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Union winless streak reaches seven after another meltdown on the road to tenth place Montreal



Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Union

The Union went to Stade Saputo with a makeshift squad on a rainy Saturday and led twice, only to let another game slip away in a crippling 4-2 loss to CF Montreal.

The conditions were wet and slippery, and the defending was poor all around, and in the end, the Union’s backline crumbled trying to see out a late lead multiple times. 

There are precious little things left to say after the latest meltdown in a Union season that has gone from cursed to rotten, with no wins in the last seven games. The Union have 20 points in 20 games and are 4-8-8 and trailing Montreal, a very middling team, by two points in the Eastern Conference after the hosts improved to 5-7-8.

The Union showed up to play in a flat 4-4-2 in a pretty defensive shape with the first choice backline, Jack McGlynn and Quinn Sullivan as the wide midfielders and Jesus Bueno and Leon Flach as the holding two. Tai Baribo and Chris Donovan were the strikers up top, and in goal was Andrew Rick, making his second career start. 

The plan was clearly to defend compactly, and launch the ball long to make things happen or work the ball methodically down the right side. There were not going to be a lot of ball progressions through the midfield, but the wingbacks and wide midfielders had lots of quality to play crosses when the opportunity to get numbers forward presented itself.

Montreal rolled out a 3-4-3, and were pretty conservative in their own right with five players reserved in the buildup passing the ball around the Union’s shape before trying to find Josef Martinez on balls through the channels. There were not a lot of difference makers in the XI and a lot of time on the ball for George Campbell, Gabriele Corbo, and Joaquin Sosa.

The game opened as a your-turn, my-turn exercise in possession against set blocks, as both teams could not progress with speed, and the Union generally settled into a solid shape of denying any space through the middle. 

The Union drew their mid-block line of confrontation about 50 yards from goal and forced Montreal’s center backs to pick out difficult passes through four or five defenders or launch it over the top. The work rate was generally good from the Union, and with the ball, Harriel did well pushing up on the right flank to create overloads for Bueno and Sullivan to have room to operate. 

The first goal came from this pattern of play in the 29th minutes on a smart cross to a half space from Harriel to Sullivan, who had a decent first touch to bring the ball down in mid air, and an exquisitely measured finish to the back post with ball underneath his feet:

From there, the game became less about patterned buildup and more about chasing goals, which came without much rhyme or reason. 

See Montreal scoring six minutes later on a corner kick with a bullet header from Josef Martinez. To be honest, there was not a lot the Union could do on this goal, as Martinez skied for an impressively athletic header to attack a perfectly placed ball at the near post. 

Twelve minutes later, the Union took the lead again on the first of two silly set piece goals. Kai Wagner delivered a corner to the near post that was cleared to the edge of the box by Montreal and Flach just kind of headed the ball back into a dangerous area. Full marks for simplicity, as it bounced twice past Montreal’s entire backline and across the goalkeeper to a wide open Jesus Bueno at the back post:

The Union came out of halftime with a good challenge to see out the lead, and the shape was doing well, with great defensive work from McGlynn and Sullivan to deal with Montreal’s wingback width. 

But the work was undone by set piece defending in the 56th minute on a lofted delivery from Bryce Duke from 35 yards out. Martinez looked like he was going to climb the ladder again at the near post, but he missed the ball narrowly. Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Harriel and Rick all must have thought Martinez was going to get it too, as they helplessly watched the ball bounce toward the net, off Elliott’s leg and in:

That was painful all around. Rick was probably the most to blame, caught in no man’s land and flailing at the ball while expecting a shot.

Both teams made changes after the goal, with Dani Gazdag returning to the field for the Union after his stint with Hungary, coming on for Donovan. Lassi Lappalainen came on as a wide defender/midfielder for Sosa for Montreal and Kwadwo Opoku came on as a forward

Montreal was going for the game, and the Union were trying to see out the point as 12 minutes later, the Union replaced Baribo with an extra defender in wingback Olivier Mbaizo, shifting Harriel inside as a center back in a back five. Montreal relieved Martinez after his hardworking shift with another forward in Dominik Iankov. 

The subs gave Montreal some veteran legs, extra passing, and forward movement, and the Union were clinging mostly to deep defending past the 70th minute and into the 80th minute. But the U kept everything in front of the box, and limited danger. 

But backed up that far, the Union were eventually going to allow passes into attacking players in dangerous areas. And that was their undoing in the 89th minute, as two of the subs for Montreal helped combine for a game winner in an emblematic condemnation of the Union’s depth in late June in this period.

Opoku did just enough hold up play and dribbling to eliminate three defenders to spring a long runway for wingback Raheem Edwards, who had a direct entry pass to the feet of Iankov. The Bulgarian national and Ludogorets Razgrad veteran showed a bit of class to turn Harriel inside out and fire past Rick into the corner. 

That’s a brutal sucker punch. Minutes later, the Union were caught wide open to salvage a last ditch point on a sweeping buildup generated by a 50-yard dribble down the middle of the field from Opoku. Then Lappalainen picked out a streaking, unmarked Ruan at the back post, who bundled it in for 4-2.

Ruan pulled out a plastic mask from The Flash out of thin air (tucked in his shorts, which he must have sweat through all night), and ripped the Usain Bolt celebration in front of the Montreal faithful. To be fair, he did outrun the entire Union backline from a dead sprint in the 92nd minute. 

In the closing stages, Victor Wanyama even made a human victory cigar cameo on a now-jubilant night for the hosts, a team in 10th place and outside of the playoff cut line. 

Such is the state of the Union, who are finding new ways to be punchlines, often at the expense of mediocre teams. 

The Union have plenty of reasons for being a tired, decimated team with little to no depth. But what hurts is seeing points disappear in real time from a cavalcade of defensive mistakes, over and over again. Sometimes, it’s players who are put in tough spots above their head, but too often seasoned veterans are the ones at fault. 

As the Union near rock bottom, a road trip to the last place Chicago Fire, the perennial bottom dwellers of the league, looms on Wednesday. It’s an unsavory proposition that demands the Union find something, or even anything, to end this slide.

Amit grew up in Lansdale, Pennsylvania and has been a Union fan since the franchise started. He has contributed to coverage of the Union and the United States Men's National Team for this website dating back to 2017. At his previous job, Amit was a collegiate sports information director, including time with men's and women's soccer programs. He also was one half of the World Cup After Dark podcast in 2018 and 2022. He is pursuing a master's degree in data science and lives in Chicago.

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