Analysis / Union

Match analysis: CF Montreal 1-2 Philadelphia Union

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

On the road and operating under unfavorable conditions, Philadelphia Union mounted a second-half comeback and survived a final twenty minutes of 11-on-10 action en route to a 2-1 victory over the artists formerly known as Montreal Impact. The win gave the Boys in Blue four points from their first two matches of the 2022 campaign.

Press your luck

The high press has been an on-and-off feature of recent Union sides. The 2020 team, keyed by the incessant running of Brenden Aaronson up top, did it most effectively in a campaign that ended in the Supporters’ Shield. Last year’s squad, operating out of a different formation and with different personnel, didn’t press as high or as effectively, preferring to clog the middle third of the pitch.

But the high press made its return in Saturday’s match. Particularly in the first half, the Union buzzed around Montreal’s penalty area, attempting to turn the ball over and spring easy attacks on Montreal’s goal. This tactic made sense given the unforgiving and unpredictable nature of Olympic Stadium’s artificial surface.

How effective was the high press in the first half? Hit and miss. Philly definitely made it difficult for Montreal to get things going, and there were quite a few offensive-zone turnovers. But the goal of the press isn’t just to be disruptive — it’s to create easy attacking chances. That second part was lacking, as the Union only managed 0.1 xG worth of meaningful attacks in the first half.

Better understanding and movement, which will come with time, should help the Union convert turnovers into scoring chances.

Julian calendar

Offseason acquisition Julian Carranza made his second straight start up top to start the season, this time partnering with Sergio Santos.

Carranza was relatively quiet in his first game with the club. Not so on Saturday. He had the best chance of the first half, making a smart diagonal run to receive the ball and putting a good bit of power on a shot that forced Sebastian Breza into a full-stretch save. And he picked up his first assist of the season in the second half, feeding Daniel Gazdag for what would be the game-winner.

Everything about this is so lovely. Carranza floats into a pocket in front of the back line, then sprints through the line into space on the edge of the box. His first touch off his chest is superb, allowing him to control the ball, pick his head up, and see the hard sprint from Gazdag to the penalty spot. The second touch — the pass — might be even better, as he lays it in with just the right amount of pace for Gazdag to control and cooly finish.

(It’s a great run and finish from Gazdag, too, who also had a quiet first game. The back half of last season suggested that the Hungarian international was developing a taste for goal, and it’s a great sign for the Union that he’s continued that early on in 2022.)

Overall, it was a very encouraging game from Carranza, who still has immense potential (he’s only 21 years old) and is working in to a new team. Would it have been better if Carranza hadn’t been sent off later for a second yellow card? Absolutely. Is it too bad that we won’t get to see him with Mikael Uhre for at least one more week? No doubt. (Do I love asking myself rhetorical questions? You betcha.) But the Argentine certainly showed that he’s staking a claim to be one of the first-choice strikers this season.

Uhre gotta be kidding me

Speaking of the Union’s record signing… talk about a tough way to make your debut: on the road, on the worst surface in the league, after training with your teammates for less than a week, and immediately going down to ten men.

Regardless, Uhre offered a lot to like in his brief appearance. Asked to float around up top and try to put the game away, the Danish striker showed off his promised pace and power. Twice he shrugged off defenders and went in one-on-one with the keeper. Though he didn’t convert either chance into a goal, the skillset that made him so attractive to Ernst Tanner was evident.

Expect to see Uhre start this weekend against San Jose Earthquakes. We’ll see whether Santos or Cory Burke partners him. That decision will tell us a lot about how Jim Curtin views his striker corps fitting together, at least in this early stage of the season.

Odds and ends
  • It was definitely surprising to see Curtin drop Olivier Mbaizo just one game into the new season. The Union’s longtime manager tends to give players an amazing amount of rope before he makes a change, but Mbaizo’s error-prone opener seems to have forced the issue. Young Nathan Harriel had a solid day in his first start of the year. Last season, I thought he looked out of place at times, but his unexpected start in the Eastern Conference Final seems to have given him some confidence. Given Harriel’s performance — and Mbaizo’s lackluster cameo as a hybrid left midfielder/wing-back with the Union down to ten men — I’d expect the youngster to keep his spot next week.
  • If Djordje Mihailovic’s goal early in the second half had stood, we’d be talking about an entirely different game. That goal, which involved Mihailovic stabbing right down the heart of the Union’s defense, left four or five players totally helpless. It was one of the worst defensive breakdowns we’ve seen from the Union in years… but fortunately VAR concluded (correctly in my view) that Mihailovic had won the ball by committing a foul near midfield.
  • Olympic Stadium is not a suitable venue for MLS matches. If Montreal has to spend all of March on the road, so be it. But that turf is dangerous, and the Union are fortunate to have headed back to the United States without any notable injuries.

5 Comments

  1. I’d imagine we’ll see Burke partner Uhre against San Jose this weekend. Cory can play the hold-up/target man while Uhre runs in behind. A partnership of Santos and Uhre (though obviously we haven’t seen it yet) would seem more redundant as both of them could be looking to go vertical. Not to mention Jim has always liked riding the hot hand, so Cory getting a chance to continue his form from the opener makes sense given that he only missed out against Montreal for the birth of his son.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Burke’s hold up in the opener that he threaded through to Gazdag was exceptional.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      I doubt Uhre is yet 90 minutes match fit, partly because he was not brought on until the 68th minute. He hasn’t played in two full months and a bit, and there’s a reason why games are used in preseason to create game fitness.
      .
      He will play at least 30, if he’s doing well 45. But he cannot yet go a full 90. Starting a player who cannot go 90 takes one sub away from the coach. It is done in an injury rehab situation, but it reduces the adaptability of the side to adjust to both tactical needs and injuries.

  2. T.Coolguy says:

    Nathan Harriel was always going to have to make that right back spot his. He had too much potential and while Mbaizo isn’t that bad, he’s far too error prone to be the kind of player that starts on a team that’s contending for silverware. I was impressed with Harriel’s potential last season even if the full product wasn’t there so I’m encouraged to see him look ready now.

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