Wins like Sunday night’s 3-0 over Toronto FC are about as good as it’s been for the Philadelphia Union recently, and it was just the shot in the arm that the team needed. That game opened the floodgates that the Jim Curtin had been trying to unlock, and the Union looks dangerous again.
Of course, it wasn’t a perfect game, and there are some more things to critique, but still plenty to praise. Let’s take a look at both sides.
Maintain control the whole game
To say the least, that was the best first half that the Union has played in a long time. Even in games that they’ve gotten multiple points out of, they’ve still been playing as a second-half team, not really turning on the motors until 15-20 minutes into the half.
However, Wednesday night showed the opposite for the boys from Chester. After a fast-paced and intense first half, the Union dropped the intensity for the final forty-five minutes. Admittedly, this isn’t the worst thing that the team has ever done. They went up with a dominant lead early on, and did what they had to do to maintain that lead without burning out their players on the pitch. Though Toronto tripled their total shots in the second half, only one was on target, and none found the net. At the end of the day, it all worked out.
There is no atrocity that comes out of Wednesday night’s match, but not every team is Toronto FC. While they have been in good form since releasing Head Coach Chris Armas, Toronto is no New England Revolution, and they are certainly no Club America. If the Union wants points out of the Revolution and a win in Mexico City, they’ll need to maintain intensity the entire match.
Coming out strong
This takeaway is pretty obvious. Look at what happened as soon as the Union decided to play from the first whistle. Philadelphia didn’t give TFC any time to get set, figure out a game plan, and adjust. Instead, the Union decided to just score early and often, and that turned out to be the only part of the game that mattered. The fast-paced attack earned the Union a much-needed three points to get them out of a dangerous spiral as they’ve fallen through the Eastern Conference rankings.
There isn’t really much to it. Taking good shots early and often generates goals, and it earned the Union three huge goals that they’ve waited on for a long time.
The solution is simple for the Union, play fast and dangerous. They can even mix tactics around, switching between fast and slow starts to trip opponents up. Because if there’s one thing that 2020 showed us, it’s that as soon as everyone figures out your secret, the road to a trophy becomes that much harder.
Keep the energy
At the time of the writing of this article, it’s T-7 days until the biggest game in Union history at Azteca Stadium in the Champions League semi-finals. There are just three days until the Union takes a trip to Gillette Stadium vs. New England.
With much of the Starting XI presumably resting against New England, it will be important for the Union to keep the same energy and drive that they showed against Toronto FC, and to keep that energy through the rest of the season.
A motivated Union is a dangerous Union, one that takes them from just a team without a Designated Player (we’ll miss you, Jamiro), to one that can take on the best of the best. The back half of the MLS season has arrived, and that combined with CCL matches means that this is the time for the team to want to win. That, more than just about anything else, should be Jim Curtin’s game plan.