Thursday night’s Philadelphia Union draw at the New York Red Bulls was yet again a match that Philadelphia fans will mostly want to forget. The Union are in a bit of a skid right now (for their lofty standards), with no wins in their last three matches.
Of course, two of the results are dramatic come-from-behind draws that they had to claw and fight back to get, but for a team that hopes to be in MLS Cup contention at the end of the year, their recent form is a bit alarming.
Coming off a loss against Nashville, the Union still had an opportunity against Gerhard Struber’s men to get back into the top two in the East following an Orlando slip-up against Chicago on Wednesday night. But with the Union’s “Reggae Boyz” on Gold Cup duty for Jamaica, Philly faithful knew this rivalry match would be an uphill battle.
Losing Andre Blake in goal is always going to be a massive loss, but missing Cory Burke up front is also extremely difficult. Burke has two goals in his last four matches and gives the Union a bit of depth up front alongside Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos. In Jim Curtin’s 4-4-2 system, having a rotation of forwards is essential for a long and grueling MLS season. Especially for stretches like the one the Union have in late July and early August, in which they will play several matches in rapid succession. The stretch includes three matches in the first eight days of August. Brutal.
For that reason, keep your eye on transfer rumors prior to the closing of the secondary MLS Transfer Window on August 5th. A forward addition could be monumental for the Union’s late- season playoff push.
However, given the circumstances, the Union frontline did a decent job Thursday night. While the offensive output was stale for large portions of the match, Przybylko and Daniel Gazdag put in a shift. The latter moved forward after playing the number eight role in the midfield in the loss against Nashville. His natural position is more of a number ten and with the late yellow card and subsequent accumulation suspension for Jamiro Monteiro, it looks like he may get the chance to play their next match against DC United.
While it is obviously a huge loss to be missing Monteiro against another Eastern Conference rival, seeing Gazdag play in his natural position should make Union fans excited. He showed glimpses of his attacking prowess against New York and even had a one-on-one opportunity that was saved by Red Bulls’ keeper Carlos Miguel Coronel. Meanwhile, Kacper the friendly striker was quiet and not as dangerous as he normally is up front. However, he did have a few decent flicked-on headers that put Gazdag and others in decent positions to put an attempt on goal.
But the story of the night for the forwards was Sergio Santos. I mean, come on. What a performance for a guy who has struggled for form recently and has also lost his starting position. The Brazilian came on in the 73rd minute and his impact was immediate. His goal in the 85th minute tied the match and his pace and power going forward gave New York all kinds of problems to the final whistle. The decision to bring Sergio on in the first place is a testament to Curtin’s confidence in his men. In a match in which they were a man down and had all but lost up until the late stages, he trusted his guys to deliver an equalizer. And it paid off, as Santos came in and made the difference to help the Union steal a tough road point.
In the midfield, you have to like what you saw from Jose “El Brujo” Martínez and Leon Flach. El Brujo was starting his first match since his call-up for Venezuela in Copa America and he did not skip a beat. Right in the opening couple minutes he came in for a crunching slide tackle and set the tone in the middle of the park. The stalwart is back. Meanwhile, Flach continued his excellence as a box-to-box number eight. He was dangerous driving at the backline like when he set up Gazdag for what should have been the opening goal. When Flach dribbles with pace at the opponent’s center backs, good things tend to happen. Defensively, he ran a million miles and tracked runners well. He did give the ball away a few times, including once in the defensive third which led to a Red Bulls opportunity, but it was a rare mistake from the young German-American. He has been a consistent performer in the middle.
Jamiro was solid and creative in the attacking third as always, but his late yellow card is a killer heading into the DC match. The Union were already shorthanded with injuries and international duties; thet can’t afford to lose guys for yellow card accumulation. El Capitan, Alejandro Bedoya, had a bit of a pedestrian performance. He seemed a step off the pace going forward and never really made his mark on the match on either end. Not a standout showing for the man wearing the armband.
Defensively, the Union looked chaotic at times and a bit careless. The penalty obviously was a mistake from the young goalkeeper Matt Freese but why was Glesnes so nonchalant with that back pass in front of the goal? New York is a team that thrives off of their high press and counter attacking football, and the Union played right into their hands. However, to hold the Red Bulls to one goal with a man down was impressive and vital to getting out of Red Bull Arena with a point.
Looking ahead, Curtin will have several important decisions to make heading into the match at home against DC, and performances like Santos’ against New York will weigh heavily on his mind. Most importantly, he will have to figure out a game plan for the midfield, as Monteiro received the aforementioned yellow card suspension. Will Jim move Gazdag into the ten and start Santos up front? That may seem like an obvious decision, but Curtin mentioned in his post-match presser that “the plan was to start [Santos] against DC. But now we lose Miro so we may have to adjust.” Quinn Sullivan may also get a run if the gaffer instead opts for fresh legs. Expect a shift in tactics from Curtin against DC in what will be a massively important midseason rivalry match at Subaru Park.