It was the best performance of the season for the Philadelphia Union, and they didn’t even score a goal from open play.
The Philadelphia Union decisively defeated the visiting Portland Timbers 3-0 in their final game before international break. It was the most in control the Union have looked all year so far during their MLS campaign, and they did all of their damage when the ball was dead.
The Union scored three goals, all of them coming off of set pieces Sunday evening. The first goal was scored by none other than Kacper Przybylko. A free kick delivered in by Kai Wagner found the towering striker running unopposed in the center of the box for the easy header to give the Union the 1-0 lead in the 26th minute.
Five minutes later, Wagner and Przybylko would contribute to another set piece goal. A corner whipped in found Kacper’s head once again. Sergio Santos would deflect his strike partner’s header to make it 2-0 Union.
After Leon Flach nearly added a third set piece goal in the first half — the goal was waved off after VAR for a handball — the Union would finally add the finishing piece in the 64th minute. A Jamiro Monteiro corner found a streaking Cory Burke, whose header and subsequent shot would fall to the feet of Jack Elliott for the goal.
“Against the good teams like Portland who, when they get eight guys behind the ball they’re difficult to break down in the run of play, set pieces become very critical” Coach Jim Curtin said on the difference maker set pieces were in the win.
The Union are a big team. In set piece situations, there are multiple massive targets that tower over opposing defensive players. Przybylko, Burke and Jack Elliott all stand over 6’4, creating massive mismatches in the box.
The Union had seven goals off set pieces in 23 regular season games and snapped an almost two-year drought of scoring off corner kicks in August. They already have five goals off set pieces in eight regular season matches this season.
“We’re working every day pretty much in practice (on set pieces) because we know that we want to improve, especially last season,” Przybylko said.
Assistant coach Frank Leicht was put in charge of overseeing both offensive and defensive set pieces in training since his addition in the offseason to Curtin’s technical staff.
“There’s a lot of variations that we have, whether it be for corner kicks or little free kicks, even the little misdirection where Kai takes a shot in the second half, just to kind of catch them off guard,” Curtin said. “There’s a lot of work that goes into it during the week and our staff does a great job preparing them with all the matchups.”
When facing good defensive teams those set piece situations are even more critical as we saw last night against a Timbers team that had conceded just once in their three previous matches. The Union must continue to use their height advantage in every dead ball situation given to them by the opposition as they did Sunday night.