Analysis

Match analysis: Philadelphia Union 0-2 New England Revolution

Photo: Paul Rudderow

There’s one particular movie trope that never made sense: bachelor parties and weddings occurring on the same weekend.

Think about the movie “The Hangover.”

A wild Friday night in Las Vegas, one last hurrah for the boys, before a stately and calm wedding back in California on Sunday. That’s a lot to ask for any 48 hour period, and the timeline is neither sensible nor based in reality. One suspects that most readers of this website, have they been involved in any similar bit of revelry, did so many weeks or sometimes months in advance of the actual nuptials; it’s just more pragmatic that way. In fact, the entire premise of the film breaks down if the bachelor party isn’t on the same weekend as the wedding. With no Sunday afternoon deadline, the guys can simply take their time to figure out what happened Friday, call out of work on Monday if they need, and resolve most of their issues in a tidy manner without any outsider being the wiser.

The same is true of Major League Soccer’s regular season and playoffs, especially in 2020. The Union lost their opening playoff game for no other reason than because they were hungover for having their equivalent of a “wild Friday night in Vegas” only several days prior.

The Four Seasons Subaru Park: the players’s perspective

On Tuesday night, the Union began what was their fourth professional soccer campaign in nine months.

Consider: there was the initial league start in the first quarter, the MLS is Back Tournament in the second, the recommencement of league matches in the third, and this playoff competition in the fourth. During that time, the team whipsawed between being locked in their homes like the rest of us, while maintaining perfect health and elite fitness, and playing matches every five days on average, on practice fields and empty stadia.

Though the team’s third campaign ended in silverware, fans were rightly frustrated when the best players in Union blue simply weren’t great in starting their fourth.

  1. Jose Martinez was so poor on the night he was substituted at halftime. His knee was wrapped because of a partial torn meniscus, and it’s clear he shouldn’t have been out there. Considering it was he who eliminated Carlos Gil’s effectiveness two weeks ago, his injury played a massive role.
  2. Jamiro Monteiro was slow to move the ball and careless with his passing, and still the best player on the field for the Union. Perhaps his body was still on Kigali time, as the last match he played was for his national team in a time zone seven hours ahead.
  3. Kacper Pryzbylko started and finished the match. That’s worth stating openly because in the ninety minutes in between those things bookends, the Muffin found only twenty touches and two shots, both of which were hit directly at Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner (Author’s note: there’s a “ghost” pun in here somewhere, but I’m going to leave it out in the “spirit” of this piece… Ha! See? I said I was going to leave it out and then hit you with the “spirit” joke. Classic.)
  4. Kai Wagner was guilty on New England’s second goal of being out of position and rotating poorly. On top of that, the usually stalwart player did not have a successful dribble or cross on the night, both hallmarks of his two-way game.
  5. Brendan Aaronson left Subaru Park on a low note, the lowest rated field player on either team on the night, with only one key pass, no shots, and only twenty-seven touches.

Jakob Glesnes was also uncharacteristically poor on the night, but so were basically all of his teammates. Alejandro Bedoya wasn’t great, but he summed up the performance as succinctly as possible in the post-game press conference. “[It was a] combination of rustiness from two weeks off and guys reading too many headlines, I suppose.”

The Hangover: How much time can really be spent in the beauty of the present when one is still basking in the moments of the past? In the final scene of the movie, the guys should be celebrating a wedding but they’re completely absorbed by moments from days gone by.

Author’s note: I’d post a hyperlink to the photo montage at the end of the movie The Hangover, but it’s decidedly not safe for work. If you’re so inclined, use the Google machine yourself.

The coach with a medal and more work to do

Jim Curtin won MLS’s Coach of the Year Award in 2020, and deservedly so.

Besides guiding a team with one of the lowest payrolls in the league to the top spot in the table, he also achieved the following leadership successes.

  1. He navigated the coronavirus pandemic perfectly. Never did his team make excuses for their predicament (as so many other teams did, especially in Orlando), and no player missed a match because of the disease or an opt-out. That’s a stunning track record that, like all good leadership, is part great organization and good luck.
  2. He let the voices of his players be heard during the social upheaval of the summer. Warren Creavalle, Ray Gaddis, and others were given the platform to speak about justice, and all the while Curtin supported their movement without attempting to co-opt it, “white man-splain” it, or put it any other context than it deserved.
  3. He promoted growth in his team, including players and coaches. The fruits of that work can already be seen in the former, with Brendan Aaronson sold for a profit this season and seemingly a bevy of his teammates to follow. In the latter, his assistants have interviewed for promotions domestically and abroad, and it takes a humble and confident leader to do that.
  4. He was nearly perfect in his tactics, losing matches when he did because of performance on the field and not preparation off of it. That’s just a truth of sports leadership, that even the right plan sometimes fails.

Some seem to argue that Curtin was outdone Tuesday night, and the way New England clogged the middle of the field, forced the Union wide, pressured the first ball to the wing, and then positioned themselves to eliminate a switched field might suggest some truth there. But that’s the way to beat “a Red Bull team,” as Bob Bradley said back in March. He had a plan to beat Curtin’s side too and it didn’t work… because even the right plan fails sometimes. Give a guy like Bruce Arena six tries and eventually he’ll get it right.

The Hangover: Just because the wedding planner has everything set for a perfect Sunday evening doesn’t mean the entire groom’s party won’t show up late, disheveled, toothless, and broken from their Friday night endeavors.

What’s next

The Union won silverware in 2020, the first in club history. Trophy-winning sides live forever in the minds of fans and this one is no exception.

There’s a reason however, that teams who win doubles, trebles, and quadruples go down in history: the feat is difficult, and requires both skill and luck. Remember the four MLS competitions this year?

  1. Well, Atlanta was top of the table after Week 2 in MLS’s first set of matches. They bombed out of the second and third competitions so harshly that they weren’t invited to the fourth.
  2. Portland Timbers lifted the cup at the second’s MLS is Back Tournament. They were eight points behind in the third and done in the first round of the fourth too, with FC Dallas seeing them out on penalties.
  3. The Union of course won the Supporter’s Shield in the third, while the fourth is still being competed without any one of the three seasons’s previous winners.

The hangover from winning the Shield and all that was required to do it was too much, and the Union weren’t sharp enough to overcome it.

3 Comments

  1. Wow, I went on black out after the game so I had no idea about Martinez’s torn meniscus. That basically lost us the game before it started, imo. I consider Martinez our most important player and we saw why.

    At the end of the day, beating a good team with a good coach 6 times in a year is probably a bridge to far for most teams in the world.

    I know hindsight is 20/20 and this is a reach, but I think this is something Curtin coulda done. How many times were we up 2+ goals late in the game, only to keep Martinez out there, or perhaps sub on a nothing player like Wooten or Creavalle? In those instances, I would have liked to have seen Turner or yes, Oravec. Why? Because we need to see them bloodied and how they respond.

    Who knows, maybe after a couple of 10-15-20 minute appearances, they actually turn out to be damn good and became a real option off the bench. And then, when Martinez is injured before a playoff game, we don’t need to force him to play and instead have a real option instead?

    Part of being a coach is cultivating your bench and I still think Curtin needs to improve at that. Because if you don’t cultivate your bench, you run your starters into the ground and are forced to rely on them when they are far below optimal, and we saw what happens then.

    • I agree. I think Jim went to his bench more than in previous seasons, but only because he had no choice and was forced to rotate players when they were playing a game every 4 days for several weeks…
      .
      I’ll be interested to see how he handles depth next season (if it is indeed a more “normal” season)

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      Yes, cultivating your bench is a coaching priority. One of my mentors taught me to do it in the last 20 minutes of the first half in a high school context where starters could re-enter because the initial burst of energy and enthusiasm is over and the other coach had not had halftime in which to make adjustments. After his adjustments you want your best eleven on the field uninterrupted.
      .
      But cultivation in a game that was still on the line depended on the quality of the player. If the player was obviously not ready, you did no cultivating, in part because of the threat to an individual’s confidence but also because of the threat to group chemistry and cohesion.
      .
      We don’t see practices.
      .
      And the first team is not a player development side until a game’s result, or a season’s result, is no longer in doubt. That principle induces caution.
      .
      And to play for Jim Curtin you have to be a trustworthy defender first.
      .

Leave a Reply

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

*

%d bloggers like this: