CHESTER, Pa. — The Philadelphia Union continued to find success in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday, as they advanced to their third semifinal in five years by way of a 1-0 win over Orlando City.
Here’s a look at the three top takeaways from the contest at Talen Energy Stadium.
1. McKenzie’s best game of season
Centerbacks Mark McKenzie and Auston Trusty both deserve credit for silencing Orlando City forward Dom Dwyer, but it was McKenzie who kept the United States men’s national team forward in his back pocket for most of the 90 minutes.
McKenzie won almost every physical battle with Dwyer and held the powerful striker without a single shot.
“(Mark) was a beast,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “His ability to not just dominate physically in the air, in duels, one-on-ones, but also what gets Earnie (Stewart) and me excited is how good he was on the ball. He plays through the lines, plays passes that eliminates five and six defenders at a time. I think he had one mistake with the ball, so we’ll still pick on him and be hard on him because we want him to get better, but we’re really happy with his growth.”
What was most impressive in the eyes of Curtin was McKenzie’s ability to recover from a rough patch of performances.
“He had a tough game or two as any young centerback will have when you run into a Giovinco of Josef Martinez week after week. There will be a tough moment for you,” Curtin said. “He’s responded very well and that’s the sign of a good defender. You have to have short-term memory in this league as a defender because the attackers are so talented that you will eventually get beat. I think he’s had a great response and has played really well in these recent games now. He’s a big reason we got a shutout tonight.”
McKenzie’s goal in the match was to shut down any inch of space in front of Dwyer, especially in the penalty area.
“You just keep (Dwyer) in front of you, keep his back to goal,” McKenzie said. “Try to eliminate his space, especially in the box. That’s where he’s real clinical. Just limit his chances in front of goal and keep him going backwards.”
The life of the centerback doesn’t get easier Saturday, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy come to town for a league contest.
Despite the presence of Ibrahimovic, McKenzie will implement similar philosophies.
“Zlatan is world class,” McKenzie said. “You watch film on him, but you’re not sure what to expect in a game. He could come out and do something completely different. It’s just a matter of keeping composed and understanding what the game needs and try to eliminate his chances every time he gets on the ball.”
2. Bedoya rewarded
Alejandro Bedoya doesn’t get the appreciation he deserves for all of the work he does in midfield, as he links the defense with the forward line and directs traffic in the middle of the field.
Bedoya, who is unfairly judged on his goals and assists output, scored the lone goal of the contest in the fifth minute, as he knocked in a rebound from close range.
After the match, Curtin heaped praise on the 31-year-old American central midfielder for his work, which the manager feels is overlooked.
“He’s been playing at his highest level.” Curtin said of Bedoya. “He plays both sides of the ball, and for him to get a goal tonight is obviously special,” Curtin said. “But at the same time, we’re most happy to see Ale Bedoya playing at his maximum right now, and I think he’s playing as good as he has in his career. He should’ve been recognized for things like the All-Star Game. I continue to preach to my guys if we have success as a group, the individual accolades will come and by the end of the year people will see that Ale is a best XI player.”
Bedoya followed that sentiment by mentioning he’s been in solid form for quite some time and feels like one of the top players in the league.
“I feel like I’ve been on a run where I’ve probably been one of the most consistent guys in the league,” Bedoya said. “I think my play speaks for itself. I’ve been doing all the little things. If you watch me on the field, I think my pasing has been great and I’m the guy that pretty much starts a lot of our attacks and is also able to intercept balls, get our defense going and counter-press and win balls back for our team. I’m just doing what I came here to do, be that No. 8, be that solid player in the midfield, can help the team out, get results.”
3. Union ratchet up Pressure in final minutes
The Union displayed a heightened sense of awareness in the final 10 minutes to finish off Orlando City.
In previous years, the Union would be forced to stave off a deluge of pressure to finish off a contest, but they did the opposite on Wednesday night .
“It’s the last 10 minutes and you’re trying to advance to the next round,” McKenzie said. “Of course, tensions pick up a little bit, but at the same time, you have to pick up your head and understand there’s a game on the line and one goal could be the difference between us going through or not going through.”
Ideally, the Union would’ve killed the game off with a second goal, but thanks to the pressure they created in the final third, they didn’t face too much of a threat from the visitors in the closing stages.
“You always get the last 10, you get a little nerves, you sit back a little bit,” Bedoya said. “But I was trying to get the team to not sit back, to keep pressuring them and forcing long balls. We have to be able to kill games off earlier so we don’t get ourselves in this situation.”