The Philadelphia Union extended its unbeaten streak to 5 games, winning 3 in a row, and notching 4 consecutive shutouts. With a 2-0 win over Western Conference leaders Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night, the Union continued its turn-around, after a less-than-stellar opening 8 games. Blake recorded his 5 shutout of the season, and now holds the 2017 record for longest shutout streak. Meanwhile the back 4 for the Union has settled, with Fabinho and Ray Gaddis looking strong at wing-back, and Oguchi Onyewu and Jack Elliott creating a strong bond in the back. These 4 were constants throughout the Union’s shutout streak, ousting former starters such as Keegan Rosenberry and Richie Marquez.
Both goals were assisted by Chris Pontius Wednesday night. Ever since his switch from left to right wing the attacker has looked rejuvinated, turning from finisher to provider. The finishing duties have been lifted from C.J Sapong’s shoulders for the time being, with Ilsinho notching his first goal of 2017, and little Fafa Picault, rising above to head home his second goal.
Sticking to his guns, Coach Jim Curtin has shown that the beginning of the season was a fluke for the Union. He said time and again that his team was better than the 0-4-4 start it had, and that it was only a matter of time before things turned around. Indeed, it has. The Union are outscoring opponents 12-3 in the recent stretch, conceding those 3 to Montreal infamously after starting 3-0. While Curtin claimed the team just needed a bit of luck earlier on, it seems that it is more than luck that is rejuvenating the squad. The midfield is composed, the defense rock-solid, and the attack able to strike from all parts of the pitch. Surly the introduction of Fafa Picault has been instrumental, or Alejandro Bedoya dropping into a deeper role, or even the emergence of rookie Jack Elliott. Ilsinho looks deadly as a #10, and Pontius much more active now in a supplementary role. Curtin should take some credit for how the team is now playing, though he never will. Now it is just a matter of continuing current form, and climbing the table.
The first save of the game went to star Union keeper Andre Blake. It was an easy one in truth for him, as he read Erick Torres’s shot from the edge of the box well, and had just the job of holding on.
Fafa Picault continued his superb form with a headed goal in the 17th minute. Chris Pontius put a juicy cross in the mixer from a wide area, and Picault surprised everyone, as the smallest man on the pitch, to leap above Adolfo Machado and Leonardo to head home from 6 yards out.
The Union almost struck again off of a quick counter in the 26th minute. Ilsinho began and almost ended the play with a long slaloming run from just outside his own 18. His swerving effort from 25 yards out rattled the woodwork and came right back into play. Picault was the first to jump onto the loose ball but his shot was deflected just wide from 16 yards out.
After a few minutes of possession the Union came close from the head of Cj Sapong, but his shot fell to the grateful arms of Joe Willis. A near post cross from Medunjanin dropped perfectly for Sapong, but he had the tough effort to skim his header enough to redirect it without taking it off target. He got the slightest of touches, but Willis read the play well and made an easy save.
The Union continued to test Willis in net, giving him a difficult time early in the first half. This time Bedoya hit a dipping shot from 27 yards out. Running at an angle away from goal it had to be perfect to beat the keeper, but Bedoya didn’t make it easy for Willis, bouncing his shot right before the keeper. Willis was forced to dive to his right to palm the ball wide for a corner.
The Union doubled its lead in the 39th minute. Houston will feel hard-done by the play, as there was potentially a foul in the build-up. C.J. Sapong bundled over DaMarcus Beasley to win the ball back, and proceeded to slip Chris Pontius behind the defense. Pontius then picked out his pass and found Ilsinho on a cut-back. Ilsinho put his boot through it and hammered it home from 12 yards out.
Houston almost pegged the Union back just seconds later if not for a tremendous save from Andre Blake. The Jamaican keeper went down quickly to his right to parry away a shot that looked goal-bound off the foot of Mauro Manolas. It was just one of many great saves Blake has made in the past few weeks that have helped keep games scoreless.
Going into the half the Union led 2-0 off of two goals within 12 yards off of Pontius crosses. For the Union it was a terrific half, doing exactly what the team has needed earlier in the season, getting first half goals while it has momentum. While the second potentially should have not counted, it is still indicative of the dominating first 45 that the Union has produced, and the team could have 3 or 4 at this point given the swagger the Union has, and the lackluster Houston team, which is 0-0-3 on the road prior to this match, failing to notch a single point.
The Union broke on the counter through Ilsinho again in the 54th minute, but Picault failed to convert a 1v1 with keeper Willis. Ilsinho intercepted a long ball from Houston, and broke away, with a 2v2 with the Houston central defenders. Picault used his speed to run behind the defense, and with a perfectly weighted, and timed, through-ball, Ilsinho sent Picault in on goal. At top speed it was difficult for the winger to control the ball and his shot, and he took it slightly wide of goal, and his shot followed suit, going wide of the Dynamo net.
Gaddis got away with a second booking in the 59th minute which would have spelled trouble for the Union. Already on a yellow he broke up a Houston counter attack with no intent to play the ball, taking out Vincente Sanchez. Talen Energy Stadium held its collective breath as the ref decided to not award a booking on the play.
Blake came up with another brilliant 1v1 save in the 77th minute. A Dynamo long ball from the back bypassed the entire field and found the danger-man, Erick Torres right in front of Blake. The keeper was quick to close down his first touch and gave Torres no space, blocking the attempt. Blake got whacked in the process and came away with a knock for his heroics.
Houston could have pegged one back through leading goal-scorer Erick Torres in stoppage time, but the forward tried to do too much, and sent his shot high from 18 yards. It started with a missed clearance from Jack Elliott as the ball then fell to Torres just outside the box. The forward took a touch and blasted the ball well off target in a 1v1 situation with Oguchi Onyewu.
The Dynamo thought it had a consolation in the waning seconds, off a cut-back from winger Andrew Wenger. He put it in the danger area and Sanchez pounced to smash it home. Unfortunately for Houston the ball was ruled over the end-line before the cross and thus the goal wasn’t counted.
At the final whistle the Union came away with a relatively comfortable 3 points in a 2-0 win. Certainly possession and shots will say that Houston looked the stronger team, and while Blake made a few crucial saves and claimed some important crosses, it was the Union who put away 2 close-range shots in the first half and cruised until the final whistle.
Although in the line-ups Houston listed a 4-3-3, they lined up in a standard 4-2-3-1 instead with Torres spear heading the attack. Captain Ricardo Clark has been given the job of containing Medunjaninin the deep midfeield role. Houston seems aware of the presence he holds in the middle of the park.
Houston defense started a bit nervy, missing some crucial interceptions and clearances allowing the Union space on the counter.
Medunjanin has been in top form in this match. Every attack goes through the Bosnian, and he has been close to perfecting the killer final pass on several occasions.
Pontius on the right side has wrong-sided Beasley for both goals, getting behind the veteran defender and putting himself in positions to put in uncontested crosses.
Clark has lost his mark, Medunjanin, giving the midfielder too much space to operate in the middle-third. This has led to a few situations where Medunjanin has had the time to pick out some important passes.
Medunjanin must be a great soccer-tennis partner. His first-touch passes out of the air have been incredible all game. It’s impressive how he maintains possession so easily on balls in mid air, and finds the feet of his teammates under pressure.
The Union should be playing with 10 men as of the 60th minute, but Gaddis got off easy, and was shortly replaced by Rosenberry, keeping the game 11v11 for now.
Houston looks much stronger in the second half. The midfield has inverted and Juan Calbezas is playing the defensive-midfield position alone. With Clark now assisted by Vincente Sanchez, the Dynamo attack is much more fluid. Unfortunately is was too late for Houston, who maybe needed the change earlier.
With the Creavalle coming on for Ilsinho, I would have liked to see 3 true central midfielders, but instead Bedoya has pushed into the #10 role, one he claims he isn’t completely comfortable in. Despite this fact, he is a consummate professional, and worked his tail off to defend and attack from a more forward position.
Houston has had terrible delivery on free-kicks today. Most have either hit the wall, or were cleared by the first man. With the amount of set pieces tonight they should have had more dangerous deliveries.
The Dynamo controlled much of the possession (59%), but in defensive areas. Leonardo, Adolfo Machado, DaMarcus Beasley, and A.J. DeLaGarza completed a total 205 of the teams passes out of 475 (43%). The Union’s defense completed 91 passes out of a total 341 (26%). The Dynamo completed 270 passes then to the Union’s 250. This shows that the Union were much more positive with its passing, looking for openings, while the Dynamo were content with many side-ways passes.
Andre Blake (18)
Raymond Gaddis (28), Jack Elliott (3), Oguchi Onyewu (5), Fabinho (33)
Haris Medunjanin (6), Alejandro Bedoya (11)
Fafa Picault (22), Ilsinho (25), Chris Pontius (13)
C.J. Sapong (17)
Romell Quioto (12), Erick Torres (9), Mauro Manolas (19)
Alex (14), Juan Cabezas (5), Ricardo Clark (13)
DaMarcus Beasley (7), Leonardo (22), Adolfo Machado (3), A.J. DeLaGarza (20)
Joe Willis (31)
Goal PHL: Fafa Picault 16’ (Assist Chris Pontius)
Goal PHL: Ilsinho 38’ (Assist Chris Pontius)
Yellow HOU: Leonardo 39’
Yellow HOU: Romell Quioto 39’
Yellow PHL: Ray Gaddis 47’
Yellow HOU: Juan Cabezas 49’
Sub HOU: Vincente Sanchez for Alex 56’
Sub PHL: Keegan Rosenberry for Ray Gaddis 61’
Sub HOU: Andrew Wenger for Mauro Manocas 65’
Sub PHL: Warren Creavalle for Ilsinho 67’
Sub PHl: Fabian Herbers for Fafa Picault 76’
Sub HOU: Joseph Holland for Romell Quioto 78’
Yellow PHL: Keegan Rosenberry 83’