the way of quality chances. Take a look at the xG chart from the match:

There was a real dearth of chances in the box, as you can see from the chart. Some of that is personnel-related, I think: Sergio Santos is just coming back from injury and Ilsinho is really not a second striker.

But, while the counterattacking side of the Union’s game looks sharp, there’s still work to be done in generating quality chances out of possession.

As the squad rotates

Final thought: what kind of a lineup will we see on Monday night against Orlando City?

The Union have punched their ticket to the knockout stage, but the match still counts for (1) seeding and (2) the overall league table.

Despite Curtin’s comments before leaving for Orlando about how the whole squad would be needed to get through the tournament, I would be surprised if we see much in the way of serious squad rotation. The manager does not like to shake up sides that are winning matches, and nothing in the first two games makes me think he’s become too much more liberal with substitution patterns.

Expect Warren Creavalle to replace the suspended El Brujo — Matej Oravec is behind the two of them right now, according to Curtin. Watch the center backs, too: Curtin referenced the club’s “four” excellent center backs during the post-match availability on Tuesday, which raises the prospect of Aurelien Collin possibly getting a game somewhere.

Otherwise, the primary intrigue will only be in the substitutes. Will Jack de Vries make another cameo in midfield? Will Andrew Wooten, the forgotten man, be healthy enough to give the Union a credible backup at striker? With five substitutes available, it’ll be interesting to see how Curtin manages the close of the game, depending on what situation the Union find themselves in.

One Comment

  1. Tim Jones says:

    Full disclosure: I spent close to four years covering Bethlehem Steel FC and will continue by covering Philadelphia Union II.
    The number three striker role is not Andrew Wooten’s necessarily. He has competition from a small but increasingly strong young man from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo – Kinshasa) named Michee Ngalina.
    He also has been recovering from “an upper leg strain.” His recovery has been a little behind Santos’ but ahead of Wooten’s.
    He has to prove to his coach that he is reliable in doing a striker’s defensive running. He spent all last season at Bethlehem doing so. He has been practicing with the first team since July of 2018, only six weeks after his arrival with Bethlehem in mid April.
    Keep him in mind. All the coaches in the eastern conference of the USL Championship are thankful he is now in MLS. They all hope he stays there.

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