CHESTER, Pa. — The Philadelphia Union extended their lead atop the Eastern Conference to five points on Sunday afternoon, but their 2-2 draw with Orlando City was frankly a disappointing result.
Jim Curtin’s side ran into similar issues against the Lions that they did during its May home stand against a trio of Western Conference teams.
“It starts with me and it starts with the rest of the group,” Curtin said. “We’re not happy about it. It wasn’t a sign of a first-place team and this league has a way of humbling you when you get a little too high.”
Orlando put almost its whole lineup behind the ball when the Union had possession and the home side failed to break down James O’Connor’s team over 90 minutes.
While the primary emotion after Sunday’s game was frustration, there were some positive takeaways from the draw that the Union can use moving forward.
Union Fail to Break Down Bunkered Defense Again
Sunday’s lackluster performance replicated the three showings at the end of May against Seattle, Portland and Colorado.
The difference between Sunday’s draw and the two draws and loss from May is the Union got out on the front foot early through Marco Fabian’s fourth-minute goal.
Fabian made a nice run into the box and got his head on Fafa Picault’s cross from the right wing, and it seemed like the Union would follow the same blueprint to put away the Lions.
But the first-place side in the Eastern Conference could not reach the next level of attacking play and it lacked the offensive capabilities required to win the game.
“I think games like today are difficult because they played good defensively,” Fabian said. “It’s difficult because they have 10 players behind the ball so we tried to shoot, cross and we had a lot of chances but we needed to score more.”
Part of that had to do with the absence of Jamiro Monteiro, who suffered an ankle sprain on Wednesday, but the Union added the technical ability of Fabian to the lineup.
“It’s clear we miss Jamiro, no question about it, we absolutely miss him a ton,” Curtin said. “You see it’s more difficult for us to have that ability to break teams down.”
The runs into the box by Kacper Przybylko and Picault were not good enough, and the Union did not respond until their backs were pushed up against the wall in the final 10 minutes.
After the May results, the Union were challenged to find a fix and they still have not found it, which is concerning as every point matters more at this point of the season.
Matt Real Steps Up In Big Spot
With Monteiro and Ilsinho out due to injuries, the Union did not have a third attacking substitute to call on at the end of the game, so the coaching staff turned to left back Matt Real and he delivered.
The Homegrown left back, who started his brief appearance as a left winger, provided the assist on Przybylko’s equalizer and lofted a cross into the box for Jack Elliott, who had the potential game-winning goal turned away by Brian Rowe.
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) July 7, 2019
“Jim told me to go in and make an impact,” Real said. “So my focus was go in there, kind of do what I did; drive the ball into the box.”
In the buildup to the equalizer, Real combined with Anthony Fontana, who has been in a similar situation fighting for first-team minutes while playing for USL Championship affiliate Bethlehem Steel.
“We’re both kind of in similar circumstances,” Real said. “We need to prove ourselves more at this level so I think we both entered the game with fire. We’re just kind of eager to show no matter how much time we get that we can make a difference.”
With Monteiro likely out for a few weeks to rehab his ankle sprain and Ilsinho working his way back to 100 percent fitness, the Union may have to call on Real and Fontana off the bench on Saturday against Real Salt Lake.
Regardless of what occurs on Saturday and beyond, the Union learned they can rely on their depth to change a match if need be.
3. Santos Continues to Struggle
Sunday marked the final chance for Sergio Santos to impress the coaching staff before Andrew Wooten becomes eligible for selection on July 9.
Santos, who has one shot on goal in his last nine appearances, struggled once again to make his presence known when the Union were searching for a second goal during stretches of the second half.
“He has to work to get into the starting lineup,” Curtin said. “That’s obviously the goal of any striker. When we put him on the field you have to take the most of your chances.”
“Overall, he’s working to get back into the swing of things and there is high competition right now.”
Since Przybylko just scored his fifth goal in four games and Fafa Picault played a role in a goal for a third straight game, you have to assume they are in the top three forwards on the depth chart alongside Wooten.
With Wooten combining with either Picault or Przybylko starting on Saturday at Real Salt Lake, Santos’ playing time is going to dry up and he has to find a way to deal with it mentally and physically so he can prove his worth when he does receive opportunities in the future.