Tactical Analysis

Tactical Analysis: Philadelphia Union 2 – 3 Seattle Sounders

Photo by: Paul Rudderow

After losing 2-1 at home to RSL on Saturday, the Union conceded their second straight home loss on Tuesday night against Seattle. In a continuation of their March 9th rain-out, the Sounders punched a rotated Union squad in the mouth – scoring three first half goals. Being slightly hamstrung in the match by the roster rules pertaining to match resumptions, the Philly club responded, bringing on some key pieces at half to rally a response.

Hamstrung by roster rules

With the game being a resumption of play due to a postponement, each team was limited to using squads that mirrored the previous matchup – barring players injured or transferred. Remember, the week of the previous Seattle game was the weekend prior to the Union traveling to meet Pachuca south of the border the following Tuesday. Therefore, the Union planned to use a rotated squad to rest Mcglynn, Bedoya, Glesnes, and an injured (at-the-time) Carranza.

Andre Blake, Markus Anderson and Damion Lowe all being injured this time around, afforded the Union three free substitutions to replace them.

Though, it was a technicality with this rule that left Tai Baribo the victim.

Baribo was actually listed in the starting XI in place of Markus Anderson for this match, but he never actually started or saw the field. The catch being that Julian Carranza not being listed in the 20 man squad for the original matchup, made it so getting their best attacker on the field forced Philly to expend one of their five substitutions with 84+ minutes left to play.

Unfortunately for Baribo, he was the odd man out.

Curtin had this to say about it when asked: “Look, again, I want to win, guys, and it’s hard to become a starter for this group. It really is. Tai has been a professional, but we have chosen to go with other guys.  We wanted to start Julian for sure, so someone was going out. We wanted to put our best guys against a good Seattle team, and unfortunately the decision goes against [Baribo]… and unfortunately, right now, Chris [Donovan] is ahead of him.”

Clearly, the challenges brought about by the stringent rules upon match resumption hindered the Union tactically. Still, both teams were operating under these rules, so it is tough to say the rules or circumstance were any causation for the poor result.

Lacking intensity/quality

Seattle were happy to sit deeper in the first half and allow the Union to try to break-through. Once Seattle would win possession, the team would break out with deliberate pace and speed that left Philly in the dust. Seattle simply looked faster, sharper, and ready for the match in the first half.

(The Union were lucky to not give up a goal in the 10th minute, as Seattle break out from a defended corner in a 5 on 1)

The Union didn’t quite match.

“I can live with mistakes, the mistakes on the first goal, mistake on a PK,” said Jim after the match. “I can live with mistakes, but I can’t live with being out-competed. And that was the case with a  Seattle team that was desperate for points, a lot of experience and a lot of great players – we didn’t match their intensity for the first half.”

In the original matchup, Seattle opted for a flat 4-4-2, with their playmaker Christian Roldan playing the right midfielder role. In this resumption, the team played a 4-2-3-1, with Roldan coming in centrally to play the 10 role, and Jordan Morris sliding out to the right from his striker role.

Roldan coming into the middle allowed him to see more of the ball, which afforded Seattle more attacking license. It also allowed Roldan to be in a much closer proximity to Jose Martinez when the Union were in possession, pressing Jose into some errors.

Without McGlynn on the field, and with Jose being closed down quickly, it became an issue for Martinez and Bueno to try to pick passes to break through the Seattle defense. Bueno struggled to play forward, and Sullivan had trouble finding the space he is accustomed to finding in the half space on the right.

This was, of course, with a much narrower shape than the Union are accustomed to playing. In the Union’s 4-4-2 diamond, their outside backs are tasked with providing the width that allows the Union to break forward in possession, and switch the point of attack from one side of the field to the other with a diagonal pass to bypass the opposing press.

Both Mbaizo on the right, and Harriel on the left struggled with picking and choosing times to get forward to assist the build up. Seattle’s front four worked well together in the Union half, forcing the outside backs to be mindful of getting forward and abandoning their defensive responsibilities.

This also kept Carranza and Uhre quiet for much of the first half. Without the quality of McGlynn on the field, it was apparent that any sort of progression in build-up from back to front would have to be done by finding Gazdag in tight spaces, or playing low-percentage long-balls to the heads of the forwards.

It took until the Union were down by three goals in the first half for them to muster up any sort of response. Seattle was content to just sit back now that they had the 3 goal advantage, and the Union began to try to claw back a goal before halftime – to no avail.

Substitutes rally the troops

At halftime, the Union opted to bring on McGlynn, Bedoya, and Wagner for Bueno, Martinez, and Mbaizo respectively. Harriel moved from left back to right back, Bedoya filled in at the 6, and McGlynn slotted in at his normal left shuttler role.

Bedoya was seen visibly rallying the team in the pre-half huddle. This is both exactly the role he should be playing, but also sad that it takes getting the 37-year-old onto the field for the Union to actually match the intensity of the opponent.

Immediately, the Union’s attacking malaise wore off, as the team were able to finally find ways to play forward with the width added by Wagner down the left, and Harriel more comfortable on the right.

Bedoya may have been beaten man-for-man in a couple instances in the middle of the park, but his adept movement and interplay with McGlynn was part and parcel in helping the Union’s improved second half play.

Now, it is easy to wax poetic about what McGlynn provides to this team. I have long been proponent of incorporating his game into the Union’s “defensive-first” system – as when you are in possession, you are not defending. And perhaps the most important trait McGlynn provides is his swagger in possession.

But what McGlynn provided to the team on Tuesday night was more than his normal ability on the ball.

His movement analogous to Ozil for Arsenal. His ability to play forward comparable to Fabregas for Chelsea. His left-footed shot akin to Lampard’s legendary right.

His laced smash flew true into the right panel of the net – exactly the jolt the team needed to defibrillate the first half stagnation. His six progressive passes in 45 minutes matched Seattle’s best over 90 minutes. His presence in the starting lineup is paramount to this team’s success, in the same vein as those who felt Leon Flach’s presence in the eleven was in years past.

Another thing to note is that this goal comes from a broken set-piece. Whether or not it counts as a set-piece goal, Wagner’s set-pieces seemed to find Union heads in a way that Bueno’s weren’t in the first half.

It was another McGlynn pass that led to the break out for the Union’s second goal. Two touches and one single pass stretched Seattle enough to force them to retreat docilely, leading to Daniel Gazdag eclipsing Sebastian Letoux as the club’s all-time goal-scoring leader.

Not coincidentally, Wagner and McGlynn’s play down the left allowed Sullivan and Harriel to come into the game on the opposite side. The diagonal passes that were lacking in the first half came in droves from Wagner, Bedoya, and McGlynn – switching play from left to right in a matter of touches.

Gazdag came close to extending his mark in the club record books, but he was called back for offside in a similar build-up pattern to his earlier goal on the evening.


The truth is, that in any given instance, the Union can be the superior team.

The team were unfortunate to be the recipient of a bye week at a time that caused the squad to lose momentum. But another truth is that bye week would have given them a much-needed rest had they still been competing for CONCACAF Champions Cup.

After an undefeated start in MLS saw them in a favorable position – second place in the East with a couple games in hand –  the team are now left picking up the pieces. A second straight home loss with one less game in hand led Jim Curtin to say, “Everyone’s voice grows when we don’t win. That is reality I have to understand, and I respect it.”

The voices seem to be growing inside the camp as well. Andre Blake and Jose Martinez took to social media with some unpleasantries – both leaving cryptic messages that have since expired or been deleted.

As the voices from the inside the building exceed the decibels of megaphone-guy in the River End, it will be on Curtin to right the ship and keep it sailing true into the summer time.


  1. Deez Nuggs says:

    “This is both exactly the role he should be playing, but also sad that it takes getting the 37-year-old onto the field for the Union to actually match the intensity of the opponent.”

  2. I’ve been wondering, is Blake’s post about his discontent, or perhaps a commentary on Martinez? Seems odd that he’d post about his own frustration when he was out injured anyway.

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