The Philadelphia Union have been a tale of two teams so far this season.
The first version of the team is the Concacaf Champions League version of the team. In their first appearance in the competition, the Union have dominated both rounds en route to their semifinal matchup against Mexican super power Club America. The big challenge for the Union is translating the success in international competitions to domestic competition.
Jim Curtin said after his squad’s 1-1 draw against the New England Revolution: “We’ve won our Champions League games, we’ve had great performances in those, but unfortunately those don’t count in league so we need to take points.”
The Union has struggled so far early in their 2021 MLS campaign. After winning the Supporters’ Shield last season, Philadelphia entered their Saturday night clash with rival New York Red Bulls with an underwhelming 1-2-2 record. In their first home victory of the season, the Union looked like the same team from Champions League.
The Union earned the lead early and didn’t let go, a Cory Burke 9th minute strike proving to be enough for Philadelphia. It was Burke’s second goal in three matches. The Union would be on the attack a good rest of the half, with a dangerous chance from Anthony Fontana in the 25th. The Union would have a few more good opportunities in the second half, including a dangerous look from Olivier Mbaizo in the 64th minute.
After leading the attack for most of the game, looking like the fresher team despite playing a midweek match, the Union found themselves defending mightily later as the second half wore on. Great defense from Jakob Glesnes and usual phenomenal goalkeeping from Andre Blake thwarted any chance of a Red Bull comeback.
“He has the ability to play in my mind anywhere in the world,” Curtin said of the reigning MLS goalkeeper of the year, who recorded his third clean sheet of the season. “I think he’s that talented and that special. We’re fortunate to have him.”
The Union now sit at an even .500 record. With their semifinal matchup against Club America not until August 10, the Union can focus more on the league in the coming months, and Curtin is optimistic about his squad moving forward after Saturday’s big win. They visit DC United on Sunday and host Portland May 30 before getting a three-week break.
“To be at .500 right now is a good spot to be in,” he said. “I think we’ll only get better as the year goes on, as a player or two comes in as well, to help us but again the players deserve all the credit here for the effort that they gave on the field on very short rest.”
In a league designed for parity, the Union now sit with four other teams on eight points at the top of the table in the Eastern Conference.
Not bad for a team coming off 7 games in 19 days.