Analysis

Match analysis: Montreal Impact 1-4 Philadelphia Union

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Philadelphia Union are rolling.

They’re 5-1-1 since the end of the Orlando tournament, outscoring their opponents 14-4 in the process. And there are lots of things you can point to as feeding that success, such as the return to form of Kacper Przybylko, continued strong play in the midfield, or solid coaching decisions by manager Jim Curtin.

To my eyes, though, the strength of the team is the defense — teams just aren’t getting good scoring chances against the Union right now. In past years, Andre Blake has been one of the busiest keepers in the league. He’s practically bored right now.

More specifically, though, if we’re looking at one player who’s made “the leap” this season there’s one name that stands above the rest: Mark McKenzie.

“Mark has emerged as one of the best center backs in this league,” Curtin said after Sunday’s match, and it’s hard to disagree. Offhand, it’s hard to think of a single goal you’d clearly put on McKenzie’s ledger this season. The Delaware Destroyer reads the game with tremendous intelligence — so much so that he makes great defensive plays look simpler than they actually are. When he needs it, he’s a strong tackler who is never physically overpowered. He looks comfortable no matter who’s on his right or his left.

He is, simply put, the Union’s best player right now.

And you can see his confidence growing with every game. The young man picked up his first two MLS assists in Sunday night’s beatdown of Montreal Impact — and his first looked more like a No. 10’s assist than a centerback’s.

“The deception that he puts into that pass… it made two to three guys move in a way that cleared space,” said Curtin after the match, comparing it to “a no-look pass on a fast break.”

“I told the guys this week that I’m a natural No. 9,” a laughing McKenzie told the media Sunday night. “I work on that pass a lot during training, so I’m happy to see it come off.”

There has been plenty of (deserved) attention on Brendan Aaronson and the excellent season he’s had. There’s reasons for that: a great attacker is easier to see than a great defender, and attackers bring more dollars in the transfer market. But, to my eyes, McKenzie is both playing at a higher level right now and has a higher long-term ceiling than Aaronson.

While it’ll be tough to see McKenzie leave Philadelphia, I hope he gets his big move to Europe soon. It’ll be well deserved.

Some other thoughts
  • Every team this season is dealing with a wonky schedule that’s quite literally made up as it goes along. (Curtin has pointed out to anyone who’ll listen that the Union have only played three home games at Subaru Park so far this year.) In a sense, the Union were lucky to get what must have been a dog-tired Impact team, who were playing for the third time in eight nights, with two cross-continental trips in between, at a “home” stadium in an entirely different country than their actual base. But good teams take advantage of what the schedule gives them. So it was good to see the Union take advantage of the early red card and put the game to bed just after halftime, even if the first-half performance wasn’t much to smile about.
  • Not a new observation, but I’ve just about had enough of the Warren Creavalle experience. He is what he is: a limited player who can give you mediocre-to-competent play at defensive midfield. It was his needless foul that gave Montreal the free kick that became their only goal, and I thought he added very little to the side in his 45-minute appearance. At this stage, I would much rather see someone like Anthony Fontana get the start when El Brujo can’t go, even if it means tweaking the shape or where some of the other midfielders are playing.
  • Is it weird that I like the Union’s boring white shirts only when the players are wearing long sleeves?
  • Good, proactive move by Curtin to get Jack de Vries and Cole Turner into the game late, both to get their feet wet in MLS action and to spell guys like Alejandro Bedoya. I’m sure that, were this a normal year, the club would have liked to get those guys regular minutes in USL, but that hasn’t been possible. Excluding the absent Cory Burke, the only field players who have yet to appear for the Union this season are Aurelien Collin, Michee Ngalina, and Matej Oravec.

4 Comments

  1. Mckenzies passing range has definitely improved. He was always a turned on defender. What I see, is elite speed… which allows him to attack defensively. He anticipates and cuts off so much before it materializes… and on the rare occasion he has to, his recovery speed is next level. Very smooth.
    .
    I’m sure he has a shit ton of nuance to learn and I like my center backs to be able to take space which he doesn’t do…. but I’m inclined to agree Peter.
    .
    Repartee.

    • I think that’s a good point, Fritz — it’s the combination of elite speed and strength *plus* the ability to read and anticipate the game that is so exciting. I too prefer CBs who can take space, and I think you can see his confidence on the ball growing throughout the season (such as in the great pass highlighted above).

  2. Is Matej Oravec back from his international duty (and available (quarantine and whatnot))?

    • As I understand it, he’s back in the country, but I don’t know what his quarantine status is (if any). Given his status on the team before going off on international duty, I’d be surprised to see him make his debut anytime soon. Just doesn’t seem like he’s clicked this year.

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