August 21, 2017
As we've seen so many times before, the Philadelphia Union found a way to take an excellent performance and turn it into a demoralizing result.
A 95th-minute penalty kick made the difference in a 2-2 draw on Saturday night, with Josh Yaro inexplicably chopping down Shea Salinas just prior to the final whistleblowing.
Earning a draw on the West Coast would normally be a great result, just like the shutout performances we watched in Vancouver and Los Angeles earlier this year.
This one, however, featured a "that's so Union" moment, as the team turned its best road performance of the season into a draw that felt more like a loss.
That's hard to stomach when you consider that Philly was the better team for 91 of the 95 minutes.
I thought this one might get out of hand when Valeri Qazaishvili scored just three minutes in, but credit to Jim Curtin's team for pulling it together after conceding a bad goal.
First, "Vako" turns past Alejandro Bedoya way too easily, then gets by a half-hearted challenge from Roland Alberg, who shouldn't have to be defending at the edge of the box anyway. He's there to cover for Haris Medunjanin, who slid out left to cover for Fafa Picault in a 2v2 down the left flank.
By the time Jack Elliott and Giliano Wijnaldum step, the shot is already off and heading for the far post.
That's a play that Bedoya stuffs about 99 percent of the time.
Say what you will about Yaro throwing in a boneheaded challenge, but Salinas shouldn't have even gotten to that point in the first place.
You've probably seen this freeze frame on Twitter, where a cluster of Union players let him go by.
Union's problem started seconds before Josh Yaro's botched play. pic.twitter.com/6D6BwsX9FU— Ryan Bright (@RBrightUnion) August 20, 2017
That's Adam Najem coming in from behind, who isn't in a great position to make a tackle. Marcus Epps is poorly positioned to begin the sequence ends up on the wrong shoulder. Keegan Rosenberry is back-pedaling while trying not to foul and Bedoya has Hyka to worry about on the inside.
In the end, all three subs let him go by, which leaves Yaro 1v1 and in a worse defensive position than the one involving three players against one opponent.
Similar to the first goal, the Union aren't put in that spot if someone makes a play at the edge of the box.
First professional goal? Check.
Flicked-on header to set up the second goal? Check.
Nine defensive actions inside the box? Check.
Elliott is clearly the top candidate for Rookie of the Year, but his status as a defender playing on a dull team is going to be a serious obstacle to overcome when the voting takes place.
He swung a one-touch pass over to Picault in the first half, who ripped the shot over the bar.
Then he had the killer finish on what should have been the game-winning goal. He had another second-half key pass and drew three fouls inside the attacking half of the field.
Defensively, yeah, he could have done better in spots.
But your #10 isn't on the field to play defense, and while Alberg doesn't light up the stat sheet with chance creation, he's the best pure goal scorer that you can put in that position right now.
The second option is Ilsinho, who has played one great game this season. The third option is Najem, who has the chops to play the position, but not the experience.
So when you consider the limitations at the number ten spot, it is what it is at this point.
Find me a body language expert, because I'd love to have them take a look at this.
We've got the arms-up celebration and a slow walk towards no one in particular. Alberg has a big grin on his face, with Medunjanin coming over to put his arm around his shoulder.
C.J. Sapong and Picault, who have had arguments with Alberg this season, also come over, but there isn't a ton of interaction in either direction. There's no high-fiving or hugging or anything like that, just a muted chest bump.
What do you think?
I had wondered if Union players were still dialed in after last week's home loss. Would they keep grinding out this season or quit on their coach instead?
They definitely didn't quit. They actually played a great game for the majority of the 95 minutes.
And Medunjanin continued to impress me with the way he seems to care, as he was clearly annoyed with the draw when the whistle blew:
Philly still isn't getting anything out of their training ground routines, unless you count Elliott's flick-on as being the product of design.
They tried another one around the 70th minute that almost came off, with Roland Alberg sneaking around the back of the wall to try to catch a return pass from Bedoya.
San Jose defended it well.
In lieu of video, I'll give you a couple of freeze frames of the play, since I'm writing on the crappy wifi at Books-a-Million.
Here's the setup:
And when they try to bounce that pass off Bedoya you see Jahmir Hyka read it and pull off the wall:
I'm a Tommy Thompson fan and it's nice to see him on the field again.
He got the assist on the Vako goal and finished with another key pass off a 33rd minute corner, but he really didn't have a ton of action in zone 14, which is that middle part of field right outside of the opponent's box. Thompson was mostly successful linking play in wide areas.
He's the most attack-minded of a trio that includes Anibal Godoy and Darwin Ceren, the latter of whom played a Bedoya-esque game with a right-sided tilt.
The wingback positions were occupied by a natural midfielder (Salinas) and a right back (Kofi Sarkodie), so those guys are probably still learning those spots as they undergo a midseason formation shift. There were some decent moments going forward early, but Salinas became more dangerous as the game went on.
Leitch brought in Hyka for Ceren in the 61st minute, which really opened up the San Jose attack and lead to the home side dominating possession for the final 30 minutes of the game.
He then dropped his right wing back for another attacker (Quincy Amarikwa), about 13 minutes later. That resulted in some sort of offense-heavy 3-4-3, with the Union providing little threat on the counter.
Hyka was very good once he came on, demanding the ball and finding gaps in the Union defense to attack. That's a big part of the reason why Philly was pinned back so far.
Both managers had to make an injury sub, with Fatai Alashe replacing Florian Jungwirth and Rosenberry replacing Wijnaldum. Curtin's other two subs were Najem for Alberg (79') and Epps for Pontius (88').
You could say that the penalty sequence plays out differently if Pontius is on the field, but there are four guys in position to make a play there, so that's a stretch in my opinion.
Look at the skew in possession during the final 20 minutes of the game:
We don't have cable or the internet at my wife's shore house, so I go up to the Buffalo Wild Wings at the Hamilton Mall to watch Union road games.
The restaurant has about 67 televisions, none of which are ever tuned to a Union game, so I have to ask the manager to change the channel.
This time, some guy I didn't recognize has never heard of "The Comcast Network" and comes back to tell me that the game doesn't start until 10:30 a.m.
"Nope, it's actually on right now," I respond.
"Oh ok," he says, then miraculously finds the game on television.
About five minutes in, the TV automatically switches over to the Phillies game, so I have to go back over to the manager for a second time to ask him to put the damn game on.
Maybe Daniel Craig was correct when he wrote this for PhillyVoice awhile back: Stop blaming millennials for killing things that suck.