The road back to first place was not straight, but it brought the Union to where they wanted to be. Strong play against Seattle and Portland followed by an uneven showing with Colorado desperate for points meant Jim Curtin’s side was getting questions from all sides. Many accept that this is one of the better teams in MLS, so now it’s about showing they have the mentality to overcome a variety of challenges.
Sunday’s challenge? A veteran-led team that, across circumstances, plays their head coach’s game hard. Minnesota United have a gem in Darwin Quintero and to give him space the rest of the team is willing to work their tails off.
Seventeen attacking half recoveries for the Loons points to the aggression of their pressure in the central third of the pitch. Adrian Heath knows he doesn’t have the legs on his team to press as high as the Union can, but with so much experience in central midfield he can give his wide players freedom to run at ball-carriers.
Throughout much of the match, the Union struggled to break through the home side’s midfield. The one reliable outlet was Kacper Przybylko. Dropping into the spaces opened when Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus committed to lanes, Przybylko opened himself up, changed the angle of attack, then broke forward with speed. This dirty work gave Sergio Santos the freedom to stay high and scare the pants off Minnesota’s defensive line.
Santos, meanwhile, finally looks like the player the Union knew they were getting from Chile. He’s a mismatch for fullbacks and center backs alike, and if any Union player has enough time to pick their head up and look for him, opposing defenses are going to learn they need to backpedal immediately.
Releasing Santos was the Union’s secret weapon as they battened down the hatches defensively. With the score tied 1-1 in the second half, Philly used the aggressive, intelligent midfield trapping of Jamiro Monteiro and Brenden Aaronson turned the Loons over near the center circle. Monteiro quickly found Santos, and even though the striker’s first touch was less than ideal Minnesota was already backpedaling so hard that Santos recovered and cut Ike Opara to pieces. Moments later, Haris Medunjanin smacked home the go-ahead goal.
This was a new way to win — after controlling the ball for large portions of their home matches, Philly fought through a determined home side and grabbed three points.
They scored twice from dead balls and were aggressive chasing a win late. It was risky, but it was what teams that believe they deserve to be on top do.
And now the Union are back on top.
The first place U return to action on Saturday, June 8 when they welcome rival New York Red Bulls to town for Rivalry and Pride Nights. All the action starts at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Tickets are available here.