Photo: Paul Rudderow
That’s what you call a statement game.
Philadelphia Union pulled off a huge win Friday to get back in the playoff hunt, and they did it the same way they have all year.
The ugly way.
The calls for Roger Torres and Kleberson are wastes of time.
John Hackworth’s team has won games all season thanks to a solid back line, lethal counterattack, and hard-nosed play. Nothing is changing. And they might actually make the playoffs this way.
It isn’t pretty, but it worked.
An underrated back line
The Union owe their win in part to one of the league’s most underrated back lines.
Here is a bizarre pair of stats:
- No team has given up more goals this season from the 61st through 75th minutes than the Union, whose 15 goals are the league’s worst. (Chicago is next with 11.)
- No team has surrendered fewer goals during the rest of each game than the Union with 24.
Why do the Union have the league’s best defense at all times other than this 15-minute stretch of games? What’s going on during minutes 61-75? Is it letdown? Loss of concentration? Do the midfielders fall off defensively once fatigue hits around the 60th minute? Or is this when the opposing team’s halftime adjustments finally gain fluidity and knock down the Union?
You decide. (Share in the Comments section.)
Either way, it didn’t happen Friday.
Weathering Kansas City’s assault from the wings
The Union back line weathered an absolute assault from the wings. Graham Zusi, Jacob Peterson and Chance Myers completed 12 of 25 crosses. (The rest of KC was 1 for 10.) That resulted in 11 shots: 8 went off target, 3 toward goal, and the Union blocked two and left the third for Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath to save.
Did the Union benefit from epically bad finishing from Dom Dwyer, who failed to put a single one of his seven shots on frame, including six headers from inside the penalty spot? Definitely.
But the Union also benefited from a back line that, according to NBC, has set a record for most games played with the same unit. Chemistry helps. When Kansas City repeatedly exploited the defensive gaps left by the Union’s starting wingers (particularly Fabinho) doing their best impressions of a revolving door, the Union defenders rushed to fill them and pressure the shots that came.
Amobi Okugo played a stellar game defensively. Ray Gaddis had to clean up Fabinho’s defensive messes and did a fairly good job of it (15 defensive touches*). Jeff Parke didn’t put in his best shift, but he was generally solid. Sheanon Williams showed once again why he is one of the league’s most underrated players, turning in a solid defensive performance and nearly creating a second Union goal with a perfect cross that Michael Farfan put on goal.
And of course, there was MacMath coming up huge with perhaps his most impressive day in a Philadelphia uniform. Good goalkeepers win games for their team. MacMath just won one.
Soccer is a game of opportunities. Either you miss them or you hit them. Kansas City missed them, and Philadelphia nailed them.
Breaking down the playoff race
The Union are suddenly back in the driver’s seat for the fifth playoff spot. Here are the standings for the four teams competing for that spot.
Tiebreaker 1: Total wins
Tiebreaker 2: Goals for
Tiebreaker 3: Goal diff.
New England may be the best team of the four, and Columbus might be the hottest (winners of 4 of their last 5 matches), but Philadelphia has the most favorable schedule. Of their final four games, two are at home, and two are against the conference’s worst teams in Toronto and D.C. United.
New England and Chicago each play three of their final four games on the road. (Chicago also has two games against Toronto and D.C., however.) Columbus has only three games left.
|Toronto||@ New York||@ DC||Kansas City||Montreal|
|@ DC||@ Montreal||@ Dallas||@ New England||Kansas City|
|@ Montreal||Columbus||Toronto||New England||New York|
|Kansas City||@ Columbus||@ New York||@ DC|
(Montreal and Houston sit in 3rd and 4th place with 46 and 44 points respectively. Montreal has 5 games left, and Houston plays 3 of its final 4 at home. Barring total collapses – which are possible, but not probable — both should make the postseason.)
If the Union can beat Toronto and United and take one point from their final two games against Montreal and Kansas City, they should make the playoffs.
Random Union observations
- Michael Farfan played his best game in a long time. Opta Stats (via WhoScored.com) ranked his performance the Union’s second best, behind only MacMath. He nearly scored twice.
- The performances of Cruz and Fabinho ranked as the Union’s worst. Cruz had one terrific moment. The rest of the game, both were invisible.
- Ray Gaddis is one of the league’s most aggressive (or targeted*) one-on-one defenders. He ranks third among MLS defenders in total tackles (81). He ranks first among defenders in most times dribbled past (34).
- Sebastien Le Toux had more defensive touches (8) in 32 minutes (plus stoppage time) than Fabinho (4) did in 90 and Danny Cruz (7) did in 58. That’s what Le Toux does for a team when he’s not creating goals: He hustles and plays defense.
- Saturday’s home game against Toronto is a must-win for the Union. It’s also a trap game. The Union have underestimated Toronto before. The Reds are coming in on a high after smoking D.C. 4-1. If the Union crap the bed this weekend, the win over Kansas City means nothing.
* defensive touch = tackles, blocked shots, interceptions, clearances, recoveries