The Union’s 1-0 win over New York City FC on Thursday in both teams’ MLS tournament opener will of course be remembered most for the Union’s in-game protest, not the soccer played.
But the soccer isn’t worth overlooking, because it showed a lot of good signs about what the Union have.
Players had some rust in the game’s early stages, and that was to be expected. But by the end of the morning, the Union didn’t look like a team that hadn’t had a game in four months. Indeed, there were a few very nice stretches of possession and passing.
There was even a late-game tactical switch from a 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2 as manager Jim Curtin tried to shore up the win. The game opened up more than the Union probably wanted as New York chased an equalizer, but the defense did enough – led by some big Andre Blake saves – to seal the shutout.
And what about that 9 a.m. kickoff time? Players were awake as early as 5:30 a.m., with “breakfast” served at around 7:15.
“There was a wide variety of food that usually you don’t see in a pregame meal,” Curtin said. “It was a unique experience for everybody. Because we won, we’ll say we got it right ... I’ll give the players all the credit for going through that with the right mindset.”
Now let’s get into some notable individual performances in the game.
He’s been around for long enough that it’s easy to forget Monteiro’s full-time move here was just six months ago. And he spent four of those months without playing a game. So you might also have forgotten that the Union paid a club-record $2 million transfer fee to keep him here.
Monteiro served a reminder on Thursday. He had team highs of 71 touches and 45 completed passes (from 52 attempts), 1 chance created, 1 shot, 4 successful dribbles, 5 tackles and 1 interception.
A particular highlight came in the 27th minute, when Monteiro dribbled forward, lost the ball, then won it back with a clean tackle and shot from 22 yards.
If you’re the kind of Philadelphia sports fan who watched this game because the Union are the only local sports team playing games right now, you were probably drawn to Martínez’s fiery style. He delivered three crunching tackles and committed three fouls, of which one drew a yellow card and the other two could have.
But Martínez wasn’t just an enforcer. He also had a thunderous shot on goal, created one chance, and completed 22 of 31 passes.
Martínez’s ball-hawking style is exactly what the Union needed to replace Haris Medunjanin with, and his transition game has major upside.
The Union’s great super-sub was a starter in this game, and even more notably, he was a forward instead of a midfielder. Curtin made the move out of necessity, because Sergio Santos and Andrew Wooten are both carrying minor injures. they should be ready for Tuesday’s game vs. Inter Miami.
Ilsinho didn’t do anything spectacular in the game -- save for wearing Philando Castile’s name on his jersey -- but he caused New Yenough trouble just by being there. Now the Union have to hope the hamstring tweak he suffered before exiting in the 58th minute isn’t too serious.
When the 18-year-old forward entered the game in the 83rd minute, he became the latest product of the Union’s youth academy to play in MLS. Curtin had lots of good things to say about de Vries during the team’s weeks of practices before leaving for Orlando.
De Vries barely made an impact on the game, with just one touch in his time on the field. But it was a good sign that he earned a chance to play.
He was terrific, and most of his seven saves were spectacular. Blake isn’t perfect and he’ll be the first to admit it, but he’s so good so often that some fans take him for granted. This game was a reminder that they shouldn’t. And his wearing of George Floyd’s name on his jersey was one of the signature statements by Union players in their demonstration against police brutality and institutional racism.