CHESTER, Pa. — Philadelphia Union forward Andrew Wooten did not score in his first Major League Soccer start, but he still made a significant impact on the 5-1 win Sunday against D.C. United.
Almost immediately, the German-American striker frustrated the D.C. defense with his hold-up play near midfield, and his ability to deal with defenders in one-on-one situations led to Alejandro Bedoya’s third-minute goal. Wooten won an individual battle with Donovan Pines on the left wing, surged into the penalty box and set up Marco Fabian, who then fed Bedoya for the opening tally.
“I love it to be the underdog and fight for balls and just trying to keep it and pass it to the next guy so he can make the play,” Wooten said Friday. “Just trying to impact the game with an assist or a good play. I don’t have to score, but at least get the win and that’s the most important thing for me. If I score and we lose, that’s not the ideal situation. I will fight for the team and eventually my goals will come.”
Before his 69-minute shift Sunday, Wooten played 48 minutes in two substitute appearances. During the weeks of training he’s had with the club, the 29-year-old developed chemistry with Fabian and the rest of the Union attackers.
“He adapted really fast,” Fabian said Friday. “I know already how he plays and the most important thing is we play together. For me, my best job is to understand the strikers and their movement, how they come to the ball and they run in space. Andrew’s a good striker. When he takes the ball, he tries to run loose and he has good movement.”
The five goals netted by Philadelphia against D.C. kept the Union second in the league for goals scored and at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Union have found the back of the net on 46 occasions, bested only by Los Angeles FC’s 61 goals.
Most of Sunday’s scores came through defensive actions, which then led to transition moves that put pressure on D.C.’s back line. Wooten’s hold-up play will continue to make an impact on the squad in that regard.
“I think it’s surprising to all of MLS that we’re the second-highest scoring team in the league,” Union manager Jim Curtin said Friday during his weekly news conference. “But our scoring comes from defending. I think the D.C. game was a perfect example of all of our goals are kind of started by a great defensive play. That’s not just the defenders, it starts with our front line, our strikers being willing to be that first line of pressure, to force teams into traps and pressing cues we have set up for the week and taking away, to the best we can, the other team’s strengths.”
Said Wooten: “Defending from our forwards in midfield is the reason why we score goals. That has to be at 100 percent. If we take our foot off the gas, we’re going one or two at a time instead of all 11 moving together, we get punished. Andrew did an excellent job A. holding the first pass up and B. being disruptive and making a play on the goal and stealing the ball and making a good final pass as well.”
Philadelphia faces a different type of task this Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium versus a Houston Dynamo side that is dangerous on the counter.
One of the Union’s biggest deficiencies in the last two seasons has been dealing with clubs that sit back and counter, including the Dynamo in the 2018 U.S. Open Cup final.
The Union have worked endlessly to make sure they do not drop points at home once again to a side willing to defend at will and then pounce once or twice on the counter, similar to what Seattle, Portland and Colorado did in May.
“A lot of our focus has been, yes, we’re going to have the ball, but we have to be patient,” Curtin said. “We have to find ways to create some overloads. The biggest thing to prevent a counterattack is when we do lose the ball in our attacking third to immediately relentlessly press to win it back and not allow them any long outlets.”
Curtin specifically mentioned Houston’s ability to play forward to Alberth Elis.
“He has the pace you can’t really teach. He can run in behind anybody,” Curtin said of Elis. “We have to do a good job with our rest defending and being in good spots in case the ball does turn over, or even tactically take a foul because one they get out, they’re dangerous. Portland is a similar style as well. That gives us problems, and we have to find more solutions. We’ve worked more on film. We’ve talked a lot about it and gone through a lot of training exercises. The guys were sharp today, but sometimes that doesn’t matter. What does matter is the 90 minutes.”
Curtin has a full squad to choose from for one of the first times this season. Jamiro Monteiro, Sergio Santos, Olivier Mbazio and Matt Freese have all been taken off the injury list.
The only rostered player not available is Cory Burke, who is still in Jamaica dealing with visa issues. A report in Norway stated Valerenga were interested in the Jamaican forward, but sources told Pro Soccer USA that move is off and the Union are exploring different paths in Europe, which is the preferred destination if the Union have to sell Burke in case of the extreme situation that his P1 visa to get back into the United States is not approved.