Through the first hour of Wednesday night’s game against FC Cincinnati, the Philadelphia Union had plenty of chances but nothing to show for it on the scoreboard thanks to goalkeeper Spencer Richey’s heroics and a packed in defense set up to limit opportunities and open up quick counters for the visitors.
After Kacper Przybylko got the breakthrough in the 63rd minute, head coach Jim Curtin knew he had an option in his back pocket to push for an all-important second goal with his Brazilian veteran Ilsinho.
“No disrespect to the outside backs in the league, but the last guy they want to see in that moment coming into a game fresh is Ilsinho,” Curtin said. “So we made the change, it paid off this time and it was a great through ball by Ilsinho, he makes the defense back up and he plays a great little through ball and Fafa [Picault] still has a lot do on the finish and handles it pretty nicely.”
Ilsinho’s assist came late in the game in the 70th minute to put the Union up 2-0. Once again, Ilsinho was able to evade three defenders and give the ball to Picault, who knew what was coming. “It’s a run I like to make and I know Ilsinho’s style of play,” Picault said. “He looks for that cross-body ball to play through, so I was kind of anticipating it.” Ilsinho also had an assist as a sub on Alejandro Bedoya’s game-winner against FC Dallas earlier in the season, and a goal as a starter against Columbus.
Picault’s goal capped a dominant second half of play for the Union after a slow start and a more evenly played first half.
“Had a slow start to the game, I thought, the first fifteen minutes,” Curtin said. “Have to give credit to [FC] Cincinnati for their ability to come out and press us and really pick us up a lot higher than we anticipated and made us uncomfortable. It was not our best.”
Unfortunately for Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch and the MLS newcomers, even when missing key attacking pieces from their lineup like the Union were with Marco Fabian, Sergio Santos and Kai Wagner out, when other teams are tired and slowing down, the Union have shown that they are just getting started.
“We came out of the gates tonight and we played very well in the first 45 minutes and then in the second half there were moments that cost us the game,” Koch said. “We’ve got to continue to persevere and push through and put together 90 minutes.”
Even David Accam, who only saw a few minutes late on Wednesday, is a danger to defenses that have spent so much time defending as Cincy had contending with 20 shots and eight on target for the night. The Ghanian has scored three times in seven games, and a fresh Accam is another problem for tired defenses to worry about, especially when those defenses are already down one or two goals.
The impact Fabián, Santos and Wagner’s returns can make the Union the team to beat not just in the East, but across the league. The Union’s depth and overall control of the game can push them into the playoffs if they play the way they have to the duration of the season thus far.
Strong endings like we saw on Saturday are something the Union needs to keep consistent to win games and maintain their place in the top spot of the Eastern Conference. If Philadelphia stays consistent in their finishes, Union fans should be ready for continued dominance in upcoming matches.