With the MLS season winding to an end, the push for the playoffs has become the primary focus of every club in the tightly bound eastern conference. The Philadelphia Union found themselves in prime position to strengthen their claim to a spot in the postseason but fell just short against the attacking prowess of the Montreal Impact.
Philadelphia’s offensive has been a revelation this season. As one of the highest scoring teams in the league, there’s been no shortage of opportunities for the boys in blue to secure a spot in the MLS playoffs for the first time since 2011. Yet watching the Philadelphia Union face off against Montreal in last night’s game, there seemed to be something missing in their run of play.
Quite simply, the lack of killer instinct from the attacking core of Philadelphia would be their disappointing downfall in the end.
In a game that never truly opened up for either side, both teams found little success working fluidly through the midfield as frequent turnovers and misguided passes left the Union and Impact frustrated and desperate to make a breakthrough. Montreal held the majority of possession yet failed to really produce any chances due to the effort of the young Philadelphia Union defense.
It wasn’t until the 45th minute of play that Tranquillo Barnetta utilized his skill set to make a run to the edge of the box and fire a low dipping shot into the bottom corner of the Montreal net. A chance that truly came out of nowhere on the brink of halftime, the Union faithful had reason to be very optimistic going forward knowing that the Impact would be forced to come at them with numbers which would open counter attacking chances for Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, that never came to be for the Philadelphia Union as C.J. Sapong and the boys up top failed to produce any viable scoring opportunities while being denied a couple penalty decisions that could’ve easily been given to Philadelphia. Montreal utilized their star power, bringing on Dominic Oduro and Didier Drogba late into the game and causing trouble for the Union defense. They stretched the field, remained patient and eventually found the back of the net in the 88th minute off a corner kick that found the head of Matteo Mancosu lurking at the far post behind Warren Creavalle.
The ghost of Philadelphia Union past was evident on the faces of the fans leaving Talen Energy Stadium last night. Giving up leads late in the game has plagued the franchise over the years and while this 2016 campaign has had a much different tone due to the surging success of this squad, the disappointment was truly evident throughout the locker room. The draw does put Philly seven points above the red line but the road does not get any easier for Jim Curtin’s squad going into the final stretch of the season.
“We have to take the positives from it but obviously disappointed to drop points late” Curtin mentioned in his post game conference. “It’s not problems in the run of play, it’s restarts. In the few games we’ve dropped points from being ahead… this is the third one, they’re from corner kicks which is difficult… We’ll learn from it, we’ll watch the tape, but difficult way to end it”.
The defensive effort in the match was commendable from Philadelphia despite the dropped points at home. Joshua Yaro did well to clean up in the back and regain position from pressing high up the field with Keegan Rosenberry and Fabinho. Warren Creavalle was stellar in the holding midfield position next to Alejandro Bedoya and was crucial in limiting the number of chances Montreal were able to create. Yet the lack of urgency and rhythm in the attacking third was ultimately the reason the Philadelphia Union were unable to earn three points from a Montreal side coming off a short week and without their starting goalkeeper in net.
The goal-scorer Barnetta was reluctant to point this out following the tough draw. “We started better the second half and had a couple opportunities… we have to have this killer instinct to just finish a game like this.” While the disappointment was evident among the players, there was no indication from any of players that this would break their stride moving forward. With a tough three game road trip ahead, the resilient Philadelphia Union see this result as a crucial point against a conference opponent and have little fear or doubt going into the final stretch of games.
“I’m not scared about the road trip” Barnetta stated along with others in the Union locker room. The expectations and philosophy set by this organization provides no time or place to be afraid of any opponent in Major League Soccer. The Philadelphia Union has shown they can compete with the best and while the product may not be perfect, it’s exponentially better in terms of talent and chemistry than past Union teams.
Now with the playoffs on the horizon, Jim Curtin’s squad cannot afford to falter any further from their goal to make a deep run into the postseason. Philadelphia fans should take this result as bitterly positive knowing that once these little kinks can be worked out among the training staff and players, the Union have what it takes to be a viable contender going down the line.
“We know every point matters, everybody’s going to pick and take points from each other down the stretch” Curtin mentioned when asked what he needs to see from his team going into this difficult road trip. “Even a point tonight while disappointing is still a big point. Three games on the road is tough but we can win on the road… We’re in a good spot right now, we’re not chasing it, we have to win a few more games and we’ll be in a good spot to make a run for the playoffs.”