The Philadelphia Union had what head coach Jim Curtin termed a “unique week” as they prepared to face the Montreal Impact at home. Montreal has had the Union’s number over the last few seasons, so it was already hard enough to prepare for their visit without the added difficulties of injuries, suspensions, and emergency surgery. But the Union persevered through these issues to secure a solid 3-0 victory.
Thanks to lingering injuries (and discipline) from last week’s match against the Galaxy, the Union made plenty of changes to the starting XI for Saturday’s match. Aurelien Collin made his first start for the Union in place of Auston Trusty and Jamiro Monteiro took over at the 10 for a banged up Marco Fabian. Cory Burke functioned as a loan striker for most of the day instead of the two striker sets the Union had been using most of the season.
It seemed like Mark McKenzie was poised to make his first start of the season, but he was ruled out late due to a bout of appendicitis. Collin was called to step in on short notice.
Montreal took the opposite approach. Their starting XI was identical to what got them a 1-0 victory over the Columbus Crew last week.
Both sides started slow as they tried to get a feel for the pitch, which was a bit soggy to start. Brenden Aaronson helped spice things up in the 10th minute when he attempted a tricky flick to Bedoya in the Montreal box that nearly freed him up for a goal. But the Impact defense was able to close down before Bedoya got a shot off.
Montreal appeared content to sit back and counter, much like they did against Columbus, but some impressive play from Burke ruined that plan. After an Impact giveaway near midfield, Burke broke down the Impact defense almost single-handedly. He made it to the top of the Montreal box with the option to lay it off to Aaronson on his left. Instead he placed a perfect low shot into the left corner to beat Evan Bush and give the Union the 1-0 lead. Curtin said later he would have preferred he pass, but he acknowledged, “when it hits the back of the net, nobody has any complaints.”
The Union kept up the pressure but Montreal soon took control as they looked for a quick equalizer. Andre Blake popped out to catch a cross in the 20th as he managed to assert himself in the net. He needed to because the Union defense did have some unsteady moments when the heat was on. Saphir Taider had an open look in the 25th minute, but he sent it well over the goal.
The flow of play was unsteady after this with Bedoya and Burke both going down for a time after taking bumps to the head. Blake then made a solid save off of a Harry Novillo shot in the 33rd minute to preserve the Union lead. It was Montreal’s best chance of the first half.
The Union crowd started to revive late in the half and Aaronson earned a corner with some tough play at the edge of the Montreal box. Jack Elliot was hauled down on the subsequent corner and the referee gave the penalty straight away. A short consultation with the folks in his ear confirmed the call. Jamiro Monteiro stepped up to the spot to double the Union lead before the half.
Montreal went with two subs at the half to try and change up their game. Clement Bayiha and Shamit Shome came on for Orji Okwonkowo and Saphir Taider respectively. The Union soon made a sub of their own, but it was one they would have preferred to avoid.
Andre Blake went down in the 52nd minute after a goal kick. After some attending from the trainers, he was pulled off in favor of bringing on Union homegrown Matt Freese for his MLS debut. The team would confirm shortly after that Blake had suffered a right groin injury. Curtin felt that it wasn’t a major injury, but he couldn’t give a timeline for recovery after the match.
The Union offense then decided they should try to take the pressure off of their young keeper and add a third goal to their tally. Haris Medunjanin started the play with a long pass to Kai Wagner in the left corner. Wagner tapped it around Bush and Burke had an open net to score. But Burke missed his chance as the ball squirted past. Fortunately Alejandro Bedoya was there to bail him out and make it 3-0 for the Union.
The Union kept up the pressure and Burke made a few runs that looked like they were going to bring on goal number four. This lead to more than a few clashes with Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush. Contact between Bush and Burke lead to a Burke yellow card in the 67th minute and Bush got one for some extracurricular activity in the 77th.
David Accam was available on the Union bench, but Curtin decided to bring on Kacper Przybylko for the second Union debut of the afternoon. He replaced Burke, who walked off to a hearty ovation from the crowd of 15,407. Przybylko didn’t get a lot of time on the ball in his ten minutes of play, but Curtin seems high on him and he’s likely to see more time as the season progresses.
The final minutes of the match were mostly a formality with one important exception. After Bush sprung a quick break for the Impact (after a ball that may have gone over the endline for a corner) Kai Wagner slid in to clean out Mathieu Choiniere. It was initially a yellow, but a quick review by the referee upgraded the punishment to a straight red. It was the second red in as many matches for the Union.
The delay over the review pushed the final whistle until around the 97th minute, but Montreal never really troubled Freese while he was in goal and he was able to preserve the clean sheet that Blake had started.
- The Union midfield continues to impress with Monteiro and Aaronson making plays all over the field. If Fabian isn’t ready to go against Vancouver next week, Curtin can be confident in using these four starters again.
- Curtin also cited the Union’s depth and a “next man up mentality” as keys to the strong start to their 2019 season. That mentality will be put to the test next week as they will be without Kai Wagner and Andre Blake in Vancouver.
- The heavy rain from the previous night was tough on the pitch, leading to some slips and divots. And that was before the Bethlehem Steel came on for their match just an hour later.