Analysis / Union

Match analysis: Philadelphia Union 5-1 Orlando City SC

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

I’ve never seen a Marvel movie.

I know.

I’ve also never seen the shows Lost or the Sopranos. Never saw two of the three Godfather movies, nor The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

I know.

The thing is, I know about these movies. They’re part of the cultural conversation. I don’t need to watch them anymore to know what happens, how I’m supposed to feel about it, and how important they are in evolution of moving picture art.

The same goes for MLS.

I haven’t watched Austin play, only seen a few minutes of LAFC beyond the games they’ve played against the Union. I don’t watch City or Red Bull, can’t be bothered to scout the talent down in Dallas.

I know.

The thing is, I know about these teams. I know Austin is new and shiny, LAFC is rich, if foolish, City is a one-dimensional baseball team and Red Bull a zero-dimensional sugar snack, while Dallas develops youngsters.

I don’t live in a bubble – I’ve seen more than half of the 20 best movies ever, and the top-ranked one about ten million times.

Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’…

The same goes for MLS – I know what these teams do, their respective ethos, and watched the top-ranked one about ten million times.

The fact that said top-ranked side happens to be the Philadelphia Union is a bit of a novelty to be sure. However, after another multi-goal drubbing, there are still a few things to unpack: good things, bad things, and ugly things.

The ugly

The Union have been improbably lucky in 2022 when it comes to injuries – or, as Jim Curtin tells it, fit, thanks to the team’s excellent training staff.

Whatever the case, the worry in 2019 as the season wore down was on fitness: cross country flights in Economy Class, no rest for aging starters like Alejandro Bedoya, and then – when the captain himself came up limping in the playoffs and striker Kacper Pryzbylko was out with a toe injury – the despair of what Plan B might look like.

2020 is an outlier, of course, where the entire world was on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

In 2021, the whole team got COVID and New York City FC earned themselves an Asterisk.

Today, few starters have missed any minutes at all along the team’s excelsior journey. But on Saturday night, the aforementioned Bedoya dove for a header, blasted the good guy’s fourth goal, and subsequently lay prostrate on the field holding his groin (it initially looked like a head injury).

“It felt weird,” he said after the game, describing why he chose to come out.

Eyes emoji.

Having Bedoya at his disposal is crucial to Curtin seeing his team through to MLS Cup. Whatever the injury, the talisman needs to be fully fit for the team to be fully functional.

The bad

Beyond injury, is there something soccer-related to complain about when the home team wins 5-1?

Let’s pick nits for a second, because the Union want to be great and and greatness will come down to the little things.

Today’s nit to pick is with Jack Elliott.

Elliott got a goal on the night – goals are good, especially emphatically headed goals to smother a visiting team’s last gasp of breath.

He was the third-highest rated player on WhoScored.com too, so… where’s the nit again? Ah, found it:

Too many turnovers.

Giveaways are bad, especially giveaways in the center of the pitch when you’re pulled wide already and miss your central midfielder, passing directly to the opposition (as Elliott did in the first half, leading to one of Orlando’s best chances of the night). He also got caught dribbling 70 yards from his own goal, leading to another solid chance for the visitors on the counter. All told, the center back had seven unsuccessful passes in his own half on the night, with the lowest passing completion percentage of any Union player.

That the Union play long and that passing percentage doesn’t really matter wasn’t a saving grace either: Elliott was also only four for 10 on long passes, compared with Jakob Glesnes’s six for eight, and only Andre Blake was worse with the long ball (including goal kicks).

That has to be better as the team gets closer to the top.

The good

The Union’s enormous victories over teams like DC United and Houston Dynamo were met with the following skepticism:

Those teams are terrible, you’re supposed to win big against terrible teams, blah blah blah…

Irrespective of the fact that no one else is beating those terrible teams by similarly lopsided scoreline, it’s a somewhat fair criticism. Champions aren’t measured by their records against the bottom of the table, they’re measured by wins and losses against the top.

Enter Orlando City SC, midweek winners of the U.S. Open Cup, on a five-game win streak, and firmly planted in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Despite their recent accolades, they left Chester the same way those other sides did – with a tail between their legs, more apt to pick up a red card in frustration than a goal in any other circumstance. They even tried to start a “street fight” early on, which is nothing new between these sides, but even then couldn’t get past the pushing and shoving part before they were comprehensively knocked out.

Next.

The Union will likely be at home for at least the entirety of the conference playoffs this season, and perhaps MLS Cup should LAFC continue to falter and the Union continue to win. That’s useful because, in addition to MLS’s heavy home field advantage in general, the Union are the league’s only remaining unbeaten home side and their record in their last five homes games is even heavier:

5-0-0, with an aggregate scoreline of 25-3.

But then, should they have to go to the City of Angels to win it all, they’ve already taken points there in each of their last two visits.

Next, indeed.

13 Comments

  1. I will note that none of the top movies (I stopped at 50 or so) were comedies. Really? This looks a list of the top dramas.

  2. And yet, Elliott makes the MLS Team of the Week. Go figure.

    • There’s the rub, right? One of our players who really needed to tighten things up also happens to be one of the best performers in MLS on the week. Says a lot about the high bar the team is setting for itself.

    • When a defender scores it bumps the rating much higher then it does for someone who is “supposed” to score

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Scoring a goal juices the numbers for sure, but Danny H thought he had a great game too – and so did I. It’s all about narrative though. Had one of those chances gone it, or both of them, following the thread backward would have mean pointing a finger at Jack. Do that too many times and it’s Stu Findlay in that seat instead. Because they didn’t score AND because it isn’t a habit for Jack (though I think he’s been less perfect than in months past recently), it’s a nothing burger and he makes Team of the Week.

      • Agree with Jack being off as of late, and I feel like it started with the knee knock that kept him out a few weeks. Wonder if he’s still nursing it a bit?

    • Sometimes you misplay because it is a bad night. Sometimes it’s the conditions. Rain, wind, thundersnow. But… sometimes you misplay because you’re trying shit out. You’re highly confident in your team and those around you will protect you. You can afford a mistake or two because the payoff— if it comes— will be great. This is a team that is ballin’, enjoying themselves, and trying shit out. Arguably the best teams in the world have a player in that zone: Messi, Mbappe, Mane. Now consider we have center backs confident enough to stride up the middle, to try shit out.

  3. 25-3 over the last 5 home games isn’t that impressive given that the Union outscored their opponents 25-2 at home from July 8 to August 27 (granted, Houston, Chicago, and Colorado overlap in those two streaks).
    .
    More worrying is that although home field is supposed to be very significant in MLS, the second and third place teams in the conference (i.e. the teams the Union would most likely meet in a conference final) both have more wins on the road than at home and both managed draws at Subaru Park this Spring.

  4. So the Union don’t score more than 2 goals in a game until July 8th. That is arguably the date the offense officially “clicks”.
    Since July 8th, they they have outscored their opponents 46-9 for an outrageous 13-game goal ratio of 5:1. During those 13 games they gave up an average of .69 goals per game.
    WOW – what a year!

  5. Quote from the power rankings “Besides, these don’t change the fact that in the end everyone just runs around for 90 minutes and then Philadelphia wins by five.”

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