Analysis / Union

Match analysis: Philadelphia Union 6-0 Houston Dynamo

Photo: Ben Ross

There’s an old saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me two times, shame on you again. Wait, no, it’s “Fool me twice, shame on me.” That’s the one.

MLS observers could be forgiven for believing that the Union’s result against DC a few weeks ago was just a fluke—a good team housing a team that had entirely given up—rather than the equivalent of the Jaws theme being played league-wide. Except that now Houston has come to town and been devoured, too. At some point, the lifeguards need to clear the beach.

Goals are fun, goals for fun

It’s true that the Union haven’t been demolishing teams in this way every game. The three games between DC and Houston were all wins, but none by more than two goals, and all the goals were of the set piece variety. Mikael Uhre was looking a bit detached and uninvolved.

In the post-Houston press conference, Jim Curtin revealed that, leading up to the game, Uhre “came into the office to see if there were things he could do to get onto the ball more.” It seems there were. The numbers don’t reveal a major transformation—Uhre still logged just 19 touches in his 65 minutes (all stats from fbref.com)—but the nature of those touches was transformative.

Uhre varied the types of movement he made, dropping in somewhat deeper to link with Julián Carranza and Dániel Gazdag. It was noticeable how much those three were combining, pinging one-touch wall passes and flicks through defenders to one another. Houston was trying to prevent runs in behind, so that variation drew them upfield and allowed Uhre to devastate them with runs off the shoulder. He had two shots, both goals, and a hockey assist on Gazdag’s goal after McGlynn had found him with a gorgeous deep ball over the top.

Uhre’s more proactive combination play alongside the continued offensive involvement of Alejandro Bedoya (three assists) and, in this game at least, an excellent offensive outing from Olivier Mbaizo (one assist, one secondary assist à la MLS) made the Union offense unstoppable.

The rest of the league should take note. The Union are the only team in MLS 2022 with multiple five-game win streaks (no other team has won more than four in a row), and are the only team in MLS history with multiple wins by six goals or more in the same season. Combine that with the best defense in the league and you have the makings of a juggernaut.

Flach – McGlynn – Martínez

With José Martínez suspended, Leon Flach shifted to the base of the Union’s diamond, with Jack McGlynn taking Flach’s role on the left. This was surprising on some level, as McGlynn hasn’t been trusted as a shuttler in 2022. Curtin has changed the formation to accommodate McGlynn, to good effect, but in this game he did not. The shape was not identical to how the Union often play. Given their relative levels of ability on the ball, McGlynn was tasked with dropping deep to receive the ball from the center backs when the Union built out of the back, and he initiated a lot of the Union’s offense that way. But at all other times, the regular diamond shape was the base formation.

This was successful, in part, because McGlynn is showing admirable growth in his defensive game. The primary reason it was possible, though, is that Flach was the DM. Flach is a ground-covering, interception-making machine. His ability to make any gaps left by McGlynn disappear meant that McGlynn could get higher up the field and contribute offensively.

There is some debate as to whether Martínez is really necessary to the team—why live with the occasional poor decision from Martinez when Flach can do that job so well? This misses the point somewhat, as they are different players who play the position differently. Martínez’s dribbling (as high-risk as it sometimes is) and passing from the base of midfield is often invaluable to the Union’s offense. That’s not in Flach’s game yet (though he was very tidy on the ball against Houston—36 of 38 passing with four progressive carries). Martínez is also a fierce defender, an integral part of the Union’s top-tier defensive unit. But he doesn’t cancel space the same way Flach does, so don’t be surprised if, upon Martínez’s return, McGlynn returns to a bench role.

That said, should Martínez be sold, it’s reassuring to see how the team could operate without him.

Miscellany

— Alejandro Bedoya had three assists. That’s phenomenal, and a wonderful continuation of his best-ever offensive season. (At age 35. Imagine him on your Casa Over-30 team.) Curtin’s decision to push him higher up the field is probably the true catalyst for the Union’s return to league-dominating form.

— Jack McGlynn’s free kick goal was of the highest caliber. It also set the direction for the rest of the game, as Houston had been making noises about getting back into things. That goal effectively won the game then and there.

— Uhre, Gazdag, and Carranza all scored, making them the highest-scoring trio in the league, and the only group of three players on one team with 8-plus goals (hat-tip to Joe Tansey for that and many other stats compiled from the game).

— J.P. Dellacamera said on the broadcast that the Union have lost at home just three times in the last three years (MLS regular season only). This is both accurate and unbelievable.

2 Comments

  1. Andy Muenz says:

    I think Martinez currently has a higher ceiling than Flach at the 6 but also has a lower floor. So the decision between the two comes down to risk/reward.
    .
    What’s more impressive about the Union having only 3 losses is how they came about. All 3 came while the team was focused on Champions League. The first involved 2 goals against by superstars (both Higuains). The second was partly due to Martinez losing his mind and getting a red card in the first 20 minutes. And the third involved the team missing 7 players to international duty (and 1 to suspension) against the best team in the league last year.

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