It wasn’t pretty or perfect, but the Philadelphia Union got the job done in its opening match of the MLS is Back Tournament. Now Jim Curtin’s team is aiming to build off Thursday’s victory and not take a step back in Group A.
The Union claimed a 1-0 win over NYCFC at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, keeping out one of the league’s best attacks. Andre Blake made seven saves in his Man of the Match performance while Alejandro Bedoya scored the lone goal in a physically draining affair for both clubs.
Despite NYCFC having the better offensive chances, it was the Union who made theirs count before shutting down their East Coast rivals to earn three points.
“Credit to both NYCFC and my guys for getting through the 90 minutes,” Curtin said post match. “It may have looked slow to the average viewer on TV, but down on field level, in very difficult conditions both teams pushed through and put a lot of heart and soul into the game.”
“We told the guys to empty their tanks today on the field and by the final whistle we hope the guys feel they made the city of Philadelphia proud. It’s good to get a 1-0 win and keep the clean sheet, I could go through the list of guys who excelled today but I don’t wanna leave anyone out. They put it all on the field for the badge today.”
Four months after last taking the pitch for an MLS match, the Union remained the same team in Orlando. They stood up to NYCFC, defended well, and got some great saves from All-Star keeper Blake to keep Ronny Deila’s side frustrated.
Offensively, the Union were missing three attacking options in Sergio Santos, Andrew Wooten, and Michee Ngalina, who all suffered minor injuries in training. Ilsinho started with Kacper Przybylko up top and tried to make a difference in the final third. Captain Alejandro Bedoya set the tone for the Union, beating Sean Johnson to the back post with a left-footed finish, sending his team on their way to an opening match win.
“It was a unique experience for every player and coach on the field,” Curtin said. “You have a 9 a.m. kickoff, which is something you don’t really play at as a professional. The temperature though is something that I can’t imagine playing in as a player today. All in all a good three points to get started in this tournament.”
“I don’t score that often, but I’m glad we got the win from that goal,” Bedoya said post match. “We talked about being more calmer on the ball at halftime, shift the ball and move it from side to side. It was a great run from Brenden on the goal and eventually the ball came to me and we knew the cut back would be available. Unlucky for Sean [Johnson] because he got a finger to it, but I hit it hard enough to beat him.”
The Union went away from their usual high-pressing style due to the temperature at field level and allowed NYCFC to have possession. Mark McKenzie and Jack Elliott did well and neutralizing NYCFC’s counter-attacking ability while Jose Martinez’s physical presence at the No. 6 position certainly allowed Bedoya and Brenden Aaronson to get free upfield.
Again, it wasn’t the perfect Union performance or even the best in Jim Curtin’s era, but it was an important one which ended Philly’s four-match losing run against their Eastern Conference rivals. Every player stepped into a new environment and did their job to propel the Union to top of Group A for now.
The Union face expansion side Inter Miami next on July 14th before concluding group stage play against Orlando City, following Nashville SC’s removal due to several positive COVID-19 cases. Both matches should see the Union as favorites following Thursday’s win and ultimately will be judged by Curtin to see if they can continue building as one of the top contenders in MLS.
“We want to be discussed with the top teams in this league, but we still have work to do,” Curtin said. “Today was a good win, but now we have to use that to get more wins down the stretch. We’ll build from within, but also have some veteran players to help us across the board. We beat a very good team, but it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t follow that up with another couple wins in the next matches.”
Curtin is easily one of the most underrated American coaches at the moment. His body of work looks better and better and he’s obviously very cerebral in his approaches. Always enjoyed watching the big awkward guy play for the Fire. He’s at the peak of his career right now though as player and coach, well done to him