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Three thoughts on the Philadelphia Union’s scoreless draw in Columbus

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Three thoughts on the Union’s season opener in Columbus

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Man of the Match

In my opinion there’s really only one Philadelphia Union player worthy of praise. That’s not to say the other 11 players who played yesterday for Philly were all bad, but there’s one that stands tall above the rest.

Andre Blake.

The reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year further solidified his position as (in my humble opinion) the best keeper in the entire league against Columbus. Andre continued to show confidence and poise within his 18 yard box. Six saves and a shutout is excellent for the Union’s #18, even if admittedly not every shot was totally dangerous. You could also make the argument that the Union were lucky not concede a few times, as the goal posts/bar did them a few favors in the match. Who ever gets by in this game without a little luck though?

As I stated in my article about the Union’s first leg match against Deportivo Saprissa: This club lives and dies by performances like this one by Andre Blake. His confidence is integral to any success they may have this season.

(A quick shoutout to the Columbus Crew’s GK Eloy Room as well, who had an equally excellent match on the opposite end of the pitch. While I found most of the match to be a dull affair, watching (arguably) the two best keepers in the league battle it out was fun.)

Going Ghost

There’s no denying that the Union’s #23 Kacper Przybylko is (by all accounts) a friendly guy, and it seems clear to me he’s loved in the locker room. He’s also scored some goals for the Union in the past few years, and he’s got a great physical presence. I think a pretty large sect of Philly’s fans adore him.

I’m sure you can sense a “but” on it’s way here, and that’s justified. Kacper is a hard player for my to try and write/talk about at times. He frustrates me. I don’t have any disdain for the guy, and when he’s in form I think he’s a solid choice for the Union up top.

That being said, my issues are as follows: Przybylko’s decision making is questionable at the best of times, and maddening at the worst. His execution is very lacking at times. Outside of his physical attributes (which I think is the best part of his game by far) he is missing a certain type of edge I think top-tier strikers in the league need.

Kacper tries to do too much on his own sometimes, which could be caused by a number of factors. A lack of confidence in his strike partner(s), maybe overconfidence on his own part, I can’t say for sure and I don’t want to speculate further.

I know Przybylko has 2 goals already in the CCL, and that’s great! I’m happy for him and the club. Let’s keep some sense of perspective here, though. Both were against a very poor Saprissa side, and in between those goals were a lot of poor decisions with the ball at his feet and a lack of composure. I hope Kacper can work on his weaknesses, and continue to take advantage of his strengths.

I just wonder when it’s time to start looking for the type of striker who can be a true game changer for the club.

(Everything I write and contribute to this site is purely from a personal standpoint, obviously. I do not think it is ever my “job” nor is it my objective to cost someone their job/position/whatever. I just want to be clear on that.)

The best offense is whatever the opposite of that was

Rough game. Not everyone will agree with me, and that’s fine. But for me? Rough. Game. I think there were only two times in the entire match that the Philadelphia Union looked truly dangerous. Yes, as stated previously here, Eloy Room was excellent. In my opinion though, an offense is not judged solely on the shots put on goal, as that only tells part of the story. What about the passes leading up to a shot? What about the crosses? Dribbles? 8 shots off target and a 74% pass completion rate isn’t great. Is it absolutely devastatingly terrible? No. Still though, there was a complete lack of finesse and execution in the Union’s midfield.

(Yes, I know, Columbus looked sloppy too.) Philly did look good on set pieces though in the match, which is really encouraging!

I think one of the issues was with the play coming down the right side of the pitch for the boys in blue. Too many poor decisions being made for me. I think Olivier Mbaizo is an interesting player to watch in the first handful of matches this season. He often misses a clear pass down the flank because he is trying to take on a defender on his own via some fancy flick, or a nutmeg, or even just dribbling. Seldom has it worked. In fairness, Olivier was not the only one at fault here, Monteiro also tried way too hard to take a few situations on by himself, rather than bailing himself out of trouble via a short pass to a teammate.

The biggest issue in the match again the Columbus Crew though, was a complete lack of willingness to adapt. The Crew’s players pretty quickly realized what the cycle of attack from Philly was/would continue to be:

1. Play ball to wide player on left/right.
2. Dribble past defender and/or overlap to winger/fullback on flank.
3. Cross ball into box for Kacper.

It stopped working. Yet, barring a select few instances which were very much exceptions and not the rule, Philadelphia kept trying this. To me, this also reflects badly on Jim Curtin. You have to adapt if you want to succeed in this game, and I think especially this league. We have seen what the Union are capable of when they DO adapt! Every stride the club has made has been due to adapting to the changing of tides. On a smaller level, you need to do so within each match as well.

You know what they say about best laid plans.