Saturday night was a continuation of a persistent trend for the Philadelphia Union in this MLS season. They dominate matches early on against a lesser opponent, boss the midfield, create chance after chance, fail to score and then concede a late first half goal. And if you’re a Union supporter, then you’re all too familiar with the squad’s fate when behind at the end of the first 45 minutes. The Union are winless this season when trailing at the half and Saturday’s contest adds another fruitless 90 minutes to that tally.
From the start of the match, you could tell the focus of the match was going to be to get balls in behind to Cory Burke and Sergio Santos. Head coach Jim Curtin wanted to test the pace of the Montreal backline, and for the first 35 minutes of the match, he looked like a genius.
Leon Flach, Daniel Gazdag, and even the center backs were pinging balls in behind to the forwards and constantly testing and threatening the Montreal center backs. However, the final third is where the Union’s threat seemed to dwindle. Santos and Burke failed time and again to connect with each other or to get their efforts on target as the Union managed to register zero attempts on goal in the opening half. They had quality opportunities to take the early lead, but their finishing lacked tidiness. Shot after shot sailed over the bar as Montreal goalkeeper Sebastian Breza stood in the net wiping the sweat off his forehead.
Then, Montreal took advantage of their best opportunity right on the cusp of the halftime break. A goal kick from Breza sprung the Canadians into an electric counterattack that ended in a peach of a ball from Joaquin Torres right onto the outstretched leg of Djordje Mihailovic and into the Union net. Mihailovic snuck in Jacob Glesnes’ blindspot and delivered the first punch. The goal was a perfect example of the clinical finishing and ability to score on a quick and rapid move up the pitch that the Union lacked the entire half.
The Union then came out in the second half and again dominated play. Right from the opening whistle, a goal from the men in navy felt imminent. Jamiro Monteiro, in his first start since July 25, was scintillating all over the pitch. In the first couple minutes of the half, he showed his magic on two separate occasions. The first was near midfield, when he picked up a ball on the right wing and sliced and diced through three Montreal players before drawing a foul right on the touchline.
The second was another nice bit of dribbling just on the edge of the Montreal box, in which he drew another foul and also awarded the Union a free kick in a dangerous area. The foul also probably should have been the second yellow card for Mathieu Choinière, but that’s a debate for another time. The point is, Jamiro showed his class and his importance to this team. The Union cannot be an MLS Cup contender without him or another magic man in the middle of the park. And while I love what Daniel Gazdag gives to the team, he isn’t the difference maker that Jamiro can be on his best day. If Jamiro does eventually find his way back overseas before the end of the season, his absence will be felt.
The Union continued to threaten throughout the second half. Their goal drought finally ended in the 87th minute with more youth magic. A Quinn Sullivan screamer to the right side of the net sent Subaru Park into a state of pandemonium and saved the Union from suffering what would have been an extremely disappointing loss. A brilliant piece of linkup play from Jack Elliot set up the Sullivan strike that grabbed a point from the match. The goal was a microcosm of what the Union direly needed: a lethal finisher.
We have seen time and time again the top teams in the MLS tend to have a guy who can give you goals on every occasion he’s out on the pitch. And I believe the Union have guys in-house who can do that. Kacper Przybylko, Cory Burke, Sergio Santos have all shown that they can bag goals during their time in Philadelphia. An issue could be that there’s no continuity in the starting eleven on a nightly basis. From night to night, whether it be because of a lack of fresh legs or resting players for bigger matches (for example Concacaf Champions League), there just doesn’t seem to be a solidified starting front two. And that’s perfectly fine for rotation purposes, but when you look at the results and notice that a Union forward hasn’t scored in five matches in all competitions, red flags should start to go off in your head.
There is still obviously a healthy portion of the season to be played, so I do think that the forward contingent will figure out how to be more prolific, but it is alarming. And after watching the Montreal match, you have to come away thinking “How did we not score more goals?” However, something to keep an eye on in the next couple of weeks is the entrance of Matheus Davo. The skillful Brazilian should create tons of chances for his partner up front and will provide ample opportunities for the Union’s recent goal scoring woes to fade into oblivion. Can the Corinthians man be the difference between a pretty good Union team and a great one? I don’t know. But I’m sure as hell excited to find out.