Tactical Analysis / Union

Tactical analysis: Sporting Kansas City 1-1 Philadelphia Union

Photo: Peter Andrews
Overall, this was an uninspiring game from the Union, but let’s get right into the analysis. Jim Curtin and the Union are dealing with a congested schedule to begin the year and must integrate young, less experienced players in a hurry to accommodate the chaos. A massive consideration for the staff, no doubt, is that players were coming off 120 minutes to secure their spot in the round of 16 for the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
Two ties to begin the MLS campaign were not an ideal start – but under the circumstances, it shows that even in less-than-ideal situations, the Union will find a way. The Union faithful appreciate this part of the team’s identity and know it’s a good sign. Only top teams are skilled enough to hang around and grind out results when they may not be playing their best football. That is precisely what the Union did on the road at Sporting Kansas City.
Five Homegrowns
The commentator during the match was spot on when he said the Union does not make excuses, they get on with it. To my knowledge, no MLS side has ever started five homegrown players in a regular season. That, in and of itself, is extremely impressive and is what is hoped for their development as a club that takes pride in their academy pathway.
It was clear from the kick-off that there would be some gaps to make up, both in quality and understanding. Missing mainstays like Glesnes, Gazdag, Uhre, Carranza, Wagner, and Blake inevitably would have a profound impact on Union’s cohesiveness, as we saw in what was a disconnected and disjointed first half. The inability to deliver a shot on target or sustain an attack placed even more pressure on the Union’s defensive group.
SKC Set up 
The right side of SKC, with the combination of Jake Davis and Johnny Russell, caused the Union fits. For Harriel, who was in his 7th start as a left back and predominantly a player we see on the right side, it was a difficult task. Also, Sporting’s rotation of their midfield trio of Walter, Radajo, and Thommy caused the Union serious problems. They could not apply adequate pressure and deny Sporting space/time to develop their attack, which led to a very lopsided first half, providing opportunities in wide areas for both Russell and Salloi.
With another costly turnover and another 1st half goal conceded from outside of the box, it looked as if Sporting would be too much on this particular occasion. The Union, however, remained within striking distance going into halftime. SKC had several opportunities to double their lead but squandered chances, and a couple of key saves from Semmle kept it a one-goal game.
Curtin’s Interventions
I would argue that the introduction of Wagner, Gazdag, and Bedoya at half time was delivered so that the team could gain ground in the game and fight for points versus having to make way for fresh legs later in the game. Their production from wide areas improved, and both shots on target came from Bedoya. Other half chances were also from substitutes Gazdag and Anderson late in the second half.
It’s clear that the Union will embody the characteristics that got them here, even if it takes them some time to hit their stride. We are witnessing McGlynn, Sullivan, and Harriel adjusting to their role as key players in this Union squad for the 2024 campaign. Over the course of this campaign, the real adjustment will be how they defend in transition when the ball is lost and the team needs to be more organized when stretched.


  1. Andy Muenz says:

    I would argue that rather than being considered uninspired, aside from one slip from Martinez, this was almost exactly the game the Union expected and wanted.
    While they ceded a huge amount of possession and territory, they gave up very few quality scoring chances. They know they have the horses to turn things around and score quickly which they eventually did at the end. Although the actual goal had some help from the ref, they also had a couple more chances that were better than anything besides the goal thatKC had against them.
    To me, the uninspired part was some of the interplay in the middle of the second half when the Union players were using different playbooks in several situations so that balls were being passed based on assumed runs that weren’t being made or the runs were made but the pass was to where the player had been.
    As soon as those hurdles are overcome, the Union should turn into the high powered offensive machine we know they can be.

  2. Taylor Thames says:

    Andy – thanks for the comment.

    Absolutely right, uninspired but not necessarily wrong. The game plan was realistic and the tie is a welcomed result.

    I am confident that Union will continue to tighten up defensively as they’re able to be more consistent with personnel.


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