Greg Carroccio

Union defense shuts down Timbers, but offense falters

CHESTER, Pa. – It wasn’t the result Philadelphia were looking for, but Saturday’s home draw with Portland was good enough to reclaim sole possession of third place in the Eastern Conference.

Houston’s home loss to Sporting Kansas City allowed the Union to create the slightest amount of separation from the Dynamo in the standings. Columbus suffered a shock defeat in Toronto, and New York could only eek out a home draw against last-place Vancouver. 

“Overall, the game, we deserved it,” Union manager Peter Nowak told reporters after the match. “We were better than the other team. From the scoreline, of course you cannot be happy, but I think we deserved the three points. We have to move forward. I applaud the effort from the guys, because after the tough game on Wednesday, you could see some of them get tired. That’s why we made the substitutions. I think it was a tough stretch for us with three games in one week, but we’ve got to move forward.”

After Wednesday night’s wild 4-4 home draw, Nowak changed his formation. Scrapping the 4-2-3-1, Philadelphia returned to the 4-1-3-2, the shape that produced four second-half goals against New England.

On Saturday, Nowak’s side outshot Portland 11 to nine, but could only muster three efforts on frame. The Union’s best chance came in the 88th minute, when Kyle Nakazawa rattled the crossbar from 16 yards out.

“I think personally, we still lack this, as we’re going forward, this mentality, where, ‘I’m going to do whatever it takes to score the goal,'” added Nowak. [The players] shouldn’t be happy just being out there, [they need] the mentality of, ‘I have the chance, I have to put it in.’”

The bright spot for Philadelphia was on the defensive side of the ball. After allowing four first half goals on Wednesday, the Union backline looked much more composed and organized. Rookie goalkeeper Zac Macmath earned his first clean sheet in a Union shirt.

“It was like night and day for me,” explained Macmath, who turned away Jorge Perlaza from close range in first half stoppage time. “I think everyone was definitely more concentrated on going out and having a better start to the first half, and continuing that throughout the whole game. Collectively, we did a whole lot better defensively and we were unfortunate not to get the win.”

The Union did particularly well in cutting off Portland’s dead ball game. The Timbers earned just two corner kicks, and the majority of their free kicks were awarded outside of the danger area.

“They only had two or three set pieces, so we did a good job of limiting their opportunities, which always helps,” said Union captain Danny Califf. “I think pretty much everyone was well aware, and trying to concentrate on being good [in dead ball situations]. I think we created some good chances, certainly some big ones at the end. We controlled the game and controlled the tempo, so I feel a bit unlucky that we didn’t walk out of here with three points.”