Analysis / Union

Match analysis: Philadelphia Union 2-0 Charlotte FC

Photo: Marjorie Elzy

Fall back on your training. Perfect practice makes perfect. Trust your instincts.

Jason Bourne couldn’t figure out why, when he remembered little else about himself, he could so quickly assess the world around him.

Training. Practice. Instincts.

Bourne knew what to see, what to do, where to go, and how to win because he’d spent years making sure he knew all those things. Even when he couldn’t remember his own name, he knew that.

In one brief moment on Saturday night, the Union looked like a well-drilled, highly trained, perfectly practiced, instinct-driven machine.

Eat your heart out, Bourne.

How to make a diagonal line

Charlotte sat deep against the Union.

They also sat wide, putting wing backs on the touch lines in hopes of neutralizing the union’s overlapping prowess. Nashville and Chicago employed the same strategy against the Boys in Blue in 2021 to great effect (as well as others).

Without the ball however, wide players need to come back toward the center of the pitch to help their teammates defend (because if they don’t, large gaps of space become available between them and their center back counterparts – “the channel”). So, when the Union had possession, they did what they often do against wide teams: they tried to stretch the field side to side.

This isn’t new for the home side, nor is it new to soccer. In the 15th minute however, the Union’s movement was so well-choreographed, so ingrained, so completely textbook as to warrant it’s own article.

Have a look.

Watch the forwards hold the Charlotte line (a pretty compact, well-organized group, in fairness).

Watch Jose Martinez run toward the vacated space in front of his center backs as the ball moves laterally, forcing two Charlotte players to follow him.

Watch Quinn Sullivan, first holding the left back, check into the space over Brujo’s shoulder in case the ball keeps moving left (this move forcing two Charlotte players to pay attention).

Watch Leon Flach check into the space over the midfielder’s right, drawing defensive eyes if not yet bodies.

Watch Kai Wagner slip behind his mark, a ball-watching midfielder who knows if the field is switched he has a run to make, but since it isn’t is now 20 yards behind the play.

Watch Flach again, covering for Wagner’s vacated space and being there to win the second ball in case the cross doesn’t make it, which it doesn’t, and which he does.

It’s an otherwise innocuous moment in the match, but this moment leapt off the screen Saturday night – the Union weren’t just finding space on the soccer field, they were manufacturing it.

The Blue Ultimatum

Tom Cronin: He’s making his first mistake.
Nicki: It’s not a mistake. They don’t make mistakes. They don’t do random. There’s always an objective. Always a target.

Watch the clip again.

It’s almost visible, Martinez’s decision to check into space. You can see the recognition in his body of what must come next.

Wagner is the same, he waits, looks, jogs, and then runs – there isn’t any question what’s coming, he’s just making sure the timing is right.

Glesnes takes a dribble to his right, but he’s never going right with that pass. He’s simply moving Mint City bodies out of the way, on his side of the field and the other.

Daniel Gazdag is doing the same thing, moving bodies but always curling his own back toward to the left – the place he knows the ball is going – The first movement is for your defender, the second one is for your teammate.

Training. Practice. Instincts.

The Union aren’t perfect yet, but they’re deadly and they know what they’re doing,


  1. Zizouisgod says:

    Great clip and analysis

  2. Peanut Gallery says:

    Thank you for this. Love the insight!

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