Analysis / Player ratings / Union

Match analysis and player ratings: Philadelphia Union 1-1 New York Red Bulls

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Much of Saturday night’s contest between Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls less resembled a soccer match than it did two monkeys punching each other at the zoo.

These two teams play such similar styles — physical, counterattacking, treating concepts like “the ball” and “the midfield” like Superman treats kryptonite — that their matchups tend toward this sort of chaos.

And after a first half where the two teams largely canceled each other out, the second was more wild: two goals, another disallowed, a red card, and… a chorus of boos for the home side at the final whistle.

Pile it on

The Union were sitting pretty in the 55th minute.

They were up a goal, thanks to Daniel Gazdag’s excellent move and finish right after halftime. And, suddenly, they were up a man, with New York defender Dylan Nealis seeing a second yellow.

In the ten minutes immediately following, it looked all the world like Philly would get the second goal needed to finish off the match, as waves of attacks seemed destined to break down the Red Bull defense.

But New York held strong — thanks in part to some excellent defense on the goal line, combined with some rotten luck for the Union — and somehow came away with the equalizer.

Not much to analyze there — Jose Martinez fails to track his man into the box, and it’s too easy for Luquinhas as a result.

The bigger worry, though, is what happened after. The Union had 25 minutes plus stoppage time to get their winner. But they largely squandered the first 15 minutes, struggling to get control of the match as the ascendant Red Bulls pressed them all over the park.

And, although the Union created a bit more in the final stretch of the match, they didn’t come all that close to scoring. In particular, manager Jim Curtin’s decision to introduce Olivier Mbaizo in the 83rd minute didn’t work out at all, with the out-of-form right back spraying ill-aimed service in and around the River End.

Becoming a pattern

Some of the Union’s struggles late in the match can be excused by the opponent. Red Bulls, of all the teams in the league, are barely impacted by losing a man. They don’t want the ball and want to launch counters; that’s always a first-choice strategy for a shorthanded team. So it’s easy to see why the red didn’t change the match as much as the Union would have hoped.

But the pattern that is developing isn’t very encouraging for the Union: they can’t hold on to the lead. Just look at their last five league matches:

  • At Toronto, Julian Carranza scored in the 34th minute, but the hosts equalized five minutes later and took the lead for good just after halftime.
  • Hosting Montreal, Carranza’s first-half penalty was canceled out by a 60th minute goal, and the Union couldn’t create a winner.
  • At Nashville, a counterattacking goal by Mikael Uhre was erased by a late penalty conceded by the Union defense.
  • At LAFC, Philly blew two separate leads, conceding twice in the second half to wipe out an early goal by Gazdag and a 67th minute goal by Carranza.
  • And, hosting Red Bulls, the 65th minute goal by Luquinhas earned the visitors a draw after Gazdag had scored after halftime.

Six blown leads, five games, four points.

What’s the explanation? The way the Union play invites these kinds of narrow margins. This team doesn’t want the ball — it wants to play defense, counterattack, and win games 1-0.

But the flip side is that, once the Union get that one-goal lead — as they’ve done in each of these five games — they have faced a steady onslaught of pressure from the other side. In response, Philly hasn’t had the capacity to dictate the game.

And the low-scoring nature of the attack means that the Blue and Gold don’t have much margin for error to work with. It’s notable that the Union have only scored two goals in one of these five games, and that only three players have scored in that stretch. (Where would this team be without Gazdag and Carranza?)

Without a more reliable source of goals, the ability to create sustained pressure when seeking a winner, or more discipline in controlling a match when protecting a lead, the Union will keep dropping these kinds of points.

Player ratings

Andre Blake — 6

A quiet night for Blake, not much he could have done on the goal.

Kai Wagner — 6

Solid defensively, and his corners put Carlos Coronel under threat. Wasted an early free kick from a dangerous position, would rather see Gazdag take those chances.

Jakob Glesnes — 6

Coped well with New York’s counters, correctly resisted the crowd’s invitations to “shoot!” every time he came within 70 yards of goal.

Jack Elliott — 6

A strong night in the back.

Nathan Harriel — 6

Thought he really held his own, including a few very impressive tackles. Has cemented his place in the side.

Jose Martinez — 4

If he keeps his head, the Union probably win this game.

Leon Flach — 5

For every two things he does right (a good tackle, a good decision) he does one thing wrong (a bad decision, a misplaced pass). Still a zero in the attacking third.

Alejandro Bedoya — 6

Looked dangerous a few times when he got the ball in the attacking half, but his teammates didn’t find him enough.

Daniel Gazdag — 7

The guy just keeps making things happen. A borderline candidate for league MVP so far.

Sergio Santos — 5

Really nice interplay with Gazdag for the goal, but otherwise Santos had a poor night. Wasn’t able to stretch the defense in the first half, made poor decisions with the ball in the second half.

Julian Carranza — 5

Continues to look dangerous in and around the box, but nothing to show for it on the night but a correctly disallowed goal.


Cory Burke 70′ — 4

Didn’t offer much off the bench for Santos. His chance to win it at the death was far too easy a save for the keeper.

Jack McGlynn 70′ — 5

Struggled to cope with the physicality of the match at first, but helped the Union exert more control in the final 15 minutes.

Olivier Mbaizo 83′ — 3

Maybe a bit harsh for someone who came on so late in the match, but it’s tough to point to a single thing the Cameroon international did right. Just not in good form right now.

Geiger Counter

Rubiel Vazquez — 7

Credit where due: the referee got every big decision right, and did a fine job managing an emotional, physical match.


  1. Andy Muenz says:

    Way too high for Martinez. While he does some good things, his mistakes have become more and more frequent. Early on in the game, he made a nice play to take the ball away from a NJ player just outside the box and the crowd cheered. I said to myself “Why are they cheering when the only reason he had to make that play was that he just gave the ball away?”. That’s something he does way too often. While the Union don’t want a lot of possession, part of this relies on not giving the ball away in dangerous areas and Martinez does this much too often. I’m really hoping Flach shines at the 6 on Wednesday and the team keeps with him in a place his lack of offensive skills won’t be as noticeable.
    And I would bump Harriel up for making some really difficult tackles without fouling. He is so far ahead of Mbaizo at this point that Mbaizo should be getting reps with Union 2.

    • Jeremy Lane says:

      I agree with a lot of this. It was Martínez’s handball that gave Nashville their penalty so two of these draws can be put square on his plate.

      He offers so much, but when he takes things away, it causes massive problems.

      • His turnover led to Toronto’s first goal, too. I find Martinez a confounding player: as Jeremy says, he’s at the heart of so much of what the Union do well, but when he’s not on his game he’s a liability.

    • Steve 101 says:

      I’ve been feeling this way more and more as the season has progressed. Spending my time commenting that people should be patient with the offensive players and give them time to gel. I was so confident that Gazdag, Uhre, and Carranza would start to put it all together and I’m 2 for 3 on that front. But quietly in the back of my heqd I’ve been wondering, “Is martinez as good as we read about on PSP? Is he as good as they say on phl17? Is he as good as they say on national broadcasts?”

      As a college football/basketball fan I know that the national broadcast team will never know my squad as well as I do. They just regurgitate the same talking points they heard on last weeks broadcast. I say that to say this, did we all fall in love with Martinez’s passion, energy, tenacity, and potential as a player and stop objectively analyzing his contributions on the field both positively and negatively? I’m going to say something that I know won’t be popular her but I’m starting to get McKenzie vibes here. As a defensive player does 85 minutes of lockdown soccer justify consistently giving up 1-3 dangerous opportunities for the opponent per game?

      I think we need to really take a step back and strip all of our beliefs about Martinez and really see if the numerous positives he brings to the field justify the critical negatives. This has been a great defensive team for many years soley because of Blake. Now with Glesnes, Elliott, Wagner, anf Harriel(still needs to prove it long term but the kid looks legit) this is a great defensive unit with an average defensive midfielder. Do we need to be swinging for the fences with a guy like martinez when he’s hurting us as often as he is with inexplicably bad passing in our own 3rd.

      We’re still not in bad shape but something needs to change. I for one hope that it’s a progression in Martinez’s decision making.


    • Totally agree about Martinez, and also Flach. They coached out of Flach the poor habit of attempting sliding tackles, so why can’t they coach him up on offense? Frankly, they will never be a really good team with Flach and Bedoya on the wings at the same time. Each add very little offensively.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        Do they need to coach Flach offensively or can they just put him into the 6? I’m thinking a mature Flach can provide the defense we see from Martinez without the bad turnovers? If a pass gets intercepted 10-15 yards down the field it’s not nearly as bad as getting stripped on the dribble.

  2. I kind of label the game the total Martinez experience. I 100% believe him being a pest and a nudge got the Union a man up.
    And yes he could have done better on the goal, but to be honest after the Union goal was disallowed the entire team imploded and wasn’t a threat despite Curtin uncharacteristically throwing in the entire kitchen on the field trying to shake things up.

  3. This team needs another seasoned 60th minute sub who is Forwarded thinking with good passing vision and ball skills. It’s the Unions missing link this year. MCGlynn is not quite there. Too many safe lateral or back passes. The Union were a man up. Curtain subbed on 3 players who were zero help. MBAIZO BURKE AND McGLYNN. Need to make a summer acquisition .and get Uhre healthy soon.

    • Mbaizo needs to either get moved or he has to find a way to get minutes. There is no way he is going to get out of his own head on the bench.
      Our biggest loss this season is Jamiro Montiero our roster and bench situation look a lot different out there.
      For whatever reason the kids aren’t getting minutes and because of that our roster is kind of thin.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        I think the kids aren’t getting the minutes that many want is that they aren’t ready yet. McGlynn doesn’t turn 19 until July and the other 2 are a few months younger.
        Yes, they are getting less time than Brenden Aaronson got at that age, but here Curtin is trying to find time for 3 kids rather than 1.
        Hopefully all 3 will get significant time tonight for Union 2 (and hopefully the storms will have passed through the area before the game).

      • BBfromUD says:

        Let’s be careful giving the kids too many minutes tonight as somebody needs to absorb the minutes from Carranza and Martinez on Wednesday night. Maybe even more minutes if Uhre still can’t go or eventually when Bedoya admits he is tired and lets Curtin give him a rest.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        Sullivan, Mcglynn, and Bueno starting tonight. Aaronson on the bench. Don’t know if that means anything for Wednesday.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        Mcglynn and Sullivan came out at halftime and Aaronson came in then.

    • David Greene says:

      You must be looking at a different game. 75% of Mcglynns passes are forward. We have Burke on the field who runs when it is too late or cannot keep the ball. That is the issue.
      Name another player on the Union with his vision or can play that pass to Burke at the end of the game. Don’t care if he is 18, best passer and vision on the team and would play him beside Martinez every game.

      • Ijust dont think McGlynn is not quite ready to step in and “close” .He is hesitant, The pressure was on and he played too cautiously. Agree Burke was no help and Mbaizo was no help either. We were a man up a seasoned player would have taken advantage of that situation. Need a playmaking midfielder who can step on the field in the 60 th minute and put it away, “A closer”. This element is missing on this team.We were a man up. This was sad.

  4. Gruncle Bob says:

    Watch Elliot on the replay. Why did he step up when that guy was already marked? It is not all on Brujo. Not even close.

  5. el Pachyderm says:

    Part of the philosophy issue is raising it’s head with this team. A total disdain for controlling possession. Sometimes, possession for possession’s sake is the viable outcome no matter what other people say. I’ll take controlled thoughtful movement of a defense in order to create a 2v1 or numerical advantage. It’s okay to want the ball. It’s okay to bring pause to a game. It’s actually a gift. Its a yogic cleansing breath and Union are constitutionally incapable of doing it. They so readily represent the helter skelter panic ball that I see so often in america. It’s quite remarkable.
    Either way. I am convinced this is a good team by their standards and will be right at the top of the conrernce by season’s end. I’m not concened with points to earn a shield. I undertstand many who are. My goal is not to be the best regular season team… it is to…
    …Play Well: Earn a solid high-seating THEN win the three or four games at the right time which the crap shoot that is the playoffs demands in order to actually be the best team in the league.
    I have ZERO doubt this team is able to beat every team in the league on their own field or the other team’s field.
    Just Play Well.
    Keep getting better.
    Be healthy at the right time.

    • SoccerDad says:

      Your post reminds me of thoughts I’ve had seeing some of the other posts over the last couple of weeks, namely: “Do the Union not control the ball because Gazdag isn’t a ‘typical number 10’? Or is Gazdag not a typical number 10 because the Union don’t care about controlling the ball?”

    • Deez Nuggs says:

      1000% –> be healthy at the right time
      and now, maybe arguably, “not face Miami in the playoffs”

  6. Can Curtin not just have a Plan B once we take the lead, and it’s later in the game? Maybe go to a 4-3-2-1? Control more of the midfield, focus on possession (which I think any of our HG Midfielders can help with) and not have to rely on 2 subpar striker back ups and a tired midfield to keep up the pace?

    Of course Curtin has always been stubborn and perhaps he is waiting/planning on having Uhre back there soon and once it’s Uhre/Carranza up top I do think we will be scoring more goals.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      I’ve been thinking about this too. A Plan B would be nice, but it’s hard to argue with Jim’s results – even when he had one, they weren’t better than when he didn’t.

    • I think there is a plan to control games, but you really need a two-goal cushion. This team can’t seem to get there. They might have the defenders for some old-school Serie A-style catenaccio, but it’s too risky.

  7. Deez Nuggs says:

    I admit I am struggling a bit to understand.
    Defense definitely is not a problem. Even with the occasional mistake (which every team has at least once every game), we’re one of the best in the league. I don’t value pointing fingers at this person or that.
    On attack too, we are consistently dangerous. We win the xG battle pretty much every game out. Sometimes, you can point at a fluffed shot, or a weak take. Sometimes, a poor cutback.
    But too many times the opposing keeper or back line is making a stop they have no right making. Case in point, that bonkers ping-pong that happened around the box in the second half of the Red Bulls game.
    Seems to me, any one of those goes in on a different day.
    Why does it seem to take majestic play in order to bag one?
    And yet, this team IS capable of that too… (see Santos/Gazdag give and go)

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