Sunday night saw the Philadelphia Union go up against the reigning Supporter’s Shield winners LAFC in what might’ve been the game of the season so far in MLS.
Following last week’s performance, the Union were heavy underdogs with many fans and commentators expecting the Union to get played off the pitch in Los Angeles. However, from the first minute, it was clear that the energy in this game was much better than the previous display, and the Union were not simply going to concede defeat from the outset.
From stunning free kicks, to bloodied faces and dramatic stoppage time saves, this match produced everything you could ask for in a soccer match, which will surely be remembered by fans of both teams for many years to come. While almost every Union player displayed standout performances, Jose ‘El Brujo’ Martinez and our favorite homegrown Brenden Aaronson displayed particularly extraordinary performances.
The Union were set up once again in the 4-4-2 diamond formation; however, there were a few noteworthy adjustments from the opener. Predictably, Matt Real played much deeper due to the attacking threat of Carlos Vela, and rarely ventured forward as to limit the threat of Vela’s impact on counterattacks. Rather than play as a winger, Sergio Santos played much more centrally, and the Union overloaded the middle. Additionally, the center back pairing of Mark McKenzie and Jakob Glesnes sat deeper than at Dallas, which was a clear attempt at limiting space behind for LAFC to run in.
Expected Goals & Shot Analysis
This match saw the Union score two stunning goals, which contributed to the lower xG for the Union. As wide open as this game was, chances were plentiful for both teams, especially LAFC in and around the box. Luckily for the Union, Andre Blake displayed a vintage performance between the posts denying multiple clear goal scoring chances and ultimately saved a pointblank stoppage time winner by Brian Rodriguez. Ultimately, the story of this game is the exact opposite of the first match. Clinical finishing by the Union and strong goalkeeping kept the Union in this game through the end.
Man of the Match: El Brujo
In his Union debut, El Brujo displayed what I thought was a man of the match performance. Nothing embodies our city quite like our defensive midfielder playing with a bloody face due to getting a cleat to the face. El Brujo had a standout performance defensively, leading all players with 5 interceptions (4 within 5 yards of the penalty area), and 10 ball recoveries. What stood out about his performance was his high energy and willingness to press every LAFC player regardless of their technical quality. He made countless impressive sprints to closedown attackers, or recover the ball following a turnover, and was determined to win the ball at any moment. During the beginning of the second half broadcast, the announcers noted that LAFC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye had reached double digit turnovers, which was in part due to El Brujo’s fantastic pressing. The Union have needed a defensive midfielder with that level of energy for some time, and it will be a refreshing addition to the midfield, as long as he can avoid unnecessary yellow cards.
13,770: Meters Brenden Aaronson covered during the match, which leads all MLS players in 2019. The press during this match was effective, largely due to the high work rate of Brenden Aaronson and his ability to effectively cover a lot of ground.
8: Tackles by Ray Gaddis (80% success rate) which led all players. This match was a tough task for both fullbacks, and Ray played much better defensively, although still had his moments in transition.
198: Completed passes by the Union (compared to 381 by LAFC). LAFC dominated with 62.5% possession further exemplified by their 45 attempted crosses and 125 passes in the final third (compared to 19 crosses and 80 final third passes by the Union).
69: Passing Accuracy for the Union. If there was anything disappointing by the Union this match, this is it. Against an opponent as clinical as LAFC the inability to retain possession and turn the ball over at this rate is deadly and led to the high number of quality chances. Luckily, Andre Blake was outstanding.
24.8: Average Shot Distance for Jakob Glaesnes, including his stunning free kick and his header which went off the woodwork late in the second half. This shows just how far out his free kick was, and how unlikely of a goal it was.
7: Percent chance the Union win MLS Cup, provided by fivethirtyeight, which ranks fourth in the league. While the Union have only 1 point through two games, it is tempting to be disappointed in the start of the season, but fans should be very optimistic for the rest of the season.
Sources: Opta via mlssoccer.com, Opta via whoscored.com, fivethirtyeight.com