Analysis / Union

Match analyses: Dallas and D.C.

Photo: Howie Pollard

It was a three-game week, with the last two on the road. Considering the sequence and opponents involved, the results of each match were predictable, though Philadelphia will be disappointed not to have earned four points rather than three from the most recent games. Nevertheless, the D.C. explosion will have the team raring to finish the season strong.

FC Dallas 1–0 Philadelphia Union

The starting lineup for this game made it clear that Jim Curtin’s goal was a point, first and foremost. A win would have been great but, coming off short rest, after a long plane flight, and playing in excess of 90-degree heat, the primary objective was to not concede. Nathan Harriel, José Martínez, and Leon Flach all started, as well as Cory Burke up top.

The plan was sound and, barring an excellent finish from Jésus Ferreira, it might have worked. Dallas was able to generate just 1.0 xG (according to fbref.com—even less according to MLS) on five shots on target, and that’s usually enough for Philly to get a clean sheet. On this day, however, Ferreira’s first touch took the ball out of Jakob Glesnes’s reach and gave him a shooting window that even Andre Blake couldn’t cover. Glesnes is probably upset he wasn’t able to move his feet and stay in front of the USMNT striker, but sometimes good players score good goals.

What’s more upsetting is that Philly was unable to mount a response after going down. Even after bringing on Olivier Mbaizo, Jack McGlynn, and Mikael Uhre, the Union struggled mightily to link play and generate chances. The Texans closed up shop and, on a hot day after long travel, Philly just weren’t up to it.

In isolation, the result was disappointing, but nothing more. So long as the response in the next game was good, it meant little.

D.C. United 0–6 Philadelphia Union

For approximately 36 minutes in our nation’s capital, it was not clear the Union’s response was going to be adequate. D.C. had hit the woodwork and forced Andre Blake to make a couple of actual, real-deal saves—not to mention Jack Elliott could have given away a PK for handball for the second time in as many games. Meanwhile, the Union had an off shooting day from Julián Carranza going and not much else.

And then Carranza sent a cross from the right into Uhre, whose chest control, touch around the defender, and finish across the keeper reminded the team, “Oh yeah, we are miles better than these guys.” Philly proceeded to completely dominate D.C. for the rest of the game, scoring five more, including another Carranza hat-trick, and could have had more. The shellacking was so utter that Wayne Rooney was left bereft, feeling as if the team he coached was unrecognizable.

Takeaways

The best 11 — For a time, it was not clear that the benefits of having Jack McGlynn replace Leon Flach in the lineup outweighed the costs. It is pretty clear now that they do. Putting aside the statistics showing how dominant the Union have been in McGlynn’s starts when the first-choice front three also start, it’s just obvious that the team functions much better offensively when he is out there. The defense doesn’t suffer too much (though it might get caught out against top-tier opposition targeting McGlynn), and it raises the team’s overall ceiling to a place few can match. It may not be long before Flach replaces Martínez, but McGlynn must be on the field. Similarly, Mbaizo has cemented himself back as a starter. So long as he avoids the big defensive blunders that cost him the job in the first place, he is likely to stay on the field, as he provides an offensive threat that Nathan Harriel does not, at least not yet.

Fantastic attack — Dániel Gazdag, Julián Carranza, and Mikael Uhre are gelling. Uhre is on nine goals currently, with Carranza on 12 and Gazdag 13. All three also have assists, with Carranza and Gazdag getting four and five, respectively. They’ve been phenomenal, especially when the stats are broken down per 90. Uhre, for instance, has played less than half the minutes of Gazdag and nearly 600 fewer than Carranza, yet still has nine goals. Which means this trio is only likely to get better. Add in the goals and assists from Ale Bedoya and Cory Burke, and games where the team fails to score, à la Dallas, really stick out.

Becoming mentality monsters — What seems clear is that the biggest obstacle between the Union finishing the season with a record-setting defense and/or running for the Supporters’ Shield and/or winning the Eastern Conference is their ability to maintain the same level of drive and focus required in each game. From a talent and ability perspective, the only team currently at their level is LAFC. Each of the Union’s losses this season came down to them not really showing up appropriately, rather than them being beaten by a superior opponent. It is admirable that the Union have not had consecutive let-downs, but in order to achieve the highest goals remaining to them this season, they need to eliminate let-downs altogether. If they treat every game with the intensity required, they will smash everyone from here to the MLS Cup final.

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