The Philadelphia Union already booked its place in the Round of 16 of the MLS is Back Tournament, but wanted to remain unbeaten in Orlando on Monday night. Jim Curtin’s side did that with a 1-1 draw against group winners Orlando City, thanks to a number of strong individual performances.
Brenden Aaronson wasn’t on the scoresheet, but remained a key piece of the Union’s midfield. Aaronson won the most duels in the match (8), most fouls (3), and successfully completed the most dribbles (3), all even after taking a hard knock in the first-half.
The 20-year-old playmaker has started all three group stage matches for the Union, continuing what he started in the 2019 season. Aaronson should be good to go for the Round of 16 tie on Saturday night and earned praise from Curtin for sticking it out against Orlando City.
“He got the old hard knee to the back,” Curtin said. “It has been done for many years by several defensive midfielders so it is part of the game, it happens. Is it a yellow card, probably, but he was clever to get away with it.
“I was happy for him for gutting it out. He still created a lot of chances for us. I thought he was very dangerous and dynamic with the ball. The final ball was off a little bit even in the first half. We could have slipped a couple of through balls when we tried to chip them and we tried to play balls in the air when they could’ve been passed on the ground. We were a little bit off with the final pass but you have to give credit to Orlando because they played a very good game.”
Aaronson has not only helped the Union with his playmaking ability, but also by sticking his body out for the team. The second-year player has looked like a proven veteran at times and will have to be impactful if the Union wants to keep rolling in the tournament.
Blake with another gem
Andre Blake is one of the top goalkeepers in MLS and the Jamaican continued that trend with his latest impressive outing on Monday.
Blake registered seven saves against the Lions, denying the in-form attack on several occasions. The 29-year-old has stopped 18 shots in three group stage matches, with wins coming against NYCFC and Inter Miami.
The May Pen native’s talent isn’t new to any player or coach in the organization, but his latest performance was another example of his ability to lead his team to positive results.
“(Blake) has been excellent,” Curtin said. “He has been our sharpest player from the start of the competition. You need that in knockout type games. You need your goalkeeper to be going and hot. He is playing at a really high level right now. The distance on his kicks is really good. A lot of things are going the right way for Andre right now. It helps out defense and the way we want to pressure it helps to have a good goalkeeper behind us because we do take some risks.”
“He did a great job tonight coming off his line and making big saves. The front three of Orlando right now are as confident as anybody. So he did a good job against a tough team.”
Blake was beaten by Mauricio Pereira’s effort in the 70th minute, but overall kept his side from avoiding a first defeat in Orlando. The two-time MLS All-Star has made 27 saves in total this season while posting his only shutout against rivals NYCFC. He admitted Monday’s performance was just another opportunity to help out his teammates.
“It has definitely been good,” Blake said. “Every time I am able to go out on the pitch and make saves, make plays to keep my team in the game, it is always important for me because if we do not get scored on we are going to win or tie the game. So every time I am able to go out there and do my job, which is about team work I am always happy about that.”
Union look to be sharper in KO rounds
The Union may have advanced to the knockout stage, but knows improvement is needed to lift a first trophy in club history.
At times on Monday, the Eastern Conference side was pushed by Orlando City on the defensive end of the field while offensively they lacked the final touch in front of goal, outside of Ilsinho’s second-half strike.
It’s a major positive for the club to advance into the next round, but ultimately improvement is needed to make a deeper run.
“I think you have seen a team that has setup up tactically well in our diamond, defended well together and have got things going forward pretty well,” Union captain Alejandro Bedoya said. “We are just lacking that final product, the final pass, better movement, but that comes with time. It has only been three games in this tournament. All things considered I am pretty satisfied with how the group is coming along and how together and united we are and the effort that is there.”
The Union have showed good signs with players like Bedoya, Aaronson, and Blake leading the way, but will need others to step up. Kacper Przybylko has one goal from three matches while Sergio Santos left Monday’s match with an injury, leaving the attacking corps thin going forward.
It is undetermined how the Union will set up in Saturday’s Round of 16 clash against the Group C runner-up, but Bedoya knows the offense has to be better to advance
“It is a thing we have to continue to work on,” Bedoya said. “In all of these games I think we have lacked that final pass., final product. Tonight was no different. In the first half we had good chances to break them off and on some of the crosses our runs have to be better, more decisive, in the box and sharper passing in the final third. Those are things we are going to work on.”