May 19, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union midfielder Borek Dockal (10) celebrates his goal with midfielder Haris Medunjanin (6) during the first half against Real Salt Lake at Talen Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Here are three things we learned from the Philadelphia Union’s 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
1. Union must kill off games sooner
While there were plenty of smiling faces in the locker room after Saturday’s triumph, the Union players were critical of how long it took them to finish off the game.
Instead of capitalizing on their offensive pressure by scoring a third or fourth goal in the first half, the Union let RSL back into the contest by way of a 65th-minute strike by Damir Kreilach.
“Obviously, it’s always better to take the lead, which was actually difficult for us in the first few games,” midfielder Borek Dockal said. “I felt like many of the games, we actually started well. We created chances, but we didn’t score and we conceded. It’s always more difficult if you have to come back after you’re losing.
“We were the better team and we were 2-0 up. We should have killed the game and got the third goal and [not] let them come close, because you never know what’s going to happen. You still feel confident you’re going to win the game, but you never know.”
Luckily for the Union, they responded well to the RSL goal and found the back of the net on two occasions in the final 16 minutes by way of Ilsinho and Rosenberry.
“We deserved it, and we probably could’ve had four in the first half,'” Union right back Keegan Rosenberry said. “These are golden chances we don’t get too often, so that’s disappointing. … The longer you let them hang around, they get one and they think they’re in the game, and you’re scrambling, and it turns into a completely different match.”
With a stretch of games against the top teams in the Eastern Conference coming up, starting with Saturday’s trip to Red Bull Arena, the Union need to be more clinical when they leap out on the front foot in games.
If they are able to consistently produce goals off their initial 15-20 minutes of pressure, the Union could turn themselves into one of the most dangerous pressing teams in the league.
2. Epps makes most of starting opportunity
Midfielder Marcus Epps produced his best game as a professional with one goal and two assists against Real Salt Lake.
The South Florida product started on the right wing in place of David Accam and made the most of his opportunity by wreaking havoc with his speed and finding the right pockets of space to run into.
“It was great, something you train for. You work hard every day for moments like that,” Epps said. “It was good to share it with the guys, with the fans at home. It just felt rewarding.”
Epps’ performance stood out in the eyes of a few veterans, including Fafa Picault, who torched Adam Henley on the opposite wing in the first half.
“Another player with speed. He likes to get sticky, too, with the ball. I think we complement each other,” Picault said of Epps. “I know when I’m breaking, he’s also gonna break. Some of the time, I didn’t want to just sprint off. I played him over the top or horizontally so he can get the ball as well.”
Although Epps shined over 79 minutes, there are a few things for the Mississippi native to work on moving forward, as captain Alejandro Bedoya pointed out.
“I loved what I saw from (Epps) today,” Bedoya said. “We talked all year about how we need to push everyone. No one is guaranteed a spot on this team, whether it’s me as a captain, or a DP, or a young guy — everyone has to fight for a position. To see him now, he’s been knocking on the door all season. It pays dividends to work hard in training, and today he showed what he’s capable of.
“He’s a talented boy, so hopefully he keeps progressing. I got a little mad at him in the first half because I think he could have scored two balls. It’s the only critical thing I have for the team today. We could have killed the game off in the first half, scored four. We made it hard on ourselves but we saw great stuff from Marcus today.”
3. Trusty/McKenzie centerback pairing thrives
When RSL tried to create chances in and around the box in the second half, the homegrown centerback pairing of Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie was up to the task.
The defenders, who developed chemistry together during their years at the Union academy, put together a second consecutive strong performance.
“We built that camaraderie back when we were 14, 15 years old, so getting back on the same wavelength again,” McKenzie said. “I know he’s strong in the air and has a good left foot. He’s athletic and good on the ball. Each of them play hand-in-hand with each other.
“I have some athleticism as well and we each have different attributes that help each other out, but at the same time cover each other. We’re able to build on that camaraderie from the past.”
Both backs totaled four clearances, while Trusty added two tackles and interceptions and McKenzie added three interceptions.
The last two games were just the start of success for the duo, who are receiving plenty of advice from goalkeeper Andre Blake.
“They’re young centerbacks and they have a lot to learn,” Blake said. “I just try to talk them as much as possible to keep them ready and keep them checking their shoulders. I just try to help them as much as I can, and I’m just happy for them right now. They’re doing good and they have to keep going.”