The Union had their eyes on a bigger prize when they waltzed into Foxborough, Massachusetts, to play one of their few remaining MLS Regular Season matches. The team has struggled to earn results week in and week out this season, and as a result of their pitiful playoff probability, they went into the match against New England with their focus set elsewhere. The U’s formation indicated the coaching staff’s desire to prepare for the US Open Cup Final on Wednesday. Several of the team’s key players were notably missing – in fact, only Fabinho, Brian Carroll, and Cristian Maidana were present among those who regularly start. Head coach Jim Curtin still turned to his preferred 4-2-3-1, and he elected to give Andre Blake the start in goal.
The decision to play Blake ended up looking like a stroke of genius, as he was magnificent all night. From the opening few minutes on, Blake displayed tremendous confidence and excellent decision-making. He knew exactly when to punch the ball, when to snag it, when to come off his line, and when to hang back. Having such a sure-minded keeper can really help the back line to position themselves and to form strategies for how to impede opposing attacks. If it were up to me, Blake would be starting in the Open Cup Final, but the nod will most likely go to John McCarthy since he has played in the previous cup matches.
For the majority of the match, New England was on the ball and could dictate the proceedings. The Revolution’s potent attack, led by Lee Nguyen and Diego Fagundez, consistently posed difficult questions for the Union defense. To the credit of the Union’s makeshift backline, several New England players were tempted into ill-fated shots. However, New England for the most part created real, dangerous opportunities; they ended up with a whopping 20 shots, with 11 of them on-target.
Philadelphia, perhaps by virtue of the strange lineup, struggled to get their offense going. Too often, due to a lack of both pace and creativity the Union’s counterattacking opportunities were stopped before they even got started. Illustrative of this offensive impotence is the number of corners the Union had: zero. Despite this lack of firepower, Philly did manage to get a goal – and a beautiful one, too, off the boot of Fernando Aristeguieta in the 65th minute. From just inside the 18-yard box, Nando received a pass from Warren Creavalle, turned swiftly, and rocketed the ball into the back of the net. It was Aristeguieta’s fifth goal on the season.
When the final whistle blew, the match was still knotted at 1-1. The Union got a point against New England, an impressive feat considering the teams’ positions in the table. A big part of the credit has to go to Andre Blake, who set a Union record with ten saves and (hopefully) earned himself a bigger role moving forward.
Now we turn our attention to Wednesday’s Open Cup Final match at PPL Park, which represents a chance for the franchise to get its first-ever trophy. If the Union win against Sporting Kansas City, they will end a run of five seasons with no tangible success. In addition, a win on Wednesday would signal a financial prize and a boost in club prestige, which could portend more high-caliber signings and more trophies in the near future.