Was the Union’s defense tiring?

Photo: Paul Rudderow

On Leap Day, February 29, Adam Cann recommended readers watch for late goals allowed in 2020 from the Philadelphia Union. He observed that the Union “gave up 25 of their 50 goals against in the final 15 minutes of halves last year.”

For the first 14 regular-season-counted matches and the three knockout stage exhibition-counted ones in the Florida tournament, the Union gave up only three such goals. One came in the opening loss to FC Dallas in stoppage time. The second came in first-half stoppage time of the knockout stage win over Sporting Kansas City in Florida. And the third was scored by Tajon Buchanan in the 81st minute September 12 against New England at Subaru Park, the match Anthony Fontana won in stoppage time. That’s three in roughly twelve weeks.

But, prior to Saturday’s shutout of Toronto, they had given up three late-game goals in the last five matches over 16 days. The first of the three came in the 76th minute of the loss to Toronto in Connecticut on October 3rd. The second occurred in the 75th minute away in D. C. (when Mark McKenzie later clinched a playoff berth with his draw-salvaging golazo). Most recently, the third again involved New England’s Tajon Buchanon, this time in the 80th minute in Foxboro on October 19th.

The leak’s speed had accelerated and been accelerating, until we saw the impact of proper rest and recovery — and the restoration of the full first-choice eleven — Saturday night in Subaru Park.

One can point to player absences to explain the rise in last-15-minutes goals surrendered, especially Jose Martinez’s FIFA-enforced international duty which saw him sit on the bench unused for only one of Venezuela’s two matches. One can also mention Warren Creavalle’s recent absences due to injury, which, combined with Martinez’s FIFA-sponsored travels, was compounded in Foxboro by Alejandro Bedoya’s second yellow-card accumulation suspension. And then there is Jakob Glesnes’ concussion.

Mention could also be made of Kai Wagner’s inability to avoid injury long enough to lock in 90-minute match fitness and the repeated, consistent heavy fouls he has been suffering while trying, until Toronot’s debacle in Chester. Recently Matt Real has been a late-game sub for him – on 10/19, not on 10/14, not on 10/11, and on 10/7. On 10/3 Wagner did not dress due to his most recent injury. Wagner played well enough Saturday against Toronto that some opined he, not hat trick man Santos, should have been man of the match against Toronto. He was instrumental in implementing the destruction of Toronto right back Richie Laryea.  

My own explanation for the rise in late goals allowed is the accumulated fatigue of playing a match every third or fourth day. The Union have done so ever since August 20th, with one eight-day break, one seven-day break, two six-day breaks, and two five-day breaks between late August and the upcoming finale on November 8th. There have been no two-week intervals between games as happens once or twice in a normal MLS schedule. Nor have there been any ten or nine-day breaks.

The effects of proper rest and recovery were on display Saturday night in Subaru Park, even if Philadelphia had had one days’ rest less than Toronto.

Add onto the fatigue issue — both mental and physical — the likely scarcity of practices available to remediate basic  principles. In a three-day interval there might or might not be one decent practice day, depending on squad recovery needs. Remediation will not be its priority. Curtin’s well-explained “normal week” pattern, the Thursday practice being the easy one with Friday being intense while avoiding the expenditure of anaerobic energy reserves, may further affect the availability of practices devoted to remediation.

Like ancient Spartan heavy-infantrymen (the phalanx’s hoplites) celebrating any declaration of war because actual war released them from Sparta’s harsh, disciplined, peacetime training for it, the Union should celebrate the onset of the playoffs. Judging by the structure of the tournament and its announced final date, they should have more normal rest and practice intervals  than they have been receiving since late summer while trying to qualify. Sparta’s training will be replaced by war.


  1. I think there are some other issues with the three goals you mentioned. The DC United goal was a PK after a freakish handball. The New England situation was a case of the Revs being down 2 goals late at home and pressing…and it was a goal of the week finalist. And Toronto was pressing all game so not surprising that they scored given the way they dominated possession.

    • That Buchanan goal was pretty – Kai maybe gave him too much time, but there’s not much to stop that one.
      We were a second half team last year, even though late goals were an issue. I feel this year we have improved on that. Blake is back (how many of those late goals were on him last year?) and McKenzie is having an MVP year.
      Not too worried about this trend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


%d bloggers like this: