Analysis / Union

Match analysis: Nashville SC 1–1 Philadelphia Union

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

The Union failed to beat Nashville SC on Sunday but took home a point. Andre Blake heroics were required to keep them in it early on, then Mikael Uhre’s first MLS goal had them leading into the 85th minute. On balance, the result was fair, as both teams are disappointed and feel they could have won.

The best there is at what he does

Matt Turner made his long-awaited return from injury for the Revs this week, but while he’s a fine keeper, Union fans know that Andre Blake is the best keeper in MLS.

On Sunday he proved it again. The two saves from Alex Muyl were of the very finest quality, and he may have gotten fingertips to Dax McCarty’s rocket, too. Not to mention a Hany Mukhtar blast and that he nearly saved Randall Leal’s penalty. Nashville rode the lightning of their electric crowd in the early stages, and it was Blake there to stop things from going sideways. This was the first game all season long where the Union lost the xG battle by a significant margin, and Blake is the reason they still earned something from it.

Critics and sour-grape eaters like to complain about goalkeepers standing on their heads, as if that’s chance, or cheating, or somehow earning things for a team that doesn’t “deserve” it. But that thinking is completely backward. Just because truly excellent goalkeeping is rare doesn’t mean it’s a fluke. Blake was the number one draft pick for a reason, and for all the brouhaha around his getting selected, he has repaid that faith more times than can be counted. He had one (historically bad) down year, and has since been in his best-ever form. Long may it continue.

The Union are lucky to have Andre Blake, but nothing about what he does is down to luck.

Possession with purpose

Much has been made about the Union’s passing, or lack thereof. While it has been soundly debunked that possession is a statistic that matters, in isolation, there have been calls here on this page, for instance, for more time for players like Jack McGlynn to come into midfield and inject some surety and craft into the attacking passing game.

It was almost immediately clear, however, that Sunday was a Leon Flach game. Flach has had a few down games by his standards, but he was very much needed against Nashville, registering six tackles, 23 pressures, one block, two interceptions, and one clearance. He was everywhere. (All stats from fbref.com unless otherwise noted.)

Nashville is very tough to play against. They are not very creative, but they are rugged defensively and don’t often leave themselves open. The Union had a few counterattacking moments, which showed how dangerous they can be in the open field, but it was interesting to see them hold possession on more than one occasion to carve out opportunities with the ball at their feet.

But it was verticality that got the Union their goal. In 2022, the Union have the lowest pass completion percentage in MLS, but their completed passes travel nearly one and a half yards farther forward than the next best team in that statistic (see americansocceranalysis.com). On Sunday, Dániel Gazdag picked up a Mukhtar turnover, looked upfield, and hit a long, first-time, crossfield bomb behind the defense to Mikael Uhre. Uhre took one touch, turned newly-minted DP Walker Zimmerman inside out with another, and coolly slotted the ball home.

Uhre had the fewest touches of any Union starter, with 22, but he made the most of them, putting all three of his shots on frame, putting in nine pressures, making three blocks, completing three out of three dribbles, and scoring that goal. Gazdag was active, as well, nearly doubling his game average for progressive carries, with seven, and creating three shots for teammates, including the goal. He had 42 total touches, putting him fourth on the team behind the fullbacks and José Martínez.

The more touches he can get, the better the Union offense is going to be.

Handballs that were and were not

The game was decided by two handball calls. What Martínez was looking at as the ball dropped in over his mark, C.J. Sapong, is a mystery. It’s no more of a concentration error than what Kai Wagner had when he passed the ball straight to Mukhtar early in the first half, but it got punished and Wagner’s did not. Both men need to do better there.

It is surprising, though, that Cory Burke was not called for a handball several minutes after Martínez. While the call was reasonable, by the letter of the law (Burke’s arm was in a so-called natural position, and he could do little to avoid the contact), it could easily have been given as a penalty.

Takeaways

The Union can take away a few things from this game:

  • It’s good to have Andre Blake on your team.
  • With better concentration in key moments, the Union could have won.
  • But had a few key moments gone the other way, they could have lost; that’s what happens when you play other good teams.
  • Mikael Uhre is getting acclimated, and looks the business.
  • Getting Uhre and Gazdag more touches should be the priority, offensively.
  • The Union still haven’t played their best, which is good, considering the New York teams are red hot right now, and LAFC looks like a budding juggernaut.

6 Comments

  1. I’m not very smart and still trying to understand VAR.

    Football makes contact with Burke’s arm. No call. Review the video, find that it looks, ahem, unflattering, but not bad enough to overturn the no call.

    Is this correct?

    • I’m no expert either, but I believe the decision came down to the fact that the ball quickly deflected off another player before hitting Burke. I think, too, that refs can use a bit of discretion in determining whether an arm is in an unnatural position when the ball is handled. By contrast, there was no way to dispute Martinez’ handball that resulted in the penalty.

      • Jeremy Lane says:

        I think Pete’s basically right. The no-call is defensible on those grounds. But I’m shocked Penso didn’t call it a penalty.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        As I’ve said in other places, I think a large part of the reason he didn’t call it was that he felt it was around 50/50 and since he didn’t give the red card earlier which was also 50/50 he went in the other direction this time.

      • Jeremy Lane says:

        Totally reasonable, Andy. Could very well be.

      • Deez Nuggs says:

        Even Instant Replay split on an answer there.
        .
        The call on Martinez could also have gone either way, though its easier to see. I would argue that there was also a quick deflection and that his arm was in a natural position for his intent — to chest the ball down. (Seriously, try stepping back and sticking your chest out without hands up… ain’t easy.)

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