MLS Recap: The Force is Strong with the Union on Star Wars Night

Sergio Santos (17) comes onto the field as a substitute just moments before scoring his first two goals of the season.

Chester, PA – Celebrating Star Wars Night on “May the Fourth,” the force was certainly strong with the Philadelphia Union (6-3-2, 20 Points, +10), who remained on top of the Eastern Conference with a dominant 6-1 victory over the New England Revolution Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

After Wednesday night’s 2-0 victory over FC Cincinnati, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin emphasized, “Nobody remembers who is in first place in May” — a statement which the Union looked to build on as the team entered it’s eleventh match of the season Saturday hosting Eastern Conference bottom-feeders, New England Revolution.

Saturday’s tilt would not be one to take for granted for the Union, who were completing a stretch of three games in eight days. The visiting Revs, however, had the full week to rest and recover after an exciting 4-4 draw with Sporting Kansas City last week. The performance was New England’s best offensive output of the season thus far. Still, with a tough schedule ahead in the month of May, three points were imperative for the Union, looking to stay atop the Eastern Conference.

The Sons of Ben supporters group were out in full force as the Union hammered New England, 6-1, on Star Wars Night.

Despite coming off only two full days’ rest, Curtin decided to stick with mostly the same starting eleven from Wednesday’s win over FC Cincinnati. The only two changes made were expected, with German left back Kai Wagner coming back into the lineup from suspension, moving Ray Gaddis back over to the right side of the defense. In goal, Carlos Miguel Coronel would get the start after taking over for Matt Freese, who left Wednesday’s game in the 41st minute with an abdominal injury. Andre Blake, the team’s number one between the sticks, remains out due to injury as well.

New England looked poised to open the scoring in the tenth minute, testing Coronel early. However, the 22-year old Brazilian would make two terrific saves inside the box, stretching out to stop an in-close strike from Revolution forward Juan Fernando Caicedo (seen below via @PhilaUnion Twitter).

The important stop from Coronel would lead to an immediate counter-attack for Philadelphia, who would strike first in the 11th minute off a set piece. After a corner was seemingly cleared out of harm’s way, midfielder Haris Medunjanin would send a hard, low pass back into the box, where center back Jack Elliot would put away his first goal of the season with his left foot.

Union midfielder Brenden Aaronson would leave the match with a hip injury in the 36th minute, replaced by Ilsinho. However, prior to the substitution, and while Aaronson was being treated on the sideline, New England was able to make the most of their temporary one-man advantage, with left back Edgar Castillo taking a ball down the left wing before sending a pass into the box for Caicedo. While falling onto his back, Caicedo would nudge a right-footed shot past Coronel to the far right post, drawing the Revolution level.

The first half would end with the two teams level, and both teams seeing their share of scoring chances. Despite having 64% possession in the half, Philadelphia was uncharacteristically sloppy when they weren’t on the ball, allowing New England 11 attempted shots (four on target), 10 of which were inside the 18-yard box. If not for well-timed blocked shots and Coronel playing exceptionally well, the Revolution would have deserved a lead at halftime.

“Just a really disappointing start. [It was] not our best first half. Credit to New England; they came out and made us uncomfortable and should have punished us two or three times,” Curtin said post-match. “We were a little bit lose in our defending. Guys kind of were playing out of position and running all over the place. It didn’t look like us.”

In the locker room at the half, Curtin was careful in choosing his words.

“I thought about losing my mind, [but] I don’t go to it too often – throw something – go negative on them. We already had lost our minds a little bit on the field and on the sidelines. We just kind of, emotionally, checked out. So I decided to stay positive. I said we were lucky at 1-1, but it is still 1-1.”

The second frame would begin on a positive note for the Union, as Ilsinho, once again, would make an impact off the bench, scoring from a tough angle on the right side of goal in the 47th minute to break the tie, giving Philadelphia a 2-1 lead.

Contributions from substitutions wouldn’t end there, as a yellow card to Fafa Picault for what looked like an awkward wrestling move would result in Curtin replacing him with the equally as fleet-footed Sergio Santos. Shortly after coming on for his third appearance of the campaign, Santos would score his first goal of the season in the 69th minute off a well-played, low cross into the box by Wagner (seen below via @PhilaUnion Twitter).

Santos would then add his second goal of the game and season in the 74th minute after Ilsinho played in Kacper Przybylko, whose initial shot was stopped before Santos could put in the loose rebound.

Philadelphia didn’t stop there, as Przybylko would be rewarded for his efforts in the 82nd minute to give the Union a commanding 5-1 lead. The goal would make it three goals in three consecutive starts.

Santos, attempting to complete the hat trick, would be denied in the 88th minute, but his rebound would be cleaned up by yet another substitute, David Accam. The 6-1 scoreline would match the club’s single-game scoring output, last doing so in October 2017 against Orlando City FC.

With the victory, the Union maintains first-place in the Eastern Conference on goal differential. D.C. United are tied on points (20) with the Union after their victory this weekend, but Philadelphia’s offensive outburst put United well-behind on goal differential (+5). Third-place Montreal Impact remain on 17 points after losing their weekend matchup to New York City FC.

Final Notes and Thoughts:

  • The Union also set franchise records for total shots on target (15), shots on target in a single half (13), most goals in one half (5), and most individual goal scorers in one game (5).
  • A spectacular, and much-needed performance off the bench from Sergio Santos, who now moves up the depth chart with striker Cory Burke returning home to Jamaica due to visa issues. The team has hope Burke will return this season, but it looks unlikely. After Jack Elliot’s goal tied the game, the team celebrated by holding up Burke’s #27 jersey up in tribute to their teammate.
  • Bench performances have been the story lately, with contributions from all three of tonight’s substitutions (Ilsinho, Santos and Accam) factoring in on second-half goals.
  • Union Academy player Jack de Vries started for the USMNT U-17 today against Barbados.
  • I did not get a free Star Wars Night giveaway flag. The flag read, “Doop or Doop Not. There is no try.” Well done to the marketing team.

(Full match highlights courtesy of Major League Soccer YouTube channel)

Ed Palumbo
About Ed Palumbo 15 Articles
Ed is a 2010 graduate of Temple University with a degree in Sport and Recreation Management. A New Yorker at heart, he now resides in Philadelphia and supports the NY Giants, NY Mets, NJ Devils, West Ham United, and the Philadelphia Union. A former hockey coach and amateur scout, Ed is also the founder of the Prospective Hockey Central mobile app, connecting scouts and players in the recruiting process.

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