Photo Cred: Jose Nunez of AAT Sports Network
I may be a Union Reporter, but I've been a Union fan since 2012. Through thick and thin, this club has become a part of my life. I'd argue it's become a part of my identity, as it has for hundreds of other fans who march into Subaru Park each week. I am writing this on Friday evening, 72 hours after one of the lowest moments in Union history. This wasn't just an ordinary loss. This was an embarrassing performance on a global stage. This was a game that will sit in our minds and hearts for years to come. I've heard comparisons to the 2018 US Open Cup. Just a few years after losing back-to-back Open Cup Finals, the Union got shutout by the Dynamo 3-0. Two goals were given up before the 30th minute that day, which felt eerily similar to what we watched on Tuesday.
If you're an Eagles fan like myself, this gut-wrenching feeling is similar to the NFC Championship game where the Bucs walked into Philly and shocked the Birds. I remember the week leading up to that game, where everyone was convinced that Tampa Bay would struggle to beat the Eagles in the cold-weather. Instead, they humiliated Philadelphia in the final game at Veterans Stadiums.
If you've been a Philadelphia fan long enough, you can probably list 10 other games where our team let us down in the biggest moment. For the Union, however, this is beginning to feel like a trend.
Credit to Kevin Kinkead for putting together the list we were all thinking about on Tuesday evening. Before I continue, are all of these losses solely on Curtin? No, of course not. We know Sugarman has been weary of spending big bucks, and that Jim has not had a dominant roster until these last couple of seasons (credit to Tanner for that). With all of that said, however, Jim is certainly beginning to feel like Andy Reid 2.0.
In some games, it's difficult to pin a loss on one individual, but the Miami defeat has to fall on Coach Curtin. If you listened to the press conference during the week before the match, Jim said the following: "It's going to be an honor to play them, but once the whistle blows, our guys are going to give it their best, and I know we won't be scared. We'll be brave".
Brave....I can't remember how many times I've heard Curtin say that word now throughout the season, and probably some of last year too. This team continues to have moments where Jim calls for them to be brave, but it does feel like that ingredient is missing far too often, no? Just look at the lineup that Curtin put out on Tuesday.
I am no tactical genius. If you listen to Across the Pitch on Monday nights at 8:45pm enough times, you know that's not what I'm trying to be. The formation to me, however, made no sense. You knew that Miami was going to posses the ball at a high clip, so why not go with what your Team can do well? I've been calling for the 3 Center backs all season long, but the formation for Tuesday was an obvious one. Four in the back: Wagner, Elliott, Glesnes, and Harriel/Mbaizo. Next, you go with the diamond midfield of McGlynn, Brujo, Danny, and Bueno. Lastly, with Carranza out, throw Uhre and Quinn up top.
You could trust this lineup to counter effectively. You could trust that McGlynn and Danny could find Uhre and Quinn in the box. You could trust that the back five would comfortably hold their own in front of Blake. Instead, you left Gazdag with Flach and Donovan up top, and your defensive backline was exposed time and time again. Sure, Andre probably could have made a couple of stops, but the formation in front of him did Blake zero favors.
Rather than making adjustments in the first half, Curtin took a 3-0 deficit into the locker before making the switch back to the diamond. It is no surprise that the Union played better in the second half, created ideal scoring chances, and even sent one into the back of the net (Kudos to Bedoya on his return by the way).
Similar to what we saw from Andy Reid for years, Jim Curtin out-coached himself in this one. He tried to force something that didn't need to be forced, and his players fell flat on one of the biggest stages.
After the press conference, the notion of fear and overly respecting your opponent was openly discussed. We spoke with Gazdag for a few moments, and he was asked about what went wrong in the first half. Our Hungarian midfielder stated, "It's not easy to say, I think we've been scared a little bit of the names that Miami had". Bedoya spoke with us after Danny and he was asked about the Union's performances during big games. Alejandro went on to say, "A lot of soccer is psychological, right? Before the game, once the game starts, during the game, killing games off. So, I think mentally we just got to be a little bit sharper, little bit better, play a little bit braver." There's that word again..... Bedoya would later go on to say that the Union were a little too respectful of Miami and their talent, which again just kills us to hear as fans. The Union fans weren't afraid of Messi. That was evident when the boo birds came pouring out of the stands after Lionel was announced. Of course, Messi was also greeted with a roaring, "SUCKS".
So, now what? Well, we actually have a very important match on Saturday. If the Union secure a win against Monterrey, they will earn a bid into next season's CONCACAF Champions Cup. A competition where they have reached the semi-final in their last two appearances (losses to Club America and LAFC). We should all be excited for this, no? If you told us 5 years ago that we would be playing for a bid into the CCL, majority of the fanbase would have been ecstatic for that possibility. This isn't 5 years ago though. This isn't a club that is more focused on the Open Cup run than the MLS Final. This isn't a club that is still developing their academy and finishing at the lower half of the Eastern Conference Standings.
The expectations for the club have changed, and thus the fans want and deserve better. We are tired of waiting for the next opportunity to win a trophy. We are ready to win a trophy NOW. Entering this season, the Union fans made it crystal clear. Philadelphia, with the added depth and experience on the roster, should leave the season with at least one piece of hardware. As of now, they missed their chance at the CCL title, the Open Cup, Leagues Cup, and likely the Supporter's Shield. The latter of which is far less meaningful than the other three in my opinion, but maybe that's just me. Sure, Ernst Tanner has brought in Tai Baribo, who will be featured on the bench during Saturday's match against Monterrey's B Team. It's obvious that the loss of Cory Burke was a bigger hole than the front office realized, and at least now we have a more skilled option than Quinn Sullivan and Chris Donovan up top. Furthermore, for as much as I like Mikael Uhre, and for the things he brings to the table besides scoring, the Danish striker has not been scoring as often as we hoped. Hopefully, Tai's presence can light a fire under both Julian and Mikael to take their game to the next level.
Let's just take a step back now and look ahead. First, the Union are in third place and only 3 points behind 2nd place New England. They've also scored 39 goals so far this year and have a 13 goal differential. They are still quite dominant at home when it comes to wins and losses, and the Leagues Cup allowed us to see the improvement of Jesus Bueno in the midfield. Yes, Alejandro is back and getting into match fitness, but it's clear the Union have found the heir apparent to Bedoya with Bueno. If there was any silver lining into this month long tournament, it's that Jesus pushed himself into the starting XI, and should be considered as a weekly starter next year. Our goal moving forward is simple. Finish top 4 in the East and ensure some sense of Home Field Advantage in the MLS Playoffs. Next, maintain a healthy roster which has not only played a significant amount of games, but has dealt with the injury bug on a weekly basis. Julian Carranza has become the latest victim of that with a Grade 1 Hamstring.
This is it though. The Union, pending a dramatic collapse from Cincy, have one last shot at a trophy. If Philadelphia does not win the MLS Cup, many fans, including myself, will deem this season as a failure. Whether you want to point the fingers at Jim, the front office, ownership, or the players, we've had enough of saying, "there's always next year". Yes, a bid in the Champions Cup is crucial for the consistent success of the club, but eventually you have to walk the walk if you're going to talk the talk.
Despite the frustration, I'll be there Saturday night. I'll cheer for the club and keep that same Philly hope that we all fall for each season. As the Sons of Ben say, Ad Finem Fidelis, Faithful to the End.
- Mike Barrera (Mbarrera1323 on Twitter and TikTok)