The Philadelphia Union advanced to the knockout round of the 2020 MLS is Back Tournament, but know improvement is needed to stay alive after this weekend.
Jim Curtin’s side are set to square off with the New England Revolution on Saturday night in Orlando, seeking a berth in the quarterfinals of the competition. The Union relied on the strong play of goalkeeper Andre Blake, youthful midfielder Brenden Aaronson, and consistent defensive performances, but ultimately will need more goals to stay in Florida.
“We’ve done some really good things, you’ve seen some great couterattacks, some good stuff playing out of the back,” Union captain and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said Thursday in a conference call. But just final ball, the final movements in and around the box have been kind of lacking.”
“The one thing we’ve lacked is that consistency,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “I want to see us do it for 30 minutes spurts rather than these 8-10 minute spurts where we look like ourselves. We haven’t been able to sustain that long enough and that’s why I say it’s a good thing that we haven’t played our best 90 minutes yet. We’ve had patches of really good soccer and really great goals, but they’re too few and far between, and we want that consistency and more sustained pressure on teams.”
Philly grinded out victories over both NYCFC and Inter Miami before tying Group A winners Orlando City 1-1 on Monday night. Overall, it’s been a strong showing for the Union, but the lack of goals compared to total offensive chances is a worrying stat for Curtin and his players.
The Union scored four goals from 26 shots in total this tournament, despite getting contributions from four different players. In addition, dealing with a inconsistent scoring, the Union will have to quiet a dynamic Revolution attack featuring Diego Fagundez, Gustavo Bou, and Adam Buksa. Saturday will be another strong test for the Union, who are aiming to stay high after the best season in club history.
“New England had a really good team last year and Bruce [Arena] has really improved it,” Jim Curtin said. “They’ve added some big pieces with [Gustavo] Bou coming on, with [Adam] Buksa, so they’ve added some really talented attacking pieces. The roster is a very strong one and they’ve played well in this competition. It makes for a great matchup. Two teams that attack and defend really well.”
“It’s hard to create the pressure environments that come with a playoff game or with elimination games so even them being able to play in last year’s playoff games and feel that and see how tight the margins are is invaluable. There is no replacement for the intensity of elimination games and the more they get, the better. And we have one on Saturday night at 10:30 p.m.”
Philly could also call on some new options in attack with Andrew Wooten and Michee Ngalina both eligible for selection. Wooten and Ngalina have yet to play in the tournament due to injuries, but could get the call on Saturday night if the team wants to change its attacking front.
Midfielder Jose Martinez also returns from suspension, giving Curtin a full lineup to choose from against Bruce Arena’s Revs. Martinez may not bring a major boost in front of goal, but his physicality and range could allow players like Aaronson and Bedoya to move upfield in attack.
“With Andrew [Wooten] specifically we were going to him in at the very end of the game against Orlando but we decided to go with Matthew [Real] and it was our last sub spot and Kacper [Przybylko] gave us the thumbs up that he could continue to finish,” Curtin said. “Andrew then played 25 minutes against Orlando the next morning in a friendly we set up for some of our guys that hadn’t gotten minutes so it was a good exercise. He’s back and again minutes wise he is good for 20 to 25 minutes which is good to have.”
“It’s good to have a full group available and we’re going to need them all going not just into this game but the future of this season whatever that looks like.”
Whatever lineup the Union goes with on Saturday, they will need to be ready to go from the opening whistle. With the tournament now shifting to one-and-done, the Union cannot afford to leave golden opportunities on the table if they want to stay in Orlando for a few more weeks.