May 30, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Chicago Fire forward Alan Gordon (21) warms up before action against the Philadelphia Union at Talen Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Here are the three things we learned from the Philadelphia Union’s 3-1 victory over the Chicago Fire.
1. Tactical adjustments pay off
The Union were forced to make adjustments in the final third as the first half progressed due to the tactics employed by the Chicago Fire. Bastian Schweinsteiger essentially played in a sweeper role, with three other players filling out the Fire back line and each one of the three Union central midfielders followed by a man.
The Fire basically dared the Union centerbacks to come forward to join the attack, as the space in the middle of the park from the center circle to the 18-yard box was wide open.
“In the first half, they were man-marking us in the midfield,” Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin said. “I had a man on me, Ale got a man following him and Borek got a man. Some other guys need to step up, like Mark [McKenzie] and [Auston] Trusty. And when they dribbled in, they had a lot of space to create, and it was a tough game because they closed the middle and actually didn’t want to play. They were just defending and hoping they can win a point here.”
Said Trusty: “You’re so surprised there’s so much space, so that’s why you just gotta keep taking it, keep taking it. We adjusted to it and started to read the game and how they’re gonna play us, and that’s kind of how we adjusted to the game.”
After patiently working their way through the Fire’s defensive line, the Union finally found a breakthrough right before halftime by way of Ilsinho’s masterful strike from the right side of the box.
Ilsinho’s third goal of the season opened up the Fire, as they were forced to play a more aggressive style in order to chase a road point.
“It always helps, especially in MLS, it opens the windows in the second half because they needed to change how they played,” Union midfielder Borek Dockal said. “It was difficult for us. We felt like we could do much better definitely. In the second half there was more space to combine the ball. They played something I haven’t seen in the last couple… maybe 10 years. They played man-to-man defensively, the whole first half. It was a surprise.”
The second half was more open than the opening stanza, and it allowed Dockal to pick out Cory Burke in the 51st minute to extend the advantage to two goals.
Chicago clawed back through Alan Gordon’s 56th-minute goal, but Dockal finished off the game from the spot in the 87th minute.
2. Dockal appears to be permanent penalty taker
Under manager Jim Curtin, the Union haven’t had a permanent penalty taker.
Outside of when Sebastien Le Toux was on the field, the Union handed off penalty-taking duties to whoever was either having the best game or in a run of form.
The concerns regarding the penalty taking came about in the 0-0 draw with the New York Red Bulls, when out-of-form forward C.J. Sapong scuffed his penalty wide right.
When Burke earned a spot kick in the 87th minute Wednesday night, Dockal took command of the situation and demanded he shoot from the spot.
The Czech No. 10 calmly stepped up and knocked in the final goal of the contest past Chicago goalkeeper Patrick McLain.
“We missed the penalty in the last game, so afterward we talked about who would take the next one. I was ready,” Dockal said. “I talked to Jim yesterday; he asked me if I was comfortable taking the penalty. I used to take penalties, so I felt comfortable.”
The Union have a wide array of capable set piece and penalty takers, but with Dockal confident in his abilities from the spot and in incredible form at the moment, he should be the man going forward to take penalty kicks.
3. Defense conceding silly goals at home
Although the Union didn’t revert back to their old ways and concede a late equalizer after going two goals up, they still left themselves susceptible to one. Fire forward Alan Gordon struck in the 56th minute for the team’s loan goal.
“Should’ve been a comfortable game after we get the second goal,” Curtin said. “We made it interesting on ourselves, got a little casual and tuned out a little bit, and got punished for it.”
The same situation popped up in the Union’s last home game, as they conceded to Real Salt Lake when up by two goals.
It also occurred in the 3-2 victory over D.C. United, in which the visitors tied the game at two goals apiece after the Union went up 2-1.
“Again we gave up a stupid goal because it was from nowhere,” Medunjanin said. “We are in trouble again, but after that we pick it up.”
The Union deserve credit for responding once again to the opposing tally by finishing off the game with a third goal, but there are some concerns this trend might continue.
With two home games coming up next week before the World Cup break — the U.S. Open Cup against Richmond and a league match versus Toronto — the Union must find a way keep to a clean sheet at home in order to avoid an unexpected slip-up.