MLS Soccer is back!
Although this game may not have been the most exciting game you'll find, it was still nice to finally see our guys back on the field again. Many players started out slow, feeling out the game, which ended up being one of the biggest reasons that the Union came away with a 1-1 draw instead of a win. It's super early, so any takeaways that I have from this game have to be taken with a grain of salt because things can change so much over the season.
However, a common theme from last season continued today, which was the Union struggling to score goals to compliment their top tier defense. Again, I'm going to try to not base this off the first game but I'm just worried things won't change until Mikael Uhre gains chemistry with the current roster. Guys like Jose Martinez and Alejandro Bedoya gave it their all like usual, but eventually it wasn't enough to get more than a point at home.
Like I said, this game started how you would expect for the first 15 minutes of the season. Both teams playing relatively slow, missing easy passes and passively building up attacks. However, if you are going to play this way, it can't last as long as it did for the Union without it backfiring. Reason being that once Minnesota saw the slow pace that the Union were playing with, all it took was a quick flip in pace for the Union to be completely taken off guard and suddenly being bombarded with chances. The goal came in the 23rd minute, but Minnesota had many chances before then and it could've come earlier.
This was one in the list of many mistakes made by Olivier Mbaizo today, who just has to be better. That's a clear misplay from Mbaizo on a ball that any defender has to make, which just seems to be a common thing for him recently. I hate to bring it up but Mbaizo was arguably at fault for each of the goals in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, but I was willing to give him a chance since he had a good season overall. But in the first half today, Mbaizo made many mistakes exactly like this one that didn't end up resulting in goals but could've been catastrophic. Again, first game of the season. Not going to say bench Mbaizo after one game, but it just wasnt good to see him repeat some of the same mistakes over and over again while being pressured by the Minnesota attack.
However, that goal ignited the fire that the Union needed to finally start getting into this game. They went on the offensive, and were eventually rewarded with a goal from Cory Burke off a beautiful cross from Jakob Glesnes in the 35th minute. One thing I think is so key when Burke is in the lineup is his ability to score off set pieces and corners, which is something you never really got with some of the other strikers the Union had last season.
Overall, this was a good first half from the Union, who were honestly relatively lucky to not give up more goals in the first 25 minutes of the game.
This half really made me feel Union soccer was back. Why? We had more of the same Union goal scoring frustration that we usually do. The defense was completely shutdown for 90% of the half, but even after all the chances the Union had they failed to score. There might not be any pinpoint chances that stick out, but it just felt like to me that the Union did not have a clinical finisher on the field today. Burke is really good off set pieces but lacks that true shot when he finds himself free towards goal, Carranza is still finding his way in the squad and couldn't really separate from the defense all game and you just never know what you are going to get with Santos. Daniel Gazdag is usually solid but was really a non-factor in today's game. Honestly, it puts a lot of pressure on Mikael Uhre whenever he joins the starting 11. I've seen a lot of people blaming the refs for the end result of this game, and although I'd agree that today was a classic example of the PRO referees having no control over the game, you can't blame officiating for the Union not being able to score once off all the chances they had this half. Guys like Jose Martinez, Alejandro Bedoya and Leon Flach played their hearts out to get the ball into the attack portion of the field just for the offense to do absolutely nothing with it. There ended up being a whopping 7 minutes of stoppage time for the Union to try to grab a winner, but for some reason Philadelphia decided to just slump back and boot balls up the field like they were down 2-0 in the MLS Cup final. I'll never understand why teams have so much urgency when they are looking for a score at the end of a game. When you have 7-10 minutes to get that goal, don't you think it's more valuable to build up 2-3 really good attacks instead of 10-12 prayers? This kick and run style of play not only prevented them from scoring, but it forced Andre Blake to make two key saves late because they got caught on the counter attack. Sure, you'll take the point at the end of the day, but that doesn't excuse the lack of effort given from the 11 guys on the field late in this game. Jack McGlynn and Paxten Aaronson also came into this game midway through the half but really didnt do anything notable. McGlynn seemed to get under the skin of some Minnesota players so I guess that's a positive.
I'm going to say it again, last time I promise. It's the first game of the season. The Union are scheduled to play plenty of more games and will improve.
But that doesn't mean we still can't bring up some concerns that came up throughout the entire game. I'm just worried that if it takes Uhre some time to get his shooting boots on with the club, this team may really struggle early in the season to score goals. The centerbacks are always going to be solid, but the wingbacks are still a question mark to me. I already talked about Mbaizo, and I thought Kai Wagner had a very confusing second half. Kai is known so much for the way that he always gets the Union to switch the field, allowing him to get open on the left side to whip a cross into the box. But today, he did that much less often, even if he was open for most of the time. He may not be a midfielder, but him moving up the field with the ball is as key as anything for this team.
However after saying all that, the Union still got a point and I believe that Jim Curtin will be able to make everything work out in the end. The Union will have a week to prepare and then they are back at it next Saturday at 4 PM against Montreal.