The Philadelphia Union had no time to hang their heads after a disappointing 2-1 loss against Toronto FC last Saturday. They knew going into tonight’s matchup that they needed to take all three points from the visiting FC Cincinnati squad or they would risk falling further behind the teams at the top of the Eastern Conference.
All the talk before the match focused on the Jose Martinez’s call up to the Venezuelan national team. While it was certainly a big moment for the defensive midfielder, it left a big hole in the Union’s roster. His usual replacement, Warren Creavalle, was available for selection, but Jim Curtin made it clear earlier in the week that he was not fit to go the full ninety minutes. So how would the Union adapt?
Curtin’s solution was to bring on Anthony Fontana and shift to a 4-2-3-1 formation. Fontana slotted in at the 10, Jamiro Monteiro and Alejandro Bedoya were moved back defensively, and Sergio Santos and Brenden Aaronson were moved out wide. Whether they would stick to these roles once the match started remained to be seen.
There was an early controversial moment for the Union as there was an argument for a penalty call for Santos in the 7th minute. He had found some space on the left wing and was pushing towards goal when he went down after a Cincy challenge. It was waived off at full speed, but replays showed that the defender had clipped his heel inside the box. VAR was not employed on the play.
The Union struggled to get good looks at goal during much of the first half. There were multiple dangerous build ups, but Philly couldn’t manage to find the final move to get a good look at goal. Too much time was spent looking for the perfect opportunity and that meant that several good opportunities were squandered.
The Cincy defense was supported by a good first half from their goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton. He made a few key saves during the half as well as a fingertip save to keep out a Fontana rocket in the 39th minute.
Cincinnati’s game plan was shaken up early on when Greg Garza was forced off due to injury in the 29th minute. In his place, 20 year old Zico Bailey made his MLS debut. The early change burned off a sub and, more importantly, used up one of the three available substitute windows.
Despite Cincinnati’s offensive struggles, they nearly took a 1-0 lead into halftime. Their most dangerous attacker during the first half, Joe Gyau, got a good look at goal off of a cross in the third minute of added time. But Andre Blake hadn’t been lulled into a false sense of security, and he was in the perfect position to tip the ball over for a corner. It was the last major action of the half, and the match remained scoreless after 45 minutes.
The Union would make one change at halftime as Jack Elliott replaced Jakob Glesnes, who took an elbow to the head in the first half. He was cleared to continue, but it was decided that Elliott could take over the final 45 in his first action since September 2nd.
The Union didn’t wait long to make their second substitution as Ilsinho came on for Fontana in the 53rd minute. This was a slight deviation from the usual practice of subbing him on in the 60th minute, but the Union’s adapted formation for the night meant that Ilsinho could more easily take up his usual position on the right wing.
Ilsinho had an immediate impact as he boosted the Union attack and helped them push for multiple corners. The corners didn’t pay off, but the pressure did just a few minutes later.
The Union had some sustained possession just outside of the Cincinnati box and Ilsinho had a chance to make a first time shot off a short Cincy clearance at the edge of the box. The goalkeeper was in position, but a fortunate deflection off of Maikel van der Werff put the ball in the back of the net. It could have been ruled an own goal, but it was ultimately credited to Ilsinho.
Cincinnati responded to going down a goal with two quick subs. Alvaro Barreal and Kamohelo Mokotjo came on to the pitch, replacing Frankie Amaya and Allan Cruz, respectively. They took the offensive initiative as well, with multiple shots on goal within the next ten minutes.
The Union didn’t mind conceding the possession because it allowed them to put the match away with a quick counter. It was Aaronson who sprung the Union attack and pulled several defenders towards him as he worked down the left side. This allowed him to find Bedoya at the top of the box and Bedoya popped Aaronson’s pass up into the air to volley it past Tyton.
During an interview after the match, Bedoya admitted that he hadn’t meant to make a first touch like that, but he made the best of the situation.
The floodgates were open for the Union, and they added to their lead just a few minutes later. Jack Elliott celebrated his return to the pitch with a goal of his own in the 80th minute. Monteiro had a free kick opportunity from the corner of the box, and Elliott was able to get to his cross first. His expert header pushed the ball out of Tyton’s reach and just inside the net at the far post.
With their lead secure, the Union made a few late subs to keep players fresh. Matt Real came in for Wagner while Wooten came on for Bedoya. But they weren’t called on for too much as the Union seemed content to see out the rest of the match.
Cincinnati had one last chance to get on the scoresheet in the final seconds off of a free kick just outside of the box, but van der Werff just missed putting the ball in the corner. The final whistle blew on Blake’s resulting goal kick to wrap up the night for the Union.
- Not to pile on the bad news for FC Cincinnati, but their DP striker Jurgen Locadia also left the match in the second half with an injury. With the condensed schedule in October and November, even a minor injury could mean he would miss multiple matches.
- The final score doesn’t show just how close the match was in the first half. If Cincy had managed to put that final shot away before half time, the character of the match in the second half would have been completely different.
- The problem of how to deal with absence of Martinez isn’t entirely solved yet. It seems likely that the Union might go back to the 4-4-2 diamond once Creavalle is fully healthy because the return to the 4-2-3-1 had mixed results at times.