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Observations from the Philadelphia Union win over Montreal

Breaking down the Union’s win over 10-man Montreal

Andrew Zwarych/Philadelphia Union

You would be forgiven for thinking the game did not start until the 6th minute. First a punch to the head for Przybylko, courtesy of Montreal GK Diop, who was well within his rights to go for the ball.

A few minutes later, it was McKenzie’s turn to receive treatment, after a foul on a Montreal player just outside the box. Next thing you know, Montreal scores off the free kick through a gap in the wall meant to protect Blake’s left side. The foul that lead to the goal was indicative of Philadelphia’s play in the first half. Lackadaisical passing in their own half consistently allowed Montreal to create quick goal-scoring opportunities.

Montreal went into this game intent on pressing high and often, which seemed to shock the Union players, who were unsure what to do without time on the ball. Then, things seemed to change. Montreal striker Quioto McKenzie’s face to his elbow. The ref, after consulting the pitch-side monitor, correctly awarded Quioto a straight red card. Soon after, Bedoya was able to showcase his leadership once again, and scored in the 22nd minute to equalize for the Union. Was this the moment things would change for the Union, now that they had the man advantage?

No, not at all.

The Union’s 4-4-2 formation needs a holding midfielder to allow Bedoya and Monteiro to get forward. Martinez is the prototypical example for this position. Creavalle is not. He was no help to the offense, and was constantly exposed defensively. Montreal initially looked like the team with 11 men, constantly pouncing on lazy passes by the Union, and exploiting the space between the defense and midfield. Gradually, the game started to swing in the Union’s favor. This was mainly due to Jim Curtin’s decision to push his team higher up the field to put more pressure on the attack, and the ability of Glesnes & Real to spring the attack.

Glesnes initially showcased his long range passing against New Revolution, and was pinging balls across the field to the open wing. The main beneficiary of this was left back Real, who created the most dangerous chances for the Union with his quality crossing into the box. Just before the first half whistle blew, these players were directly responsible for giving the Union the lead. Glesnes played a long diagonal to the left wing, which ended up at Real’s feet. A beautiful cross and a Przybylko header later, the Union walked off for halftime with the lead.

Second Half Observations

The Union were fortunate to be leading at the start of the second half, and head coach Jim Curtin knew it. Fontana was brought on for Creavalle, and the team switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation. The impact was immediate, as the Impact were picked apart for another Union goal. McKenzie played a beautiful through ball to Aaronson, who showed patience to wait for the goalkeeper to rush out before squaring the ball to Przybylko for a tap in. This was a great game for Aaronson, who is developing more and more with each game he plays.

The formation switch was exactly what the Union needed, and Montreal were on their back heels right for most of this half. Montreal had initially switched to a back three after Quioto’s red card, but inexplicably went to a back four after the break. Aaronson, displaying his development, took full advantage of this tactical change on the left hand side. Constantly popping up in pockets of space, the right back Brault-Guillard was forced to pick between covering Real or Aaronson. There is a lot to like about the attacking potential of the 4-2-3-1 the Union ran out. Aaronson, Real, Fontana all interchange well, and made smart decisions to play the ball to the open man for easy chances.

In the 54th minute Fontana himself was unlucky not to score, as Diop made an incredible stop to deny what appeared to be an easy goal. It’s tantalizing to imagine his poaching ability paired up with Aaronson and Przybylko in a starting lineup. Having Wooten, Santos, and Ilsinho as options also helps reduce the pressure on the two youngsters to carry the team. Fontana would continue has goal scoring form soon after though, which could not have come at a better time. Just as Montreal started to establish a foothold again, Fontana delivered a blast from 20yds after a corner to extend the lead to three. McKenzie showed great awareness to grab an assist, as he saw Fontana after fluffing his header and set him up perfectly for his goal.

After that, the game lost a lot of the edge and composure needed to turn it into a rout. Aaronson & Fontana both had easy chances to score, but inexplicably were unable to convert. Overall, against another team with 10-men, the Union were once again able to come away with a win. Much of that is due to putting more pressure on the opposition backline, which resulted from taking Creavalle off for Fontana. Another win on the books.

Final Thoughts

-Creavalle probably shouldn’t play there when Martinez is suspended...which is often due to his fondness for yellow cards. Curtin needs to consider tweaking the formation, like he did in the second half, or starting someone else for that role.

-Lazy passing was the main reason Montreal was able to stay in the game for so long. Instead of just clearing the ball up field, players constantly tried to play through the press. When it didn’t work, Montreal were able to quickly counter attack even though they were down a man.

-Tip of the hat to Curtin for his halftime changes. the impact was noticeable, and Montreal had no idea how to stop it. Time will tell if we see a 4-2-3-1 more often now, given Fontana’s ability to change the game. A midfield two of Martinez-Bedoya/Monteiro would provide enough balance on the pitch.

-Real deserves to be unleashed more often. He’s often the defensive fullback, while Gaddis/Mbazio attack, but his crossing created chance after chance for the Union attackers.

-Shout out to Fontana. Three goals in two games. You can tell what each one means to this kid. Can’t wait to see him develop into a consistent player.

-Aaronson is becoming better with each game he plays. My biggest critique of him has been his decision making in the final third. Not today. That pass to Przybylko was a perfect example, as it would have been easy to take a shot. Well done waiting for the perfect moment, and giving his teammate an easy tap in.

-Glesnes-McKenzie may be my preferred CB pairing. Glesnes is superb at the long diagonal pass, and covers well for McKenzie when he ventures into the midfield. Touch decisions to make once Elliot is fully fit.

-Bedoya deserves recognition for his impact on the game. Responsible for a lot of the good things offensively in the first half, he was asked to play differently once Fontana came on. The more withdrawn of the two center mids, he put in a solid defensive shift and allowed Monteiro to operate as a playmaker.

-This game was a lot closer then the scoreline suggests. Montreal, despite their early red card, could have easily scored one or two goals before halftime. Whatever was said in the locker time during halftime clearly had the desired effect. Union came out firing, and stay in great form ahead of the match against Cincinnati.