Well, that certainly looked like the first match of the season.
The Philadelphia Union opened their 2022 MLS campaign at home against Minnesota United, ending with a 1-1 draw. While there were some inspiring moments of play where the team looked good pressing and attacking, the lack of seasoning showed in today’s effort.
“In many ways, it looked like the first game of the season.” head coach Jim Curtin remarked after the match.
“Guys are anxious, guys are excited… I think after the jitters kind of settled in the first game, the last 15 minutes of the (first) half we started to look like ourselves. (The) second half was improved, but overall you saw a lot of mistakes, a lot of silly turnovers. Things that we know we have to clean up.”
Such mistakes led to the first goal of the MLS season being in Minnesota United’s favor. Franco Fragapane beat Union fullback Olivier Mbaizo off the dribble along the left-hand side and set up an unmarked Robin Lod for a beautiful finish in the right-hand corner.
“Overall, a lot of things we can do on the goal to prevent it. It’s a sloppy one to give up, one we know we can’t accept or be happy with,” Curtin reflected on the early goal.
The goal deservedly put the visitors up. Minnesota looked threatening from the onset with a dangerous attack led by potential MVP candidate Emanuel Reynoso. Reynoso and Lod would give the Union defense trouble for most of the game, including a magical backheel from Lod to send substitute Adrien Hunou free on goal in stoppage-time. If not for the heroics of Andre Blake, specifically denying that stoppage-time chance, this could have been Minnesota’s day.
While disappointing to only get a draw in a sloppy game, it definitely is not the end of the world. There are good things to take away from this match heading into Montreal next Saturday. Andre Blake still looked like a front runner for the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award. Besides the goal from Lod that he had no chance of stopping, Blake bailed out Philadelphia’s defensive mistakes.
Cory Burke continues to perform whenever he is on the field. It’s great to see that he can come in and use his size to manufacture a goal for Philadelphia when needed.
The Union were without their top options at striker. Kacper Przybylko’s replacement at striker, new record signee Mikael Uhre was unavailable to play today, just into the country recently. With his track record, there are massive expectations on Uhre. Sergio Santos wasn’t really supposed to play today, per Jim Curtin. Just getting off of a plane this morning, Santos still managed to squeeze in some minutes today. There’s just another element to the Union’s offense when his speed is added to the equation.
The Union are transitioning a bit from last season. While yes... A lot of the pieces are back from last year, two of the key players are gone. Jamiro Monteiro was seen by many as the Union’s best overall midfielder and will have to be replaced by a collective effort. That’s going to take some time and gelling from all four of the midfielders, and from the homegrowns on the bench.
While Kacper Przybylko was a roller-coaster type of player for the Union, many fans tearing out their hair with some of his misses over the years, he was still the club’s best scorer. He is the second all-time leading scorer in Philadelphia Union history, only trailing club legend Sebastien Le Toux. His massive presence and gravity at striker has to be replaced, and hopefully, the additions of Uhre and Julian Carranza supplemented with Santos and Burke can be more than enough.
We all tend to overreact to the first game, especially in this city. It is imperative to remain calm and remember the points above. Do not forget that Minnesota is a potential playoff team in their own right. As Curtin has said many times, there are no easy games in the MLS. At the end of the day, the Union earned a point in front of their home fans and have a ton of football left in front of them to fix the errors.