Tactical Analysis

Tactical analysis: Philadelphia Union 6-1 Orlando City SC

Photo: Paul Rudderow

In MLS, unless you are the rare team that has the hutzpah and personnel to impose yourself home and away, you need to be good in transition on the road. 

Philadelphia Union were not this season, and their record reflects that appropriately. 

Often, Ilsinho, playing through the center, was a part of the transition game falling flat. But the issue was never a lack of ability; it was always consistency.

When the Brazilian is granted time and keeps things simple, he can flaunt all the tools necessary to make a mark in MLS.

And as Cristian Maidana showed, that can be — for short periods — enough lipstick to cover defensive flaws.

The Union annihilated Orlando City SC Sunday afternoon in Chester.

The first two goals were emblematic of the style of play the club tried to harness all season: First a turnover high up the pitch quickly turned into a chance by patience near the box and Alejandro Bedoya’s impressive all-around game. Next, a stupendous long pass from Haris Medunjanin unlocked the Orlando City midfield before quick decision-making from Ilsinho and, again, patience around the box produced a gorgeous play and goal.

In these moments — as in moments before, throughout the season — Ilsinho’s gifts cannot help but impress. However, these moves become the anchor against which his average play across the course of a season  — or even across a single match — is judged.

That lays bare the decision the Union have to make now: Can an aging player with such ability around the box play a key role next year? If so, will it be on the wing or through the center?

Philly will have less trouble with a decision about Fafa Picault. Although he could become a one-dimensional player, Picault’s strengths filled a real gap on the Union roster, and his seven goals were a strong return with Chris Pontius’s and Fabian Herbers’s tallies largely missing from the 2017 register.

One aspect of Picault’s game that the team will look to improve next season is the timing of his movements. On the goal below, patiently waits to trigger his run until space opens between the fullback and center back. Additionally, he starts from the center, taking advantage of the fullback’s trouble finding his position without a winger out wide as a reference point.

Finding ways to move Picault around and vary his movement will go a long way toward making him an even more dangerous weapon next season. Curtin and the coaching staff did push Picault to explore central areas, but the winger’s off-the-ball movement can improve as he grows into MLS’ style of play.

Big questions in back

The Union put Sunday’s match out of reach in the first half… eventually. After going up 2-0 inside of five minutes, Philly nearly gave it all back in less than 10 minutes. First there was the corner kick that bounced through the middle of the box.

Then there was Richie Laryea missing Giles Barnes on a free run at a backpedaling Union defense.

Then there was Dom Dwyer’s hold-up play and shanked free header.

And remember: All in less than 10 minutes since going up 2-0.

Then in the 16th minute, there was this play, in which the team shape is narrow but there is now pressure on the ball, so the ball carrier is free to stretch the defense out with an unhurried long diagonal.

These are the plays that opponents see on tape and that good opponents turn into goals.

All this is simply material support for one of Curtin’s favorite sayings: The table doesn’t lie. The Union are who they were all season: A club that showed grit and determination cannot overcome a lack of execution — both in transition and defensively — over the course of a season. Once more we must face the awful truth that pulling a Mighty Ducks is extremely unlikely. Thanks, Disney.

There were other issues. The Union still leave the late runner free in the box, even after Chicago ID’d that issue and capitalized on it (you can see Ilsinho fail to track him below).

And boy, oh boy do they ever gift weirdly enormous amounts of space to opponents. (You likely remember what Nacho Piatti did to the Union with similar space.)

But those problems are now yesterday’s news. In MLS, one strong off-season can flip fortunes, so even though Philly failed to build on 2016’s playoff run they remain, as the caffeine inside Taylor Twellman has screamed on TV, a couple of good DPs away from contention.

Until then, though, it’s worth remembering that the Union were +1 in 2017 with Brian Carroll on the pitch.

How many accountants can do that?

One Comment

  1. Jeremy Lane says:

    A+ final line.

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