CHESTER, Pa.—For most of this season, the Philadelphia Union have been an extremely stingy defensive team, allowing a total of 16 goals in 14 games before the Copa America Centenario break.
Since then, however, the club has surrendered nine goals in three games, capped by a 3-2 home loss to Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday.
Is Union head coach Jim Curtin, a former MLS defender who’s always tried to instill defensive values in his team, worried about the recent trend?
“It’s team defense – it’s not the back four, it’s not individuals,” Curtin said. “We didn’t give up a ton of great looks to them when they would run a play … It’s a lot [of goals] – I’m pissed about that, don’t get me wrong. And we’ll get it fixed. But it’s a lot of silly goals, I would say.”
Curtin’s relatively good spirits after a tough loss seemed to translate to his players, most of whom acknowledged that they stayed organized and played well throughout the contest, only to let Vancouver score on little mistakes.
Perhaps the most surprising mistake of all came from goalkeeper Andre Blake, who let a corner kick slip through his hands before Andrew Jacobson pounced on it to tie the game at 1-1 in the 19th minute.
“Andre Blake has been playing at an All-Star level all year and he makes one mistake,” said right back Keegan Rosenberry. “It’s time we try to bail him out. I think if you look at it like it’s preventable for us as opposed to other teams picking us apart for 20 passes at a time and a good finish, it’s completely different.”
In some ways, it makes sense that the Union would hit a defensive slump considering they start two rookies on the backline – Rosenberry and Joshua Yaro – along with third-year center back Richie Marquez.
“I definitely thought I was going to get it, and then I missed it,” Yaro said. “It’s decision making. I don’t want to go down and maybe foul him because I thought I was the last guy. Early in the game I didn’t want to take a red card and hurt my team. It’s judgement and that’s part of playing.
“It’s not great but there’s nothing I can do about it now. I just have to let it go and move on.”
It would be unfair, of course, to pin all of the blame on Blake and the team’s young backline as the recent departure of midfielder Vincent Nogueira has left a big void in the center of the field. And Curtin made sure to blame himself for Vancouver’s third goal for taking a “huge risk” and pushing numbers forward. The Union coach also praised the team’s “fight,” adding that “on a different night I think we can get points out of this one.”
Still, the simple fact that the team has now allowed three goals in three straight games naturally does not sit well with them.
“There’s no way we’re happy giving up this many goals,” Blake said. “I think we’re going through a phase – and we have to hang tight, stick together and ride out the storm.”