Hopes were high for the Philadelphia Union heading into the 2020 MLS Cup playoffs. They had plenty of momentum as the Supporters’ Shield winners and their regular season record ensured that they would play all of their playoff matches in the friendly confines of Subaru Park, where they were undefeated in 2020.
Well there’s a first time for everything.
As they prepared to face the New England Revolution yet again, there were no major changes to the Union starting XI other than the expected return of Andre Blake between the posts. Olivier Mbaizo the only major absence on the bench due to quarantine protocols following his time on international duty.
The Union didn’t waste any time going on the attack and they had a few dangerous chances within the first ten minutes. Brenden Aaronson surged up the right side in the fifth minute before making an open cutback to Jamiro Montiero. Unfortunately the ball took a tough bounce and Montiero couldn’t get the ball on frame.
Jose Martinez had the next look off of a shot from distance in the 7th minute, but his shot deflected off of a Union player for a goal kick.
Despite the early Union control, the Revs nearly went up in the 14th minute after a bit of sloppy defending by the Union. A bad turnover followed by a miscommunication between Ray Gaddis and Jakob Glesnes gave Gustavo Bou a shot on goal. Glesnes got down for the block and the deflected ball rolled just wide.
This mistake seemed to unnerve the Union and their play for the next ten minutes or so was sloppy and disjointed. Several defensive miscues quickly turned into attacking chances for the Revs. The defense managed to scramble and fix their mistakes each time, but their struggles kept the Union in their own half and it made it difficult for the offense to push ahead.
The Union would eventually pay for their sloppy play after giving away a free kick just outside of the box. Charles Gil stepped up to curl the ball into box and it was Adam Buksa who was there to meet it. He comfortably headed it past Andre Blake to give the Revs the lead.
The Union’s issues went from bad to worse just four minutes later as the Revs doubled their lead off of another defensive miscue. This time it was Tajon Buchanan who received the ball with space on the Union left. Kai Wagner was in position to deal with him one on one, but he failed to take the ball off him. Blake got a hand on Buchanan’s shot, but it wasn’t enough to keep it out of the net.
This second goal seemed to finally force the Union to get into the game and they had their first run of offensive chances. Kacper Przybylko put a header on frame in the 36th minute, but Matt Turner was there to make the save.
The final minutes of the half were marked by chippy challenges by both teams and tempers began to escalate. Unlike their playoff match last year, the Union couldn’t manage to find a goal to generate some momentum going into halftime. Instead they went to the locker room needing a major reset for the second half.
Jim Curtin made a bold swing at the half by replacing Jose Martinez with Ilsinho. Martinez had been struggling in possession and bringing on Ilsinho early could have provided the offensive spark that the Union so desperately needed.
But the Union’s struggles continued and it looked like the Revs were closer to getting a third goal than the Union were to getting their first. Some physical play with Buksa in the box nearly resulted in giving away a penalty. Just a few moments later, Charles Gil went for a chip from just outside the box that was only denied by the crossbar.
It was Ilsinho’s intensity that began to open up the Revs defense and give the Union a few chances. Most of the Union attacks over the next few minutes were sparked by Ilsinho making some space or getting into a dangerous position. But Ilsinho’s inventiveness on the pitch just made it that much more apparent how flat the rest of the Union players were playing.
Still down two with half an hour to go, Curtin went with a few more changes. Jack Elliott was brought on for Aaronson while Cory Burke swapped in for Sergio Santos. This was shortly followed by a solid Przyblko header off of a free kick, but it was right at Turner.
Time continued to slip away without any significant chances for the Union. With less than twenty minutes left, the Revs began to transition to sitting behind the ball and forcing the Union to try and break them down. But the Union attack simply wasn’t translating to shots on goal.
With only about fifteen minutes left to play, it was Anthony Fontana’s turn to try and make an impact as he was brought on for Gaddis. Fontana would be responsible for the next Union shot on goal in the 82nd minute, but this one was handled by Turner as well.
That shot from Fontana would be the last dangerous moment for the Union. The Revs easily burned away large chunks of time by holding possession and the Union couldn’t build up their attack as they continued to struggle with the same turnovers and mistakes that had plagued them the whole evening.
There was a tense moment at the final whistle as Glesnes looked like he was ready to get physical with some New England players. His frustration was understandable, but cooler heads prevailed before things got completely out of hand.
- This is not a characteristic that’s exclusive to the Union, but there’s certain matches that they simply never show up for. The Portland match at the MLS is Back tournament was one, but it seemed like maybe the Union had managed to put that weakness behind them for 2020. Tonight’s performance showed that it’s definitely still an issue for this team. It’s just a shame to see the must successful season in Philadelphia Union history end in such a disappointing fashion.
- There was plenty of blame to go around for tonight’s performance. The Union struggled on defense, through the midfield, and in their attacking play. The most solid performance of the night probably came from Andre Blake. He had no chance at the two goals but he made sure that there weren’t any others.
- The most bittersweet part of this loss is the players who may have just made their final appearance in a Union kit. Aaronson is transferred and there’s rumors about Mark McKenzie and Kai Wagner. The first lineup in 2021 is certainly going to have some new faces.