FINAL WHISTLE: Big performances on Sunday afternoon

After a 2-0 victory of the Western Conference leaders, Philadelphia Union have 46 points and a two-match win streak heading into a US Open Cup final against Houston Dynamo Wednesday night. There were plenty of big performances in Sunday afternoon’s win; but none bigger than Jay Simpson’s.

Simpson style

When Jay Simpson was signed, he was packaged as a player that would be a menace in the box. On Sunday, Simpson showed that he can be just that sort of player with a phenomenal performance culminating in two goals. Four of Simpson’s five shots came from close range, and he added an endless work rate and strong hold up play to round out his man of the match showing.

What might go overlooked after Simpson lit the lamp twice is that he put in admirable work defensively all game. The Union wanted to cut apart KC’s center backs and Simpson was tasked with ensuring Matt Besler and Ike Opara couldn’t interact. Beyond that, Simpson chased lost causes and continually pressed the center backs so they had to rush passes into midfield or play wide instead of through the lines.

McCarthy big in a pinch

When Andre Blake had to be pulled from the lineup at the last minute, Jim Curtin had no qualms about turning to John McCarthy. The Union’s backup goalie had to make a pair of diving stops to keep one of the more variable attacks in MLS at bay. A constant vocal presence, McCarthy was also well-positioned to stop Krisztian Nemeth in close and smother Graham Zusi’s long shot in the second half.

McCarthy played a big role in the Union’s last Open Cup final loss, a heartbreaking one to this very same Sporting Kansas City side. He stepped in for the penalty shootout but couldn’t prevent the experienced KC side from coming away winners. In a pressure situation, with a right back on his debut and Mark McKenzie returning to the lineup after an injury, McCarthy more than avenged that 2015 loss.

Monsters in midfield

Olivier Mbaizo’s first Union match, Fabinho and McKenzie returning to the lineup, and a pair of wingers that haven’t featured in the first eleven for a while. The Union truly needed everybody to come ready to perform on Sunday afternoon. And they did.

Perhaps the most impressive showings — well, Simpson aside — came from Philly’s midfield. Tasked with controlling an incredibly versatile trio of opponents, Warren Creavalle, Derrick Jones, and both Borek Dockal and Ale Bedoya were locked in. Jones did the kind of dirty running and showed the level of focus that Jim Curtin has long asked of the talented homegrown mid. Creavalle, meanwhile, was at this pesky best, a thorn in the side of everyone that dared attack the center of the Union’s shape. And further up field, Dockal and Bedoya were on a mission to link the Union’s midfield and attack, constantly finding the ball and spraying it around to punish Kansas City’s defenders for getting too high.

After a deflating loss to Montreal Impact at home, Philadelphia Union have responded with the kind of energetic, confident showings that point to a team on the rise. Next up: A chance at silverware Wednesday evening in Houston.


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