Contributions across the back line, goalkeeping, discipline and a timely pass and finish off a bad New England giveaway near midfield saw the Philadelphia Union through to the quarterfinals of the MLS is Back Tournament early Sunday morning.
Though it wasn’t quite the complete performance he was looking for heading into the knockout round of the competition, Union head coach Jim Curtin did call the 1-0 win over the New England Revolution a “professional performance.”
“I thought overall we handled it very well in terms of how we defended as a team for 90 minutes,” he said. “Obviously, Andre (Blake) made some saves again for us which is always necessary against a good team like New England and I thought that the play in particular of our outside backs defensively was excellent.”
Blake made five saves on the night and the back line combined to make 15 clearances and 8 interceptions while blocking three shots and making nine tackles. Curtin singled out Kai Wagner and Ray Gaddis for praise.
“I thought that the play in particular of our outside backs defensively was excellent,” Curtin said. “Whether it was making a tackle or a big block or clearance, I think sometimes we just expect them to be solid each and every game.”
Wagner started the play that produced the goal when he picked off a bad pass near midfield and played the ball to Jamiro Monteiro, who chipped it into the path of Sergio Santos for the finish from a tight angle in the box. It came at a point in the game when New England was starting to connect passes in the final third and put some pressure on the Union.
“We are looking for that space every minute,” Monteiro said of his game-winning assist, against the run of play at the time.
Santos nearly opened the scoring just before the halftime break when he set himself up well for a shot attempt in the box with a good turn on a Wagner feed but he rushed the shot and dragged it wide of the post.
“Sergio really probably had a better look in the first half where we wanted him to continue dribbling and just have a one on one with Turner and he kind of pulled the trigger a little bit quick,” Curtin said. “But overall really happy for him to get that goal.”
The goal was the third for Santos against New England in three games, which is half his total goal haul in 24 MLS appearances, including regular season and playoffs. Eight of his 13 shots on goal since joining the Union have now come against New England.
Up a goal for the final half hour, the defense held firm to deny the Revs an equalizer that would have sent the game to a penalty shootout.
“It’s proven that we’re pretty tough to play through right now and obviously it helps when you have the best goalkeeper in the league to bail you out when you need him,” Curtin said.
Martinez, who was back in the lineup after serving a one-game suspension for violent conduct, had his least eventful night in a Union uniform to date. For the first time in his short Union career, he wasn’t booked and was whistled just twice for fouls while registering three tackles and an important block late in the match.
“The first thing (Jose) said to me when he came off the field was no yellow, which was good, I guess it’s progress,” Curtin said. “But he’s still finding that fine line of what you can and can’t get away with in this league. You can see how relentless he is and how much he wants to win.”
There was in fact only one booking for either team on the night, a red card showed to Revs head coach Bruce Arena for abusive language after the final whistle had blown.