Match analysis: Philadelphia Union 3 – 0 Inter Miami

Photo by Marjorie Elzy

There will come a day when Inter Miami is a formidable foe in Major League Soccer.

Sunday night in rain-soaked Chester, PA, they nearly were: the introduction of international man of mystery Gonzalo Higuain helped fill out the team’s spine, one that already included World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi and Rodolfo Pizarro. There were chances for the now fully fledged Flamingoes, but it was the Union however that had the better posture on the night.

The reason?

One of the most comprehensive implementations of their “system” since its introduction at the beginning of 2019 (for a primer on what it is the Union are doing, or at least the mold from which they’ve been built, take five minutes to read this).

Possession is nine tenths of the NOTHING

It was the 25th minute when the Union opened the scoring. Reading simply the stat line and the box score, it might seem like the Union were due for a goal: they had most of the possession up to that point after all and were bossing the match.

Courtesy of

The truth is, this goal didn’t come from possession. The Union were actually having a bit of trouble breaking Miami down. No, the goal came from a lost Miami possession and the Union following their cue to quickly win the ball back after a loose opponent’s touch, in this case an errant bouncing one from a throw in.

Here’s how quickly Miami possession turned into a Union goal.

Nicolas Figal’s throw in leaves his hands at 24:05. By 24:14, the ball has been pressured by Jamiro Monteiro and booted high, won in the air by Jose Martinez’s lunging header (one that earned him a boot to the face, no less) settled by Kacper Pryzbylko with his back to goal, slid across into the path of an on-rushing Anthony Fontana (whose movement was so deadly on this goal that it left the aforementioned French midfielder in the mud), danced through traffic by the young Homegrown, and smashed into the top corner.

Author’s note: none of the clipped highlights show how this chance was actually created, but the full match highlights do and the goal starts at 1:04.

This is a textbook example of how the Union are supposed to function: create pressure in the opponent’s end, use that pressure to force a bad touch and turnover, quickly move that turned over ball forward and through enemy lines, and ultimately capitalize on the error.

The Union’s second goal merges the “flow” of the 2018 squad and their penchant for possession with the quick transition the team has perfected this season.

The first thing to notice is where the Union have engaged Miami. At midfield, the Union have as many players within 20 yards of the ball as Miami do and nearly half of their team past the midfield line. It’s the 69th minute and the home team have the lead, this is prime bunker time! And yet, the Union are not afraid of losing the ball and giving away a counter attack, they’re committed to possession as high up the field as is required to be successful.

That they are so compact allows two crucial things to happen:

  1. A scrumptious give and go between Ilsinho and Brenden Aaronson. The passing sequence makes the team’s 6 v. 6 scenario into a 6 v. 4, with the Union on the front foot and immediately into the final third.
  2. A long and meandering run from the aforementioned homegrown, his poise on the ball and usage of feints to create space after his teammate’s high quality runs enough to “switch fields” all by himself.

Monteiro’s movement wide and into space, Pryzbylko’s delayed and soft run into the channel, and Ilsinho’s trailing path back toward the far post were all little cherries on the top of the cake Aaronson had just finished icing.

One more again

Speaking of icing, Aaronson’s third goal was a bit like the first, where high pressure and quick counter attacking soccer is crucial. The major difference was the midfielder’s killer instinct once he received the ball.

On the second goal, his weaving run opened the door for a his mates. On the third, in direct contrast to the knock on him in 2019 (that he lacked the final ball, or was too quick to give up on a play), he merely picked the pocket of a Miami defender, made a bee-line toward the penalty area, and slapped his shot around a diving Luis Robles without so much as a hesitation or a glance at the frame itself. He was simply locked in.

Salzburg is calling.

The Union were very good on the night, keeping Miami at bay for most of the match, having Andre Blake play like the Krypton he is, and allowing Lady Luck to bestow a few gifts for them along the way. That they overcame ugly weather conditions and a less than comforting official is simply par for the course for this squad right now:

They’re objectively good and unquestionably resilient..


  1. I thought the 2nd goal was one of the best I’ve ever seen the Union score and was disappointed that they didn’t show the buildup with Ilsinho and Aaronson on any of the replays.
    I also read on that this was the 4th straight PK that Higuain has missed going back to a Champions League game in Feb 2018 where he made the first of two PKs but missed the second against Spurs.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      So much about soccer highlights is focused on the ball going into the net, and so little about soccer goals has to do with that moment. It’s all about the build up, and it’s sad that even MLS ignores that very often.

      • I miss the 8-min highlight packages that MLSSoccerSoccerdotcom was doing for a while. They would get into the build-up more.
        MLSin15 would be awesome if it weren’t app only. I want to be able to watch on a big screen without some jittery casting going on.

  2. I absolutely loved that little extra touch Fontana took just before his shot, for a bit more room. What a howler!

  3. There were moments…. fleeting -when I thought, my god, it looks like football.
    Not soccer. We got soccer plenty covered locally, collegiately, and up and down the ‘development’ pathway from travel, to MLSNext to Academy to to to…. no, there were times when I saw actual football.
    The Beautiful Game.
    Maybe. Maybe not.

    • I was surprised (pleasantly) to see this, too, given that this was the 3rd game in 8 days in the slogging rain.
      But it was beautiful. So curious to see the trajectory… more like a scatter graph (reference: Cincinnati match)… of this team continuing forward.
      Union really have come a long way in a relatively short time, lest we have forgotten.

  4. It was so much more entertaining then the game on that “surface” in Cincinnati. Traveling to and from on game day may give the home team as much of a home field advantage as fans in the seats ?

  5. PhilinWilmington says:


    There’s a global pandemic, secret police in several cities, racial tension, an election that will probably end up in the supreme court.

    Let me be happy for a few moments.

    After a decade of waiting, the Union are playing nice to look at team soccer, the academy is doing what it’s stated goal is, and key role players are not underperforming.

    Crack open a beer and sit back, son. We have plenty enough to lose sleep over already

  6. I can’t think of a time previous to present that I’ve unequivocally waited on Union game days with bated breath.
    I’ve come to expect joy every matchday and when the Cincy-type days come, it’s merely just an outlier.
    I remember the Union Old. This is not that team.
    Also, Mbaizo is a downgrade from Ray. I said it. He’s got speed and occasionally plays a nice diagonal, and I’m pleased he’s made his professional dream come true. But give me Ray 7 days out of 7.

  7. Union defense was on point in this game. 7 of the 16 shots taken were blocked on the way in. Miami didn’t block anything…

  8. That first goal was a quintessential Union/RB model goal……… in the front third, turn over off a throw in, here we come……, ping, ping …….goal. Why go 100 yards when we only have to go 40? If you want to see a goal that defines a club…….that was it.

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