The Union kicked off Phase One of their regular season against the New England Revolution on Thursday night, earning themselves one point in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The Union, who played their first game since being eliminated in the MLS is Back tournament against the Portland Timbers, showed that they had worked out some of the kinks in their system since the tournament, though many remain.
There’s a few things to look into from this match, so let’s dive in to the three most important lessons from the game.
Solid set-piece defending
In their last MLS is Back match against the Portland Timbers, the Union fell victim to two Timber corner kicks. However, against New England, the Union looked pretty solid.
Philadelphia’s corner defense, as noted throughout the match by commentator Tommy Smyth, has been set up as a zone defense, which seemed to hold off the Revolution’s attack. Any ball that was crossed into the box was sent out quickly by the Union, and those clearances often fell at Union feet, allowing for a counter-attack chance.
For a team that has struggled with both attacking and defending set-pieces, being able to stop nine corners against New England is a clear sign of success on one of those issues. Whether or not teams are able to avoid being tangled up in the Union’s zone defense remains to be seen, however, for now, the team can be satisfied with this recent victory.
A wasted 27 minutes
Philadelphia may have finished the match with 11 shots and 5 shots-on-goal, however, it still took them 27 minutes to take their first shot, and their first shot on goal came from Jamiro Monteiro from well past the penalty area.
While the match was certainly not the most exciting on either end, the Union did look to be the better team for a better part of the match, and once they started shooting they had some excellent chances to score. However, their lackluster start clearly hurt them, and had they been able to perform early in the match, they would’ve been able to control almost the entire match and give themselves a far better chance to earn three points.
Philadelphia even controlled most of the possession during those first few minutes, but they still weren’t able to push into New England’s defensive third, much less make their backline and keeper Matt Turner earn their pay.
That being said, this statistic is mostly just a reflection on the Union’s attack. The backline did well throughout the match, but without the missing puzzle piece of an offense, the Union won’t win many soccer games.
A preview of the Phase One season
To say the least, just about all of the issues that the Union faced against New England came from one thing: a lack of energy.
While it showed the most at the beginning and end of the game, Philadelphia was sluggish for the whole 90 minutes against the Revolution and didn’t appear to show enough drive to make the Revolution work in their home stadium.
In their defense, the Union had just flown up to New England, and they would be flying back down later that night, making for a full day’s work even without the game. And since this is the MLS’ COVID-19 protocol, the rest of the Union’s away games may look very similar.
As wild as it may sound, this may actually work to the Union’s favor. The Union was able to go to New England, and despite being tired and drained from a day of travel, they were still able to secure a point on the road. It’s unclear if teams who come to Subaru Park will be able to do the same.
If the Union are able to at least hold their own in away matches, and control the game when they’re at home, they could become one of the most successful teams in the Northeast while standing on top of the Eastern Conference table.
Whether or not all of this happens remains to be seen, however, the Union’s next matchups against New York Red Bulls and D.C. United will give fans more answers.