Holding off New England Revolution was never going to be easy for Philadelphia Union. The Revs pressure was well-organized on Saturday, and they kept Philly’s shape deep throughout the first half. Returning Teal Bunbury to the striker’s role also gave Brad Friedel’s men more dynamism after turnovers, since Diego Fagundez could dart around behind the Union midfield while still having three players in front of him when he collected the ball.
But in those big matches on the road, when the home team has its tail up and is desperately in need of points after a dry spell, finding ways to manufacture goals is all about executing in the moments when you have the most control. And the Union did that three times on Saturday night.
Set piece success
Recently, the Union have tended to use a two-man corner kick play on the left while allowing Keegan Rosenberry to serve balls in off the right. Haris Medunjanin returned to right corner duties against Chicago, and he retained them on Saturday, with Borek Dockal joining him as a second option. This went unheeded by the Revs, a team that has been undone by a lack of concentration multiple times this season. New England’s pressure requires constant vigilance so a simple pass through the lines cannot unravel the entire system, and while they give maximum effort chasing plays, Friedel’s men have yet to master the mental focus needed to make their pressure an entirely effective tool. Ditto on set plays, where a lack of focus shows up fairly clearly.
On all three of the Union’s goals, there are simply no excuses. Leaving a 2v1 off a corner allows Medunjanin to walk toward goal before finding Elliott near post, and the chaos created by Philly’s short corner clearly favors the visitors.
On the second goal, two Revs players — one high up the pitch and one in the box — stoically debate helping their stranded teammates as the Union execute what is basically a 3v2 practice drill off a corner kick. What are they thinking? “Is two, so often less than three, somehow equal to it today?” Or perhaps: “Should I be doing something, or should he?” Or, most likely, just: “Hmmmmmmm nah.”
Trying new things in midfield
At the end of Saturday’s match, Curtin inserted Derrick Jones for Fafa Picault and pushed Ale Bedoya out to the wing. Initially, — and possibly because that’s just what time allowed — Bedoya played up the left before switching with Fabian Herbers and moving to the right flank.
It is tempting to see this as a sign of things to come in the future as Jones pushes for more playing time, but the flexibility Bedoya brings to the center of the park likely makes him too useful to move out wide. That flexibility is embodied by Bedoya’s forward movements that helped Philly play over New England’s press when needed and build up through it when they had around the ball.
Bedoya brought this same variety of movements to his wide role, anticipating balls over the top and quickly identifying the right man to mark when dropping deep to defend. As important as Bedoya was to securing the center, the Union gave up half-chances when the Revs pulled the captain inside and played behind the lines (for example, when Penilla spun an outside-of-the-foot cross through the area in the 85th minute).
Looking a week ahead
These two teams will do battle again on August 25 at Talen Energy Stadium. Given that four of five goals came off dead balls in this contest, it will be interesting to see if the two coaches make major changes to how they approach each other in open play.
The Union had moderate success passing around the Revs press, but they may have been more effective simply going over the top of it to Sapong on the right and letting him knock down balls for Ale Bedoya’s anticipatory runs. Going all-in on that strategy could allow the Union to play closer to New England’s goal, but it likely moves too far away from Philly’s core principles that encourage building out of the back to control a game. Notably, the Revs did a very good job making life difficult for Haris Medunjanin last weekend, and to build from deep the Union will absolutely need to find new ways to get their Bosnian distributor involved.
From Brad Friedel’s perspective, his pressure worked quite well on the Union. Doing it on the road, however, may prove to be a more difficult task. Additionally, the Revs had the benefit of catching Philly on the back end of a grueling stretch of games including a long, difficult trip to Portland and a high-pressure semifinal. Next time they meet, the Union will have a full week of rest and the benefit of the home crowd behind them.