Analysis / Tactical Analysis

Match Analysis: Union vs. Red Bulls

On a hot July night in Chester, the Union welcomed to Subaru Park a familiar foe in I-95 rivals, New York Red Bulls.

With a fanbase and organization divided and chants of “sell the team” on the lips of the River End, the boys in blue are challenged with possibly the deepest morale hole to climb out of in nearly a decade.


Both sides featured relatively young squads at 25.2 years old (Philadelphia) and 23.1 years old (New York), respectively. With the return of Lowe, Gazdag, and Baribo to the starting XI, and with a backline that featured five (Harriel, Glesnes, Elliot, Lowe, Wagner), Jim Curtin showed his hand from the first whistle. The mission tactically was to dominate defensively in hopes of winning what might be a low-scoring, gritty, back-and-forth match.

Personally, I think the 5-at-the-back model serves a current need. It provides stability (or at least the bodies) to hold a line, making it harder for teams to catch the Union out of position. It also gives Kai Wagner the coverage to push forward and join in the attack, knowing there are 4 backs behind.


Offensively, in transition, the Union struggled to do something that has plagued them all year long. Long gone, it seems, are the days when Brendan Aaronson, Borek Dockal, or Tranquillo Barnetta served as a crucial pivot to take the run of play from a defensive stop to a threatening (or lethal) counterattack.

One of the bright spots was the smart play by the young gun, Jack McGlynn. His vision and switching ability opened up a dimension that has not been the norm in past months. He managed to find players in space regularly, with an impressive 94% pass success rate on 68 attempts. His ability to switch the field opened up the Union to attack from all over, and not just one side. This is HUGE.

Another ray of light was the substituted Quinn Sullivan, who has not featured regularly in the starting XI as of late. Sullivan provided width, pace, and line-cutting movement that nearly, and probably should have, resulted in a handful of goals. Perhaps, for now, this is his ideal role as the “late-game pacey sub.”

On the note of finishing, this was not either side’s game. For context, there were 5.2 expected goals in this match, with the final score ending at a blistering 0-0.

It can’t be overstated how big of a hole Julian Carranza leaves in terms of offensive finishing. With the injured Uhre, the developing Donovan, and the Gazdag/Baribo combo needing time to heat up inside the 6-yard box, it is glaringly obvious. They just could not get anything moving, but at least the chances were there.


It has been a while since we have had a defensive player to shout out, but it was a great night for the 18-year-old Andrew Rick. Rick single-handedly kept the Union in the game with a handful of one-on-one saves from close range, further making his case for why he should be the regular backup over Semmle. Defensively, the Union struggled early to make smart decisions, with Rick nearly hung out to dry on multiple occasions, with the young GK answering the call at every opportunity.

Blake’s return is imminent, but I expect Andrew Rick to be seen much more when he is needed.


As the summer transfer window stays open, I would be stunned if the Union don’t at least make one move to add depth and bring new life to the midfield/attack to show that they hear the fans (who actually had signs confiscated from them during the game).

Despite the off-the-field drama, this was a small moral victory and feather in the cap for a team who is spiraling. At the very least, it feels like 3 points by keeping the Union’s streak of “not losing to NYRB in 13 matches across all competitions” intact.


  1. HopkinsMD says:

    Thanks for the analysis, Gabriel.
    “It can’t be overstated how big of a hole Julian Carranza leaves in terms of offensive finishing… As the summer transfer window stays open, I would be stunned if the Union don’t at least make one move to add depth and bring new life to the midfield/attack to show that they hear the fans…”
    It’s my view that IF the Union sign someone this summer—not holding my breath—it will be a “hopeful” addition (hoping the player outperforms the $ spent, a la Carranza).
    I think what most fans want, however, is the addition of AT LEAST one “immediate impact” attacker… preferably a clinical, finishing striker and/or a game-changing creative playmaker who also fits the defensive work-rate requirements in Philly’s current system.
    Call me jaded, but I don’t see it happening.

  2. Nice article! And welcome Gabriel! All recent tactics have felt cobbled together based on what personnel are avaliable. Curtin went back to basics with defense first in the first part of the season when we were generating a lot of xG but had little to show for it in terms of wins. For a moment it felt like the defense might come back to life but we’ve all seen how it’s crumbled since. Still think starting from the back is important and stopping the bleeding in this game was an important step. From the 80th minute on you could feel the defense pucker and basically retreat into the goal. They looked like they were just waiting for the shoe to drop and likely should’ve given up 2 goals in the end but somehow the team from Jersey didn’t convert and the Union survived. Hopefully this allows the defense to gain a glimmer of confidence and get back on the right footing.

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