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Three things we learned from the Philadelphia Union’s playoff exit

Takeaways from a disappointing defeat in Chester

Morgan Tencza

If this story was titled “Three Things We Learned from the Union’s 2020 season,” it would obviously be a very positive piece. This is the best team the club has ever assembled, and from the start of the season to the end, they were one of the best in the league. They won their first trophy, got several end of season awards, notably Jim Curtin for Coach of the Year, and gave their fans what they wanted.

But this is “Three Things We Learned from the Union’s loss against the Revolution,” which means that for this one, we have to look at the negatives from Tuesday night. So, without screaming into the void, here are three things to takeaway from the Union’s playoff loss.

An out-of-sync defense and attack

The first half was obviously an incredible defensive let down. There were a considerable number of holes that could not be plugged, and New England was able to attack for just about the entire half. That is how the score at halftime was 2-0. The Revolution had free reign to try and punch the ball into the back of the net, and the Union was unable to stop them. The Union’s attack was not a failure, they were able to open with a strong press that made New England uncomfortable. But after that, they were not able to get another chance for that type of success.

The second half was a good turn around for the back line. Maybe it was the subtraction of Jose Martinez, maybe it was a good locker room pep talk, but they were able to step up during the second half and hold off the New England attack, giving the attack a chance to do their work. It just so happened that the attack did not have much to say during the second half. As much as fans will talk about the referee’s blown calls during the second half, the Union had plenty of chances to score, and followed up on none of them.

This brings us to a point about how we have never really seen that this season, and for good reason. The Union has usually been together and in sync for the majority of the season, attack, midfield, and backline working as one. When these pieces are out of sync, we know what happens. An early playoff elimination and heartbreak for the club and fans.

MLS Cup Playoff scheduling, maybe not the best?

If you aren’t supporting the Union, then the team’s loss is another part of an absolutely wild playoffs. Upsets, games going to kicks from the marks, Alan Chapman’s late game… heroics? it has been a wild ride.

But when the top two seeds in the East, indeed, the top two teams in the league, lose in the same night, maybe it isn’t their fault. Before Tuesday night, the Union hadn’t played for 16 days after their win over New England to win the Supporters’ Shield. The same goes for Toronto. New England and Nashville had the benefit of play-in games to keep them fit and ready for action.

Keeping that in mind, it is possible that the schedule should be looked at again, the number of playoff teams changed or the number of teams in each conference reevaluated by the folks in the league office. Because a playoff picture that doesn’t give each team a fighting chance isn’t one that leads to an honest MLS Cup, but rather one given to the team with the best schedule.

Passing, passing, passing

This one is fairly obvious. The irony is that the Union’s pass accuracy was better than New England’s 82%-74%. The game itself tells a different story. There were plenty of passes that went to either nobody or just to the feet of Revolution players. Even inside their own penalty area, the Union’s passing or lack of communication gave New England plenty of second chances to score.

To be fair, there were plenty of good passes that set up opportunities for the Union, especially as the Union’s attack attempted to dance around a tightening New England defense. But there were plenty of passes in the same situation which just were not able to find their target. Without those bad passes towards the attacking third, the Union could very well have gotten a few extra shots off and changed the momentum. But that’s all theorizing, and all that we know is that the Union just was not in sync to connect on those passes and give themselves more chances.

And maybe the season doesn’t end how it did. Until 2021, Union fans.