The Philadelphia Union came away with a 2-1 win over Inter Miami Tuesday night at the MLS is Back tournament, but that was one of the few positives the club took from the contest.
Philadelphia head coach Jim Curtin was not pleased with the brand of soccer his club played in the second of three Group A contests.
“Not our best night in terms of how we want to play, keeping the ball, playing forward, winning the transition game," Curtin said. "In terms of the soccer, not our best, not our sharpest. Maybe it’s the late start. I’m trying to put my finger on it, but we weren’t ourselves, which is disappointing. The good news is we found a way to beat a good team, even not playing our best soccer."
The numbers back up Curtin's post-game comments. The Union placed three of eight shots on target, two of which were the goals scored by Kai Wagner and Kacper Przybylko.
Carrying 44 percent of the possession is not a damning figure since the Union utilize a pressing system, but a 74 percent passing accuracy on 380 passes is.
The Union were pinned back during stretches, especially the first 10-15 minutes of the second half, and were forced into a slew of defensive actions in and around their 18-yard box.
Inside the box alone, the Union were forced into 12 clearances, three interceptions and two blocks.
Their set-piece defending was lackluster and Jakob Glesnes struggled at times to mark his men close to goal.
When Roman Torres rattled the woodwork in the 83rd minute, he got in front of Glesnes on a corner kick and beat Andre Blake to a header that hit the inside of the crossbar.
Earlier in the second half, the Norwegian center back had a failed clearance from the left side of the box that led to a chance from Lewis Morgan, which Blake had to guide away from goal with his fingertips.
Rust was part of those plays, as Glesnes was not with the Union for the entire build-up to the tournament, It was a similar situation to when Jack Elliott left the club in preseason to secure his green card.
“Both Jack and Jakob are starting-caliber center backs in our league. They are top center backs in our league. If you look at the three that have played so far, we’re comfortable starting any of them," Curtin said. "When Jack missed a couple weeks of preseason with the visa issue, Jakob stepped in and did a great job for us. Conversely, this time Jakob had to go overseas to sort out some visa issues with his family. He lost a couple weeks. He’s still gaining that fitness back. I told Jack he played a great game in the first game, but we thought with our strength at that position, it was a good time to rotate and get Jakob a game.
“You could still see Jakob had some tired legs, but ultimately made some big plays at the end of the game. It’s a good problem for a coach to have. Mark McKenzie was huge again tonight as well. It’s nice that we have a stable of four really strong center backs that can jump into a game and start at any time," Curtin said.
The Union were also hurt by the aggressiveness of Jose Martinez on the lone Inter Miami goal. The Venezuelan flew in with a sliding challenge 20 yards past the center circle and it led to Diego Alonso's side surging down the field with a counter attack that resulted in its second goal of the tournament.
Ray Gaddis did not help the Union either since he was caught out of position as Miami cut through the box. Gaddis was reactive and cut into the middle of the field, which allowed Morgan to play the ball out to Matias Pellegrini.
Alejandro Bedoya and Glesnes were forced to cover for the mistake and that allowed enough space for Rodolfo Pizarro to slide in and put the final touch on the goal.
Those are a few of the things Curtin and the staff should point out during film sessions leading up to Monday's clash with Orlando City. The winner of that game will top Group A. Orlando currently holds an advantage on goal differential.
The Evolution of Brenden Aaronson
Now time for the major positive from Tuesday night.
Brenden Aaronson is on a whole other level from what we saw out of his rookie season.
The 19-year-old has worked on the top issues in his game and has been the club's most consistent attacking player through 180 minutes in Florida.
Aaronson has displayed a larger confidence on the ball, and the addition of more muscle has led to him winning more physical battles. One that stood out was against Wil Trapp near the center circle, as he used his body to shield the Miami midfielder and win a foul.
In Thursday's win over New York City FC, Aaronson made some incisive runs in the final third that did not lead to clear-cut chances, but displayed his improved instincts in that area of the field.
We saw that come into play on Wagner's opening goal.
Aaronson made a nice run around a defender to latch on to Ray Gaddis' pass from near midfield. He then circled Trapp while keeping the ball in play along the end line. His deflected pass eventually rolled out to Wagner, who struck for his first goal in a Union shirt.
The Homegrown midfielder should have had an assist on Przybylko's goal that did not count and eventually got one on the gorgeous counter-attacking goal that won the game.
"Brenden has made a big jump, but I think there’s still another level he can go to," Curtin said.
Monteiro Makes Impact Without Touching The Ball
Jamiro Monteiro was quiet for most of the contest, but he made up for the lackluster performance with his intuitiveness on the game-winning goal.
The Cape Verde international drew a defender to him and played a perfect dummy to allow the ball to roll to Aaronson, who then had plenty of space to run forward on the counter.
As Aaronson, Monteiro and Przybylko barreled down the field, the designated player let the ball run through him again when Aaronson played the ball across the field to the Union's top goal scorer from 2019.
It was an exquisite piece of soccer and the clip will be watched plenty of times in the future. It also made up for an okay at best night for Monteiro.
Monteiro attempted 28 passes and completed 82.1 of them. He made 41 touches and the majority of his actions took place behind the halfway line or on the wings.
Notice the empty space in the middle on Monteiro's distribution map. That was an area left untouched for a majority of the contest by the Union.
If the press is more effective Monday and allows Monteiro, Aaronson and others to force more turnovers, we could see more dynamic actions 25-30 yards from goal and in.
Photo and graphics courtesy of Major League Soccer.