Analysis / Union

Match analysis: New England Revolution 0-1 Philadelphia Union

Photo courtesy Major League Soccer

There’s a scene in the movie “Mighty Ducks” where then-coach Gordon Bombay tells one of his players, star-to-be Charlie Conway, about his most salient memory of youth sports. It’s a made-for-TV (or, literally, a made-for-MOO-VIE) moment about failing by the slimmest of margins and learning life lessons as a result.

In the movie, it’s as poignant as can be, setting the stage for the film’s culmination/reenactment and laying the emotional foundation for everything to come.

Author’s note: Yes, I realize I just said the Mighty Ducks movies have an “emotional foundation.” If you’re not on board with that, I have bad news: this analysis only goes farther off the rails from here.

The story works more broadly because, in sports, margins are always small.

Scott Norwood can tell you about how small they are as he mentions the kick he missed at the end of regulation to lose Super Bowl 25. It was wide by nearly nothing.

Remember Milorad Cavic? Of course you don’t, because Michael Phelps caught him by a finger tip in the Beijing Olympics to win his 7th gold medal. A FINGER TIP.

What do the Mighty Ducks, the Buffalo Bills, and Milorad Cavict have to do with Saturday night’s Union victory? Everything.

   

Matt Turner, New England’s goalkeeper, was the league’s best net minder in 2019. He gave the Mighty Musketeers nearly 10 goals to the good after coming into the line up in early summer.

Andre Blake did the opposite in 2019, but that’s old news.

On Saturday, as he has done since the season began in 2020, Blake has been better than even his award-winning campaign of 2016. How good?

The margins on which Blake has been better start from the bottom: his feet. Though his passing has improved, the “feet” we’re talking about here are the ones that measure positioning.

Watch those highlights again. Other than him sliding across the face of goal to move with the play, how many times does Blake have to run or shuffle to create a better angle for himself? Almost none, because he’s in the right spot to begin with nearly every time.

Most of the shots in these highlights are hit to exactly the spot where Blake is standing. If that’s not positional superiority, then such a thing doesn’t exist.

Moreover, how many shots in this highlight get spilled into the path of another attacker, one of his trademark gaffes from years past? As Maya Rudolph’s character in the fantastic Saturday Night Light sketch, “Bronx Beat,” said about the number of times she’s been able to wear her beautiful, new leather coat in the city’s unseasonably hot weather:

“Zero point zero.”

Jamiro Monteiro

Liverpool fans used to chant, to the tune of “Yellow Submarine:”

We all dream of a team of Carraghers, a team of Carragher, a team of Carraghers

Jamie Carragher, he of the aforementioned song, was an Academy kid for the Reds, a 10-year vice-captain, and the team’s 2nd longest ever tenured player. Fans wanted eleven of him on the pitch at the same time, and though tactically that doesn’t make any sense, it’s tough to argue with the warm sentiments.

Author’s note: I surmise there are more than a few people that would pay a dollar or two to hear former Philly Soccer Page contributor, current Philadelphia Union jack-of-all-trades, and life-long Liverpool fan, Adam Cann’s, breakdown of such a line up.

The Sons of Ben are due a similar song to Cape Verdean magician, he of the quick feet, nasty snarl, and breath-taking touch. Eleven of him might be like choosing all the small guys in Nintendo’s “Ice Hockey,” and might just win MLS Cup as well.

Author’s note: All head to head Nintendo challenges and SoB Song writing requests can be emailed directly to allthreepointspodcast@gmail.com.

In the first half however, the midfielder was simply involved but not dangerous. The team were more likely to find his feet on a line parallel to Jose Martinez, deep behind both Alejandro Bedoya and Brendan Aaronsen. Thus, his high passing numbers were then a function of being on the ball while not having enough opportunities to take chances with a final ball.

Said manager Jim Curtin, “when he’s as a No.8, there’s so much pressure to him where he can only play square and backward.” So he drifted deeper, as players who want the ball are wont to do.

That’s a good strategy for playing keep-away, not great one for playing “Who dares wins!” And though possession is nine-tenths of the law, it’s largely meaningless in soccer these days, thus the necessity for a subtle change.

“In the second half, we got him higher up the field, closer to the strikers,” said Curtin. A glance at the team’s only goal finds that to be true, as Monteiro is more advanced that all but two Union players.

“When he can receive the ball and now turn and face the defense, that’s when they have to drop. That’s when they have to make decisions. Do they step to him? He has a real quality there. We moved up a little higher on the field… He did a great job on the play of turning and facing the defense, making them drop and then clipping a good ball in behind and Sergio did the rest from there.”

Just a subtle change, *FLAP* a bit of otherwise unnoticed positioning in the moment, and the Union’s most creative player was suddenly forcing the entire opposition’s back line to shift *FLAP*. That shift created a channel *FLAP FLAP* into which Sergio Santos ran, settled, and scored.

*FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP*

It’s a miniature version of The Butterfly Effect, the idea in chaos theory that small changes have large, non-linear effects on complex systems. For example, as the name suggests, the idea that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings could upset the air in such a way as to change the flight path of a 747 thousands of miles away, making one of the passengers on that plane late for the birth of his first child, something his wife never forgives him for and he never lives down, and as his son grows up…

Author’s note: Sorry, that got dark there for a second. Speaking of dark, “The Butterly Effect” is also an absolutely terrible movie starring Ashton Kutcher about the potential futures that might grow out of said non-linear effects. It is Terrible “with a capital T that rhymes with F that stands for ‘Fool,’” which is what you’d be should you choose to watch it now because of me. Honestly, it might actually be worse than the movie FIFA made about themselves and how awesome they are.

Just kidding, nothing is that bad.

Summary

In sports, margins are small.

Andre Blake was up to the task of making sure that every inch of his net was covered. The Union required the smallest of shifts to make sure they found a goal at the end of their night.

Those two margins, those subtle changes, were enough to see the Union through and Bruce Arena home. Arena got himself a red card at the end of regulation for succumbing to the butterfly effects of Jim Curtin’s subtleties, which is a surprise because Arena, of all people, should know about what happens when one ignores seemingly subtle changes:

Perhaps Alejandro Bedoya might’ve been useful on that ugly night in Trinidad and Tobago… *FLAP*

5 Comments

  1. One of the most insightful, informative and entertaining posts I’ve seen. More!

  2. Quite good Chris. A Fun read. Blake has been amazing and deserves all the credit.

  3. OneManWolfpack says:

    Good read! Really enjoyed it.

  4. SilverRey says:

    Blake’s back!!!!!
    .
    We lost him for a year, but he’s back baby!!
    .
    Seriously, he’s playing with a confidence that was not completely there last year.
    .
    Hot keeper = Tournament goodness

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