Analysis / Featured / Tactical Analysis / Union

Match analysis: Chicago Fire 0–2 Philadelphia Union

Photo by Marjorie Elzey

On Saturday afternoon, the Union comfortably dispatched with a weak Chicago Fire team, 2–0, without ever hitting high gear. As many have noted, the Fire are a puzzling mess right now, and never really threatened the Union, only raising the blood pressure in a couple early moments when they isolated a forward on Jack Elliott. Coming off of short rest, the Union looked ragged at times, but it was a marked improvement on their previous performances in league play this season. Again, this wasn’t exactly a tactical masterclass from either side, but there are some interesting themes for the Union, all of which bode well for the rest of the season.

Right-side bias

Since the acquisition of Kai Wagner and, prior to that, the trading away of Keegan Rosenberry, the Union attack has had a left-sided tilt. Ray Gaddis’s contributions offensively were improving before his retirement, but Wagner was and is the better offensive player. Combining with Jamiro Monteiro on the left side of the diamond, most of the Union’s best attacking play came down that side.

This season, that has changed, with a decided tilt to the right. Olivier Mbaizo’s service has become a key part of the Union attack, and on Saturday he had probably his most complete game for the Union. He was consistently dangerous with his crossing and his movement. And, perhaps because of the opponent, his passing was also greatly improved. While still relatively low, at 61%, it compares well to Wagner, who is not considered a passing liability, at 66%.

This shift isn’t solely attributable to Mbaizo’s improvement. A lack of consistency on the left side of the diamond means Wagner hasn’t yet developed chemistry with a partner over there. With the somewhat surprising decision to start Jack McGlynn, that continued. The Union midfield is still developing. With Martínez back, Flach will presumably resume his role on the left, where he will continue developing his relationship with Wagner, unless Fontana is able to play well enough to push Flach to the bench. The arrival of a true playmaker in the summer would also rejigger things. The point being that the Union offense will become more balanced over time, as Wagner’s abilities going forward are too good not to use, but seeing Mbaizo improve and provide a true alternative on that right side is very encouraging.

Homegrown FC

Jack McGlynn is 17. I repeat, Jack McGlynn is 17. He was born in 2003. I mean, kids today, amirite? They make me feel old. Want to know what was great about McGlynn’s performance on Saturday? He didn’t stick out. He was in the right places, doing the right things, pretty much the whole time.

McGlynn was secure in his passing, at better than 80%, and he had three shots, two of which were darn good looks that a more experienced player might have put away. But it’s hard to get worked up about the misses because he did something that players many years his senior often don’t: he got them on target. He took the shots first time, and placed them accurately, rather than getting nervous and blasting them over the bar. And beyond the shots, he had a really nice play where he used his body to secure a loose ball outside the Union penalty area with a larger Chicago player breathing down his neck.

In short, McGlynn looked like he belonged, which is what the Union need out of their youngest players. On a team with depth issues, everyone must contribute, and McGlynn looks like he can do that. He isn’t yet ready to be that offensive connector, working with Wagner, as noted above, but he’s certainly not a liability. And as Jim Curtin noted postgame, McGlynn is very smart, and will only improve. That’s very good news.

Leon Flach is indefatigable

What more can we say about his guy? He won 8 out of his 12 duels on the night, completed 65% of his passes, and ran about 7 miles. The guy is a machine and, just as a reminder for those in the back, is still only 20 years old. I said above that perhaps Fontana will play well enough to force Flach to the bench, but I would be shocked at this point to see it happen. (A real No. 10 might do it, though.) He is the perfect player for the system the Union play. More than once he angrily remonstrated with his teammates for not pressing well enough. He’s the second coming of Ale Bedoya, basically, with maybe a little less going forward and a little more bite in the tackle (or accuracy, anyway). We were all worried about how the team would look without Martínez, but we didn’t need to be. Never leave, Leon.


There are some things that weren’t so rosy. The Kacper Przybyłko–Cory Burke partnership is still a work in progress, though it was somewhat better on Saturday. It was good to see Burke score, but it’s not clear that they really function well enough to continue as a twosome. The problem is, dropping Kacper doesn’t make sense, and if Burke is the next best performing forward (or available forward), then what’s the alternative? Fontana needs to show he can be that guy, because it’s seeming like he might struggle to get too many more starts in midfield, barring rotation games. That’s probably a column unto itself.

The Union scored from two set pieces, but overall, their attacking play looked a little more patient, and less reliant on pure counterattacking, which is good. Chicago didn’t ask too many questions of them, though, so it’s hard to say too much.

Professionalism was lacking at the end of the game. Sergio Santos may well be suspended for putting his hand on an opponent’s head, and he would deserve it. The Union managed to be admirably unruffled by Saprissa, but since then have gotten into it with just about everybody, and it’s wearing thin. If nothing else, yellow cards lead to suspensions, and the Union don’t have the depth to cope with much of that. Bedoya and the other leaders need to be putting out those fires, rather than helping them burn. Getting a rep for this sort of thing only ensures that refs will be more likely to penalize the Union for the borderline stuff, so let’s get rid of it.


  1. Andy Muenz says:

    I’ve been pushing against foolish yellows for awhile now. Even against Saprissa, Monteiro’s yellow was half of what led to him missing the upcoming game at Azteca.
    It’s OK to take yellows like the one Glesnes took against Columbus just outside the box because that’s part of the game. But don’t take one in the 94th minute with a 2 goal lead for throwing the ball away after a foul.

  2. Tim Jones says:

    I believe it was higginbotham on the broadcast who said Martinez got three games for the NYC FC foul.
    The Union’s pregame information lists his as suspended for New England.

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