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Game Changers: Impacted

You learn a lot more from a game like this than one where you shell your opponents. What lessons can the Union learn from this?

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Montreal Impact
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

1.) Opened up by the Open Cup - The Philadelphia Union’s loss to the New England Revolution in penalties set the stage for the loss to the Montreal Impact. 120 minutes on the turf in Boston burned out the Union’s starters. Fabinho was on the bench, and Ray Gaddis was pressed into service. Tranquillo Barnetta and Roland Alberg both looked a half step slower against Montreal, most likely from having gone so long in the match on Wednesday. And while not Open Cup related, Ilsinho was suspended because of a red card picked up against the New York Red Bulls last weekend. This lead to a Union lineup that was vastly different than what was sent out in both games in the past week.

2.) Physical impact - The narrative is that the Montreal Impact went into this game angry at losing to New York City FC last weekend - and that certainly manifested itself against the Union in Montreal’s physical play. The Impact had 16 fouls called against them, and that seemed to wear the Union down. The Union’s passes were repeatedly too long and runs weren’t made, and when passes don’t connect, you don’t stand a chance.

The stretch since the Copa America break has been brutal, with the Union playing 11 games in 39 days. The good news is that the Union have only one more Wednesday match - August 24th at Columbus Crew SC. Hopefully this will allow some tired legs to recuperate and make a final push toward the playoffs.

3.) Goal number one - Usually I come up with clever names for each of these, but there’s nothing remotely funny about this. The Union’s defense was once one of the best in the league, however it’s now one of the worst, tied for 15th of 20 with 30 goals conceded. The first goal given up by the Union was particularly infuriating, because it wasn’t like it was a wonderstrike or a superb individual effort - they left Didier Drogba wide open.

When the play starts off, the Union are aligned properly on defense.

Philadelphia Union’s defensive positioning prior to the first goal.
Philadelphia Union’s defensive positioning prior to the first goal.

This is how the Union’s defense should look. Every Impact player in frame is accounted for, with the midfield back. That Sebastien Le Toux and Tranquillo Barnetta are switched shouldn’t have any bearing on the play. From here, Ignacio Piatti one-touches it back to Ambroise Oyongo, who should draw Barnetta and Le Toux, with them looking to get back to their natural positions (Barnetta central and Le Toux on the wing) while trying to dispossess Oyongo. Everyone else should stay with their man. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens:

Keegan Rosenberry gets caught ball watching against Nacho Piatti. When Oyongo’s pass goes back up to him, he scrambles to get back but winds up in space. The defense rotates over to compensate, with Joshua Yaro making a run at Piatti, Richie Marquez rotating toward Harrison Shipp, and while Ray Gaddis should have been rotating to Drogba. Brain Carroll should push out wide to mark Calum Mallace just in case the Impact switch the field but is caught in no-man’s land - too far to defend Drogba and no reason to double up on Mallace. Piatti’s backheel to Oyongo (who never stopped running forward on the play) caught everyone in space and unsure of where to go. Rosenberry and Yaro went to Oyongo, Marquez was trying to mark Shipp but was in space. He made a run to cut out the cross to Drogba, and Gaddis was still marking Mallace. Once Oyongo made it past Barnetta, he gave up on the play. The result was the defense looking like this when Drogba struck the ball:

Philadelphia Union's defense conceding the first goal.
Philadelphia Union's defense conceding the first goal.

Gaddis has to cover Drogba there. No disrespect to Calum Mallace, but I’d rather him shoot at me all day than Didier Drogba. Barnetta also has to make more of an effort there to cover someone - and he simply cannot give up on the play.

4.) Goal number two - This goal is another that is the result of one poor lapse of judgement after another.

It starts out innocuously enough - Andre Blake plays the ball up to Josh Yaro, who hits a slow roller to Rosenberry. Harry Shipp comes in like a freight train, forcing Rosenberry to dump it off. Instead of putting it back to Yaro for a long kick upfield (and out of danger), he plays it centrally toward Tranquillo Barnetta. Barnetta takes his time getting to the pass, and is dispossessed by Oyongo who comes in at full speed. Oyongo plays it up to Piatti who is all alone in on Andre Blake. Yaro and Marquez are much too far away from Piatti, and Blake makes a phenomenal save on Piatti at point blank range. No one at all is marking Didier Drogba, and the rebound goes off to Blake’s left and Drogba didn’t miss. With Marquez racing in on Piatti, you have to think Drogba would have been Gaddis’ assignment, but since there isn’t a single soul near him it’s impossible to tell who blew the assignment.

5.) Goal number three - Another great play by Ambroise Oyongo, who sprung this goal.

Oyongo did well to take the chested ball from Harry Shipp and in a fluid motion hit Nacho Piatti in stride. Piatti was able to shield Rosenberry off of the ball and take it up field, and drew in Josh Yaro. Once Yaro was far enough upfield, he hit Didier Drogba who had split Marquez and Gaddis. Drogba in all alone on Andre Blake - or any goalkeeper for that matter - is not going to end favorably for the goalkeeper. Yaro has to hold the line there, and Marquez and Gaddis have to get the body on Drogba. This was far too easy.

6.) Pontius gets one back - Look, this one goal doesn’t discount the five that Montreal scored. It doesn’t make the loss any worse, but damn - what a goal by Chris Pontius.

Fabian Herbers does well to find Walter Restrepo, who is all by himself out on the right. Restrepo in turn plays a great ball across to Pontius, who was poorly marked by Donny Toia. Toia should have played closer to Pontius, however instead he left him with far too much space. Credit Pontius on the goal though - that was as perfect a header as you’ll see. Evan Bush did well to play the cross but there was nothing he could do, as Pontius’ header floated in under the corner. Absolutely brilliant goal in an otherwise awful match for the Union.

7.) Goal number four - This was a great effort by Nacho Piatti, however...

Nacho Piatti all alone on Montreal’s fourth goal
Nacho Piatti all alone on Montreal’s fourth goal

You can’t leave him this wide open in front of goal. No one is looking at him - everyone is watching Oyongo with the ball. Brian Carroll has to drop back and mark Piatti here. Rosenberry is right to challenge Oyongo. Yaro is good to mark Matteo Mancosu, Marquez dropping into space is fine in the event Oyongo beats Rosenberry inside, and Gaddis is marking Salazar. When Montreal has numbers forward, everyone has to be on the same page, and it’s evident they weren’t.

From there, what an individual effort from Piatti to bring the ball down with his right and shoot with his left. It’s a great goal that would not have happened had someone been marking him. Andre Blake was pissed after this one, and he had every right to be.

8.) Goal number five - This one was started in the Union’s offensive zone and an ill-advised cross by Chris Pontius.

The cross was far too long for Tranquillo Barnetta who was in centrally and far too short for Walter Restrepo, who was out on the right wing. Victor Cabrera easily picked it off, and played it upfield immediately to Harry Shipp, who one touched it to Patrice Bernier. The ageless Bernier tore up the field, and was able to pick out a completely wide open Matteo Mancosu, who opened his MLS account. How wide open was Mancosu?

Matteo Mancuso left all alone on Montreal’s fifth goal.
Matteo Mancuso left all alone on Montreal’s fifth goal.

Yeah. Gaddis is much too far behind and Marquez is much too central to be able to do anything. Andre Blake did well to get a hand on it, but there wasn’t much he could do when the attacker is that wide open.

After the match, Union manager Jim Curtin said he would "probably tear up the tape and move on" and while I’m sure he was being facetious, I feel like ignoring the tape would be a mistake. As bad as this performance was, there is more to learn from this than a 3-0 win. The Union should study this and use it to make sure the holes in the defense and miscues don’t continue to happen. The Union have 13 games left in their season, and if they want to make the postseason for the first time in five years the defense is going to have to improve.