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Five thoughts on the Philadelphia Union’s win over Saprissa

The Union are finally back and Brandon Johnson has some thoughts on that and what we saw in Costa Rica on Wednesday night



Well, here we are again folks, our favorite time of year. I am of course speaking about the Concacaf Champions League! The only CL that matters. In all seriousness, it’s an exciting time to be a Philadelphia Union fan! They’re coming off a trophy winning season, and we’ve just experienced the club’s first international match (and win!) The future for the boys in blue is honestly really nothing but bright for the first time in years. 

Of course, with the start of a new season comes a brand new set of my opinions being thrown at you via cyberspace. Enjoy!

Wherever you go, we’ll follow.

The Philadelphia Union are in the Concacaf Champions League. How about that? Say what you will about the competition and its history, or about the federation itself, it exists and the Union are in it. That’s reason enough for me to care. I don’t mean to get sappy or emotional, and I’ll try to keep this brief, but I’ve got some things to say.

I’ve been a Philadelphia Union fan technically since I heard the team was going to be a thing after seeing commercials on TV. (I admittedly wasn’t there from the *very* beginning, but what do you want from me I was a kid!) In reality though, I became a diehard, lifelong fan when I was invited to attend the very first home match at the Linc. A friend of my father’s (Hi, John!) had gotten season tickets in the supporter’s section. I was one of the lucky ones who wasn’t late getting into the stadium, I saw the kickoff. I saw every goal. I watched every second of the match like a hawk. I stood there when a few of the players rushed and jumped up to our section at the end of the game. I was enthralled. I was captivated.

I was 14 and I was in love.

This beautiful game of ours, this beautiful club of ours. How many times have they broken our hearts? How many curses, how many screams have come from our mouths in the name of passion? Countless. Infinite, to be sure.

But here we are. Reigning and defending Supporters’ Shield champions. One of the best clubs in the league. On April 10, it will have been 11 years on from that match where I fell in love. The club is stronger than ever. The future is shining brightly.

I am 25 and I’m still in love.

Every second counts.

It wasn’t a perfect match by any means, and the boys can be forgiven for that seeing as it IS the first competitive game of the season, but it was a damn good one.

The Philadelphia Union played solidly. Again, not perfect, but that’s irrelevant. Very rarely is football played perfectly. It’s a beautiful game, but a messy one. On a hot and humid day in Costa Rica, the Union got it done. 

Philadelphia’s passing for most of the match was fantastic, in my opinion. Not always clinical, but the creativity and effort was there. The boys didn’t sit back and let the game come to them, they held Saprissa’s feet to the fire. They attacked, nearly relentlessly. They exploited runs behind the defense, they played through the middle, on the outside, over the top, everywhere. 

The goal was brilliant. Simply put. The buildup was some of the best I’ve ever seen from the club. Mbaizo’s cross was sublime. Incredibly impressive, especially from someone who I had been completely unimpressed with before that point. Kacper Przybyłko’s run was textbook. His header was clinical. A team goal if I’ve ever seen one.

Most importantly, the Union persevered to the very end of the match. There were scary moments, sure. Quite a few toward the final few minutes, to be honest. In the end, none of that matters. Philly stayed strong, and stood tall. 

Consider this goal: kept!

Andre Blake is a first ballot Union Hall of Famer. He is the backbone of this team, and has been for years. I’ll tell my kids about him someday. I can’t wait until I can see him lift an MLS Cup in a Union uniform someday (I hope.)

Blake’s confidence is absolutely integral to Philadelphia’s success now and going forward. When he is playing with confidence, he is without a single doubt the best goalkeeper in this league. This match proved that. The stats won’t always show off the amount of work and effort Blake puts in, but watch a Union game and you’ll see it.

Some people will tell you that keeper is the least important position on the pitch. I wholeheartedly disagree with this. Andre Blake has saved the Union from defeat nearly single-handedly more than once. Yes, his distribution is highly questionable, but I’ll take that all day for everything else he gives to the club. Blake’s vision and aggression are paramount to his success as a keeper.

In my opinion, this team lives and dies by players like Andre Blake.

O, fontana!

Coming into this season, it was made abundantly (if not totally officially) clear that Anthony Fontana would be a starter. The young man from Delaware showed flashes of brilliance last season as a sub and starter on more than one occasion. Personally, I was of the opinion that he should’ve started the Union’s lone playoff game last year. Alas, that was last season, and this is now.

Fontana may have started in Philly’s first game of the season against Deportivo Saprissa in the CCL, but you could’ve fooled me. Anthony was basically invisible the entire first half of the match, and I was very surprised to see him start the second half, let alone play the full 90+. 

While the team had some messy plays and scary moments throughout the match, the boys still looked (mostly) comprehensive. Unfortunately Fontana was essentially a non factor. Very few touches, even less meaningful ones, a dribble here or there that went nowhere and led to nothing. More than once head coach Jim Curtin could be overheard on the broadcast issuing instruction to Fontana. (Yes, I know this is not a strange occurrence, and Curtin certainly gave out orders to other players too, but it stood out to me more than once.)

Toward the end of the match he was clearly tired, which to be clear I am not holding against him! It was a humid, warm day in Costa Rica and he was playing football. My issue there is more with Curtin’s lack of a substitution. I understand it wasn’t going to be a situation of “like-for-like”, but that’s part of the job.

I still firmly believe Anthony Fontana is a very talented player who is going to be a fixture of this squad going forward. I just hope he moves on from this match quickly.

Red, I’m seeing red.

I don’t have much to say about Ricardo Blanco’s horror tackle on Kai Wagner at the very end of the match. It was disgusting, it was dangerous, it was the worst this game has to offer.

All I want to say is this: I can only hope somebody’s gonna collect a receipt next week.

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