One point. One point. One point. One point. Every single week, just about, it’s the same for the Philadelphia Union.
And man, they could use an Ilsinho. The front office has been both inventive and aggressive over the past few transfer windows, which includes bringing in a trio of attacking DPs since last summer. But even with that shopping spree Philly don’t have the kind of magic that can turn a defense inside out and turn a one-goal lead into a two-goal win.
It shows up in the numbers. As per TruMedia via StatsPerform, Philly’s the narrowest team in the league, and the most direct, and have the lowest possession and fewest passes per sequence, as well as the fewest dribbles per game. They are, in other words, fairly one-note: They will play up the gut as quickly as possible and completely sell out to win 50/50s. If they win those, they’ll immediately play right up the gut again. Rinse repeat, rinse repeat.
This approach is married to both the personnel (the Union front office has furnished Curtin with a bunch of grinders) and the formation (the 4-4-2 diamond is narrow and sort of naturally positions the shuttlers to cut service out of the half- spaces, which leads to turnovers, which leads to… vertical play up the gut). And then on top of that, the whole point of having two true forwards out there in the modern game is so that when you win the ball, you always have two vertical options. The Union, this season, have taken that to its logical extent by playing a league-high 44.2% of their passes forward.
Last year that number was 37.8%. In 2020, when they won the Supporters’ Shield, it was 35.8%.
Philly aren’t that team anymore, though – they’re more like the Chester branch of the Red Bulls. They’ll relentlessly batter you and force you to match both their style and their energy, and that’s good, but if they’re not able to walk the ball into the net via the chances they create from their smash-bang approach… well, one point is better than none. But it feels like this team could turn one point into three more often than not if they had a playmaker (winger, second forward, No. 10, whatever) capable of a little bit of magic.
Cincy usually have that guy in Lucho Acosta, though he was limited to just a late cameo in this one after coming out of health & safety protocols. Still, they were able to consistently get into the third attacking in good order by just playing direct to Brandon Vazquez, whose Brian McBride-esque hold-up play mirrored his Brian McBride-esque willingness to sacrifice his face to score a goal. This comp is just from the first half!