“Yeah, we conceded possession, but I think you guys have heard me say enough now: here in Philadelphia, we don’t care about possession,” manager Jim Curtin said afterward. “Possession without purpose is meaningless.”
Philly spent nearly three-quarters of the 90 minutes without the ball and barely completed 50% of their passes after two early goals pushed their appetite for defensive insolence to the extreme.
Yet after the final whistle, the Union were statistically worthy of their three points.
Their four efforts on frame were one more than NYCFC created with their possession dominance. Despite playing the last hour with their two-goal cushion, Philly’s 1.8 expected goals sat well ahead of City’s 1.1 after Alejandro Bedoya opened the scoring in the 12th minute and Daniel Gazdag doubled the lead in the 33rd.
“Is it great to get our first win here? Yes. Is it probably too long since we’ve had one, absolutely,” Curtin said. “But I thought we played today in a way that we were deserving of a win. I think there’s been other games that we maybe drew here, where we were just surviving. This one, I think we did a good job of getting our goals and still pushing for a third but also being content with keeping a clean sheet and being really difficult to play with.”
For all the pregame talk of last year’s Eastern Conference Final – one the Union lost to NYCFC 2-1 while missing 11 players to health and safety measures – more of Philly’s focus was on a different part of 2021.
As NYCFC returned home from managing the twin burdens of MLS and Concacaf Champions League play, the Union reflected on their own challenges with that in 2021. And they believed the best way to turn those against City would come early.
“The first 15 minutes were going to be crucial,” Bedoya reflected afterward. “A 1 o’clock kickoff, NYCFC has traveled a lot, played some games in Concacaf. We know how hard that can be from last year. So it was important for us to be on the front foot, start with intensity and to get that early goal was crucial.”
Then came the second, not long after a potentially game-changing penalty kick for NYCFC and a red card for Union center back Jack Elliott was overturned following a Video Review that spotted Santiago Rodriguez’s handball.
“With the 2-0 lead, it’s just about sticking to our game plan, just being compact and really hard to break down defensively,” Bedoya said. “We were able to manage that.”
There was no talk of the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs defeat afterward or any ill-will toward NYCFC, whom Curtin wished well in their CCL semifinal series vs. Seattle Sounders FC. In 2022, the Union remain unbeaten and atop the East standings. And while there are obviously bigger goals, maybe right now that’s enough.
“We know this is only four games into the season, but this is a good start,” Curtin said. “And today was easily the biggest win against the best team that our league has.”