The Philadelphia Union continue to move up in the MLS rankings after several weeks of poor MLS play, as a 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls pushed them into a playoff slot in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
There were plenty of things to be happy about, and some things to be frustrated with, so let’s dive into the three biggest takeaways from Saturday’s game.
Rest, rest and more rest
To say the least, the Union hasn’t had the easiest schedule to start off the 2021 season. Philadelphia has played seven games in just the past four weeks, facing off against MLS and CCL opponents as they attempt to survive and advance in the Champions League while holding their own in MLS.
The impact of that schedule has shown in most players, especially against Red Bull. Play became lackadaisical towards the end of the match, and those who had played nearly every minute showed some signs of extreme fatigue, most notably Alejandro Bedoya, who struggled to keep up with play towards the end of the match.
Luckily for the Union, they’ll get a full week off before they face D.C. United on Sunday, and another full week before they play the Portland Timbers at home on May 23. That amount of rest will be huge for Philadelphia and could give MLS a harsh introduction into what a full force Union squad looks like, as the team with four extra matches still sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, just three points behind first place New England.
Sergio Santos’ future
Sergio Santos has not had the most positive impact on the Union this season. For the most part, Santos’ play has proved to either have no impact or a negative on for the Union’s attack, and Saturday night was a solid demonstration of this.
In his 78 minutes on the pitch, Santos took two shots, but neither of them were on target. Most, if not all, of his touches put the Union in no better position than before he received the ball, and his inability to control the ball and the attack cost the Union some good opportunities. Saturday isn’t a stand-alone game either. Over the course of the MLS regular season thus far, Santos has taken eight shots, only two of which have been on target. By contrast, Santos has been called offside five times and been given two yellow cards.
It’s entirely possible that Santos is simply having a difficult time getting started this season. However, until he warms up and can start contributing, it’s time for the Union to start looking at some more options for their attack.
Sticking through 90 minutes
One of the most interesting things about the Union over the last few games is that despite their lack of strength and energy late in the game, they’ve still managed to secure points in some of their most difficult late-game moments. Against New England, a clearly exhausted (and losing) Union squad gave a last-minute push to secure a home point against the first place Revolution. Against New York, the Union was able to stave off multiple late attacks as the Red Bulls looked for their own late goal.
Even though the Union has had a difficult run over the last few games, they’ve managed to stay on top of the play and in control of the game. While it’s unsure how the Union will look later in the season, it will help to know that they will stand up against the multiple game stretches coming their way nearing August and September.
More importantly, it shows that every single player on the Starting XI has more gas in the tank than they’re using in a single game. Just wait for some more late-game finishers coming your way.