Analysis / Union

Match analyses: Toronto FC and New England Revolution

Photo by Marjorie Elzy

The Union are a team in flux right now.

They switched formations on Sunday for the first time since The Bronze Age and their highest paid player has made appearances at local youth soccer outings, but none with his current club. And yet, despite any turmoil the Union are playing great soccer again, attractive soccer even.

Here’s why.

Toronto FC

The universal take after the Union’s thumping 3-0 win over Toronto FC was that they played on the proverbial front foot.

Given that the good guys were three goals ahead before most people’s GrubHub orders arrived, it’s hard to argue otherwise. The salient point however isn’t that they were on the front foot – though given their dreadful stretch leading into this match, maybe it actually is – but how they did so and what that meant for their opponents. After all, Toronto FC hadn’t lost in five matches coming into their visit.

In the clearest terms, the Union remembered how to press and how to counter. For the former, it looked a little something like this.

Courtesy of MLSsoccer.com

Good pressure should force an opponent out of their shape, otherwise it’s just wasted energy.

In the Union’s case, their best defensive outing in months made Toronto’s wide 5-3-2 look like a mess – honestly, if the reader didn’t know what formation the Reds took to start the match last week, would he or she be able to identify it based on this chart? Right backs playing like forwards, and so few passes between center backs and between the back line and the left side of the formation that there isn’t even connection between them.

That’s what good press looks like.

On top of that, Alejandro Bedoya, Olivier Mbaizo, and Jack Elliott led the match in tackles – or, the Union eliminated the effectiveness of Toronto’s best, creative playmaker, Yeferson Soltedo, by winning the ball from him and his teammates on their side of the formation. That led to counters for the good guys on their preferred attacking side.

New England Revolution

The Union aren’t shy about their “Play the kids” mantra, but they also aren’t naive about doing so until said children are ready – for every Mark McKenzie, there were a handful of players who turned pro in something other than sports, as the saying goes.

In 2021, the Boys have furnished entire substitution benches with young players, only to have a slim few of them see the field. Glimpses of quality from that group have thus come in short intervals, usually against tired-legged teams in the second half. As a result, Union fans have started to wonder whether there was more to this group, whether they were good enough for the league, whether they could unseat a starter in the league’s most crowded midfield. Sunday night’s match – with the shadow of a midweek clash in Mexico City looming ahead – was the right opportunity to find out and the lads didn’t waste their chance.

More than either of the others (and since both Quinn Sullivan and Jack McGlynn have started matches), Paxten Aaronson truly stole the show.

Not because of his goal, which was spectacular and broke Matt Turner’s 534 year shut out streak (Author’s note: the streak was slightly shorter than this, but only slightly), but because of something many Union fans have worried about with respect to the diminutive Jersey Boy and his homegrown ilk: an ability to handle the physicality of the professional game.

Medford Modric (?) didn’t disappoint.

In addition to his worldie – a shot few other Union players ever would have even considered let alone taken – the attacker led the team in tackles with three and duels with ten (winning 80%), all while being only one of five Union players to go the full 90 against the Conference-leading Revs. When at attacking player is putting up those kind of defensive numbers, that means not only is the press working (and it was, though not nearly as effectively as against Toronto because the team conceded first) but the individuals in the side are making it work from the top of the formation to the bottom.

Summary

Come Friday, Union fans will know if the team’s burgeoning form carried over against Club America. Given what they’ve accomplished in the last eighteen months, underestimating the side’s chances would seem equal parts Normal Native Negadelphian and (recent) historically unwise.

12 Comments

  1. One thing I liked about the formation for the New England match was the way that having 3 center backs allowed Glesnes or Elliott to go forward on the attack without worrying about having someone cover for them if things go south and the other team is able to counter.

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      I noticed that, too. Glesnes, especially, likes to carry the ball forward, and it put him in a space to assist the Aaronson goal.

  2. Love that the Union tried the 3-4-3 with the kids and it worked so well. Haven’t seen the expected score numbers, but have to think it was really close or even tilted towards the Union.
    Not only was Paxten’s shot great, but he faked out the defender so badly he almost ended up sitting on the turf.

  3. I love when the kids play. Even more so, when there’s two or three of them on the field at the same time. You can see the system when they are together. They move in synchronicity, showing, receiving and passing. Please don’t kill me for this, but it has flashes of Barcelona’s tiki-taka era. Obviously not the same skill level, more the ingrained system working it’s magic because of years of repetition. It makes me giddy.
    .
    McGlynn epitomizes this for me. He’s not fancy, fast or necessarily otherworldly. He just does the right thing while being calm, cool, and collected. Present, receive, pass. Repeat. I think he’s had more one touch passes than anyone else on the team.
    .
    The broadcasters have proposed that they take chances and improvise because of their youth and not being jaded. I think they are partly right. I think another part of it the fact they’ve been doing this for so long. The kids know how the system should be run better than their older peers, because they’ve lived it since they were middle schoolers.
    .
    I’m greedy. I want more. I can’t wait for the day when the academy graduates are half of the starting lineup or more. Gimme, gimme gimme.

    • In Tanner We Trust says:

      Yeah the dream is Brenden Aaronson simply being remembered as the first of many. We’ll see what the future holds. Good points on McGlynn, but Sullivan’s boldness catches my eye. I hope he’s sold to Europe by the end of 2022.

      • Dave Greene says:

        When Union have a forward that can run in behind, you will see how good McGlynn’s passing range is. Quinn could be that player. Our forwards primary Kacper show for the back and we are not dangerous.

  4. Atomic Spartan says:

    Perhaps the best loss in Union history, but only if JC takes it as the object lesson it was. PA’s goal was NOT the result of a deep cross or Route 1 to Sergio. It was quality work taking on defenders at the top of the box. The kind of changeup that needs to be added to the arsenal by a player who can pull it off. More please.

    • soccerdad720 says:

      love the handle…way old school….only a few will get it. many fewer still have lived it.

    • Chris Gibbonds says:

      One thing Glesnes does (and Elliott too, but with less frequency) is step into space with the ball – kind of the way McKenzie used to. That completely discombobulates a defense as much as a line-splitting pass, and in this case forced Polster to step up, opening space behind him where Pax settled.

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