Here are a few reflections on who stood out.
The Newark, Del., native gets top billing for his game-saving performance as a substitute. Both of his goals were terrific: a deft chip in traffic for the first, and a 20-yard belter for the second.
But Fontana’s performance overall had much more than that. He took four shots, three of which were on target, and completed four of five pass attempts. The first four attempts (including the incompletion) were in the middle-third of the field, and the last one was just outside his own 18-yard box.
Fontana has always been great at darting into open spaces in the attacking third to get the ball and shoot. But what will really get him more playing time — especially after Brenden Aaronson leaves for Europe — is covering the full field the way he did in this game.
The long pass he sent to Brenden Aaronson in the 34th minute was a highlight-reel play. But Mbaizo played the ball with his right foot. That’s why he’ll always be limited as a left back: it’s hard to hit a right-footed cross on the run when coming up that side of the field.
Jim Curtin knowsthat and hasn’t hidden the fact that Mbaizo playing left back is a short-term thing.
But Mbaizo once again was good enough on the defensive end. He won three aerial duels, completed 37 of 49 passes, and recorded 72 touches, three tackles, two interceptions and two clearances. Three of the incompletions came in the attacking third of the field, but at least he got there. He made no passes from that part of the field in the previous game against the Red Bulls.
It was clear at halftime that the Union needed his attacking thrust to pierce a hole in New England’s defense, but it was also clear that his defensive deficiencies would have left the Revs' attack with a lot of room on that side of the field.
After entering in the 64th minute, Real recorded two clearances and two interceptions and was 9-for-9 passing. In the 90th minute, he played a give-and-go with Kacper Przybylko and got to the return pass late. But after Andrew Farrell took the ball, Real trapped him and forced the ball out of bounds. Fans might lament his not winning the footrace or might be happy with the recovery work, or both. Or they might want Kai Wagner to get healthy soon.
Who knows what would have happened if his shot 69 seconds into the game had gone in instead of wide left. His night got worse from there. That shot was his only one of the game, and he completed 19 of 22 passes. He also recorded one clearance.
The biggest problem was where he touched the ball: just four times in the attacking third, and none in the 18-yard box. Most of his touches were in the middle of the field, which isn’t where a striker should be spending most of his time.
Why did he stick with a 4-4-2 when Fontana came in, putting him at forward instead in midfield in a 4-2-3-1? In his postgame news conference, Curtin put the decision in a bigger context.
“This group is one that no matter who steps on the field, our goal is to look the same, and right now we’re able to do that,” Curtin said. “When subs come in, they impact the game, no matter who’s injured, who’s here, who’s not here — the Philadelphia Union looks the same way regardless.”
Curtin’s critics will take those remarks literally, but the Union often switch formations in games. That still doesn’t make Fontana a forward, though. He didn’t move back to midfield until Jack de Vries entered in the 91st minute, and the formation changed to 4-2-3-1. De Vries went to the right wing, Aaronson to the left, and Fontana moved behind Przybylko.
Fontana spent 27 minutes at an unnatural position.
“It just felt like we were organized and comfortable and weren’t giving up a lot of chances to New England, so we kept the structure,” Curtin said.
His gamble proved right, but only just.