The Union picked up their first point of the season with a 1-1 draw last night against the defending MLS Cup champions Atlanta United in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Here are three things we learned.
“Play your kids!” Brenden Aaronson is one to watch
Hey, kid, how about a goal on your debut?
The young (only 18!) Philadelphia Union academy product was quite active and involved early in the match, with a clear intensity and drive to get the ball forward and be on it as much as possible. His passing skill, while still clearly raw, was on display, and a few of his runs forward led to chances on goal. He capped off an impressive debut with a confidently taken goal from outside the 18 that left Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan standing still in his goal (whether or not he couldn’t see the ball or if it took a bounce off the turf is up for debate, one that I’m not particularly interested in having. Let the kid have the goal without any superficial caveats.) As stated before, the kid is very clearly raw. His awareness and attacking instinct could use some work, but the pieces are there. With more playing time these things will come together for the young man. The question is: in a side that features Marco Fabián will he be able to find that playing time? With the Union only participating in 2 competitions this year (MLS and the U.S. Open Cup respectively), where will he find the opportunities?
Cory Burke and Fafa Picault aren’t the answer
Only three games into this season, I already feel comfortable saying the following: the forward partnership between Fafa Picault and Cory Burke just isn’t good enough. No disrespect to either player, but it just isn’t working. It’s not for a lack of trying, clearly, as both players run their hearts out often all over the final third and middle of the pitch. This being said there is one GLARING issue here: they just can’t finish. Neither player has put the ball in the back of the net three matches into the MLS season. The U’s only goals have come from an 18-year-old in his first MLS start and a penalty kick from Fabián in the home opener against Toronto. That’s not acceptable, sorry. Call me harsh, or say it’s too early to say such things, but facts are facts. To be an effective striking partnership you gotta score some goals. Simple as that. Some of you may point to last season as “evidence” that it “could” work, but to that I say “But what about this season?” While I know this comes off as very “I know you are but what am I?” it’s just how it is.
Picault’s game is all spectacle and no substance, and it’s always been this way. Fafa has skill, it’s plain to see. He’s quick and occasionally his physicality despite his size comes in handy for him. On the other hand look at his chance on goal around the 40th minute. Not even touching the fact that he may have been offside for the initial (beautiful, might I add) pass from Aaronson, he makes a huge run with his superior pace, beats Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan, and then just softly taps the ball towards net where it is blocked by a defender. Now, yes, I realize he is slightly off balance and there’s semi-heavy defensive pressure on him, but it’s just. Not. Good. Enough. A player HAS to finish that chance. This is not unique either. Fafa routinely makes 20+ yard runs towards goal, cuts in, and then skies a shot or puts it right toward the keeper. He’s all flash and no end product. Jim Curtin has to do something about this, whether it’s hands-on coaching, or giving someone else a shot, I don’t know for sure. The Union don’t have a chance if their forwards aren’t scoring.
Haris Medunjanin is a problem
I used to love watching Medunjanin suit up for the blue and gold. He was a slightly more interesting player during some very dark times for the Union. Now? It makes me miserable. For the third match in a row, Haris has had a direct role in his team conceding a goal. Luckily, it was only one goal this time. His sauntering pace on defense and complete inability to mark a player is absolutely unacceptable at this point. Medunjanin failed to mark or even at the very least challenge Atlanta’s Barco on his headed goal in the box. This cannot keep happening. Haris is practically useless at this point on the defensive end, and offensively he is FAR too easy to predict, with his totally inconsistent passing and absolute inability to do basically anything other than try to shoot it from outside the 18 which always results in one of the two following options: A. Straight into a defenders legs/back and back towards the Union’s half or B. Straight over the net presumably into the atmosphere never to be seen again on this or any physical plane of existence. The Philadelphia Union don’t have a lot of options here, but I for one, and I’m sure I am not alone in this, would much rather see someone like Derrick Jones in the starting XI over Haris. That is obviously assuming Curtin decides to stop playing defensive-minded players on that left wing side.