Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Philadelphia, and Taking One’s Chances in the Shooting Gallery

Opposition defenses feel this, with even less comfort.
In my last "todo MLS" post, I clocked the warning signs that the long season and a little special attention might be catching up with the Philadelphia Union's stout-of-heart, green-in-age defensive outfit. Exhibit A in this argument came with the blind-side losses to the Vancouver Whitecaps in Philly and to New York City FC in New York, to games where the Union scored two goals and coughed up three. It looked like a pattern: after all, even Andre Blake, the man most likely to in conversations involving, say, Nick Rimando or Bill Hamid, slipped up a couple times.

That same game contained the seed of the flipside argument for how Philly survives into the playoffs (and maybe even goes deep): they score more than they give up – something they did against the Chicago Fire just a few weeks before. Yeah, yeah, that failed against the 'Caps; I have seen the Union's attack when it's firing and it's a lethal, glorious thing.

Philly fully embraced a "shooting gallery" approach to their games in June. They went 2-2-0 over the month, scoring goals, coughing 'em up, with eleven falling on either side of the ledger. No doubt, it took some quantity of cigarettes and booze to steady their nerves, but, when they considered those games, I like to believe that every man on the Union's roster knew he had lived that month, and well.

It's possible, though, that the chaos spooked Jim Curtin and company, and maybe that accounts for the tighter results that followed. That would be a shame in a way because, when that attack really gets rolling, it positively swarms. I don't think enough has been said (or it's possible; I don't read a ton) about the multiplicity of approaches and angles that Philly take on its way to the goal. They've got a great hold-up player/aerial threat/combo player in C. J. Sapong; Tranquillo Barnetta provides reliable and varied service from outside and within the attacking third; Ilsinho dribbles in from one side like a change-up pitch, while Chris Pontius roams on the other and centrally and seems blessed with an ability to score using every body part that he can under the rules of the game. Backing all that up? Mister Reliable, Sebastian Le Toux, a long-time fan favorite for at least two MLS teams. Those are options, people...

...oh, and then Roland Alberg found his feet, too (see the Chicago one, plus one more goal after, I think). More attack, more angles.

It's possible, maybe even probable, that the Union's attacking potency came by way of unbalancing their team in a way that lead to them coughing up goals. Then again, maybe Week 18's win over DC means they're finally recalibrated the scales after Vincent Nogueira's departure. All the same, knowing that they can upset that balance, and to good effect (that is, find goals), tells me that Philly has some sense of how to switch it on when needed. That, to me, makes them favorites in the East.

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