USL Championship Group F
September 23rd, 2020
Dillon Stadium, CT
By Stewart Flaherty (@stewartflaherty)
Philadelphia Union II gained a road point at Hartford, a result that left the home team needing three points in their upcoming tough road trip to Pittsburgh Riverhounds to maintain control of finishing first place in Group F. Defender Sam Strong opened the scoring for Hartford from a first half corner, while Jack McGlynn equalized in the second half for Philadelphia in an entertaining game.
Hartford entered this game 6 points behind group leading Pittsburgh with two games in hand, knowing a win here would close the gap further. Coach Radhi Jaidi made five changes for this rematch after Hartford’s 3-0 win at Philadelphia just four days earlier.
Young striker Alfonzo Vazquez was awarded his first career start as Ever Guzman dropped to the bench, while Mads Jorgensen returned to the starting lineup in place of Aiden Mesias. Alex Lara, Arthur Rogers and Gabriel Torres were also drafted in to start replacing Idan Cohen, Tyreke Johnson and Matheus Silva.
For this game, Hartford wore unique red jerseys that were to be auctioned off after the game to raise funds in support of the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford. More information on the cause can be found here.
Union coach Marlon Leblanc made two changes to his young team after the 3-0 defeat, dropping 16-year old midfielder Brandan Craig into center back in place of Jamoi Topey who struggled in the previous 3-0 loss. David Rabadan was drafted into midfield, while Caden Stafford replaced Anges Bohui in attack. Former Harvard University goalkeeper Matt Freese retained his spot in goal despite conceding 10 goals in his previous 4 starts.
Hartford created a chance in the second minute when Jorgensen sprayed a long pass out to Torres and the Brazilian wingback skipped past Nathan Harriel before driving into the penalty area. The ball was worked to Jorgensen 18 yards out who had his shot blocked by Dante Huckaby, Rogers was first to the rebound but his shot rolled wide of the goalpost.
Philadelphia were down the other end a minute later and won a corner when Axel Picazo surged forward and his cross was cleared behind by Strong. McGlynn’s corner was headed clear by Kevin Politz before a second cross into the area floated out of play for a goal kick.
Union won another corner when Paxten Aaronson went on a slaloming run through defenders before being tackled by Strong. Aaronson failed to make the most of the opportunity and sent in two underhit corners that were cleared by Strong and Danny Barrera respectively.
A long spell of Hartford possession led to Barrera playing in Lara who had his cross deflected behind by Harriel. Jorgensen sent in the corner but Freese punched it clear before a whistle blew for a foul on the goalkeeper.
The bright start by Philadelphia continued when Harriel played in Picazo and the eventual cross was cleared behind by Lara for another corner. McGlynn took the corner and his inswinging cross was headed clear by Strong.
The corner count was piling up at both ends and Philadelphia conceded another when Harriel blocked a Torres cross. Jorgensen launched the corner deep to the back post where a leaping Strong could not get firm contact and directed his header way off target.
Young Hartford striker Vazquez was presented with a 1v1 to goal situation when he was played in by strike partner Alex Dixon. His first touch failed to get the ball out in front and allowed left back Harriel to recover and concede a corner.
Such a play may have been an indicator of the inexperience of Vazquez, who doubtless has a lot of potential. The clip below illustrates how Vazquez slowed with his touch and allowed the defender to make a play on the ball. In comparison, see the confident touch of Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-Min in a recent EPL game gets the ball out in front and allows him to maintain his pace outrunning recovering defenders before getting his shot off.
Jorgensen took the corner but the threat was immediately ended when referee Jeremy Scheer blew the whistle for an attacking foul on Hartford.
Hartford won a 28th minute corner when Rogers played in Vazquez and the young forward took on Huckaby before being tackled at the byline. Barrera sent in the corner but Union defender Craig cut in front of Strong to clear.
Hartford won their 5th corner of the opening half hour when Craig cleared a Rogers cross behind, Barrera took the corner but his cross was comfortably gathered by Freese.
Philadelphia left back Sorenson carried the ball forward at the other end and threaded a pass to lead Aaronson onto the penalty area but the midfielders shot was saved by Parfait Mandanda.
Hartford won a wide free kick when Torres dribbled down the left wing before being fouled by Steve Kingue. Jorgensen aimed the free kick to the back post but his cross cleared everybody on the way out for a goal kick.
Union center forward Stafford received a pass with his back to goal and fed Picazo with a neat flick before surging into the penalty area to try and connect with the resulting cross which was cleared by at the second attempt by Politz.
Union academy product Stafford showed a good ability all game to hold up the ball and link with the midfield runners that supported him well all game.
Hartford forward Vazquez plays a different type of game to Stafford, and stretched Philadelphia’s backline with a surging run before his cross was blocked by Rabadan. Barrera’s corner was headed away by Picazo, before a second ball into the area was claimed comfortably by Freese.
The hard running style of Vazquez stretched the Union in behind consistently, as he hung on the last defender looking for balls in behind and attacked crosses well consistently. The movement of Vazquez played a part in dropping the Union backline a few yards deeper, allowing playmaker Barrera more room between the lines.
An end to end game continued in thoroughly entertaining fashion as Rabadan passed to Harriel before receiving the ball back and smashing a ball against the crossbar from 30 yards out.
Hartford attacked down the left flank when Torres played in Vazquez who was fouled by Huckaby. Jorgensen sent the free kick into the penalty area and a defensive header by Harriel looped into the air before being claimed by Freese.
Harriel was soon involved on the attacking end when he received a pass from Kingue and fired a shot from the edge of the penalty area that was deflected behind by Lara. McGlynn’s corner was initially headed away by Justin Haak before being hacked clear by Torres.
Hartford won a corner deep into first half stoppage time and this time the home team converted to take a 1-0 lead just before the break.
Barrera curled in a corner that was headed home from close range by Strong. A well worked pick play by Hartford that saw Haak’s run clear out Strong’s marker played a key part in the goal.
While the Union would have been disappointed to trail at the interval, coach LeBlanc will have been heartened by the improved performance from a team that had lost 3-0 to the same opponent just days earlier.
One aspect of Philadelphia’s play that caused Hartford problems was the wide midfielders coming into central positions to create overloads while the fullback pushed on to provide width. In the illustration below, left winger McGlynn has come into a central position to join Kingue and Rabadan, while Harriel pushes up the flank. Harriel provides the width but also forces Hartford wingback Rogers into a decision of whether to cover the large gap central or leave the fullback wide open in this example.
While Hartford needed the 3 points from this game to stay on track to catch Pittsburgh, a weekend trip to face the Riverhounds also loomed. This likely was a factor in coach Jaidi making three substitutions at the interval, replacing Barrera, Dixon and Haak with Mesias, Cohen and Markus Naglestad.
Cohen helped Hartford manufacture the first shot of the second half when he raced onto a Vazquez through ball and crossed to Torres at the back post, who had his shot saved by Freese.
The home team were awarded a free kick out wide for an off the ball foul by Craig on Mesias. Rogers sent an inswinging cross into the area that just evaded Lara on the way out for a goal kick.
Philadelphia responded by winning a free kick of their own when Anthony Sorenson dribbled down the left flank before being fouled by Cohen who received a yellow card. Sorenson drove forward again minutes later and this time had a deflected shot saved by Mandanda.
The pressure was building from the Union and two quickfire attacks came when Stafford beat Politz easily before sending in a cross that cleared everyone. Soon after, Sorenson exchanged passes with McGlynn and sent in another cross that rolled out for a goal kick.
Left back Sorenson was becoming a very influential figure in the second half and came forward again in the 62nd minute before sending in a cross that was eventually hacked clear by Politz.
Hartford launched an attack of their own and Naglestad played in Vazquez who sent over a cross that was caught by Freese.
McGlynn sent a high ball forward to Stafford and the center forward won a free kick when he was pushed in the back by Politz. McGlynn sent in a deep cross from the free kick that deflected off the head of Craig and went out for a throw in.
Coach Jaidi made his 4th substitute of the game in the 64th minute when Torres was replaced by Johnson. Philadelphia coach LeBlanc responded by making his first substitution, switching Picazo for Selmir Miscic.
Johnson made an immediate impression streaking down the left flank and sending over a cross that was diverted over the bar by Vazquez.
Coach LeBlanc made two more substitutions as the Union chased an equalizer, introducing Bohui and Luis Flores in place of Rabadan and Kingue.
Substitute Miscic was welcomed to the game with a heavy challenge by Hartford midfielder Jorgensen who received a yellow card from referee Scheer for the foul.
Another attacking change was made by Philadelphia in the 74th minute when impressive young striker Stafford was withdrawn and replaced by Issa Rayyan.
The attacking approach of LeBlanc paid off when Philadelphia scored a deserved equalizer from a well worked move in the 76th minute.
After some neat buildup play, Aaronson skipped past Mesias and played in Sorneson who cut the ball to the back post where McGlynn beat Mandanda with a drilled one touch finish.
The assist capped an excellent second half performance by Sorenson, and a fantastic game overall for the Union’s young fullback duo of Sorenson and Harriel. The pair defended well all game while also providing a threat in attack.
Hartford made a substitution immediately after the goal, and in an interesting coincidence it was Conor McGlynn, brother of Union goal scorer Jack who was introduced to face his younger sibling in midfield. Jorgensen made way as Hartford looked to respond and pick up an important three points in the race for first place in Group F.
Sorenson continued to cause problems, and came forward before passing to Bohui inside the penalty area and the striker forced a sharp deflected save from Mandanda.
The resulting corner was sent to the back post by Aaronson where Huckaby headed it down and Rayyan failed to make contact with an attempted bicycle kick.
Hartford won a corner of their own when Mesias switched play to Johnson. The Southampton loanee crossed to Vazquez who had his header blocked behind by Huckaby.
The corner from Rogers was turned in at the back post by Conor McGlynn only for the celebrations to be cut short by the whistle blowing for a foul by Strong on Freese. Hartford defender Strong received a yellow card from referee Scheer for the challenge on the Union goalkeeper.
The young Union team were displaying some veteran behavior as they tried to close out a road result when Aaronson received a booking for delaying a restart as the game moved into added time.
Philadelphia won a corner in the final minute of stoppage time when a sweeping move started by Sorenson ended in Rayyan sending over a low cross that Johnson worked back to clear behind.
Rayyan worked a short corner with McGlynn before sending in another low cross that was blocked, this time by Cohen before time expired on an entertaining draw.
The Hartford players and staff showed frustration at the final whistle, and the result meant they faced the tough task of picking up all three points at Pittsburgh to control their destiny in terms of topping Group F.
This result moved Hartford to five points behind Pittsburgh having played one game less. Pittsburgh hold a significant advantage in tie breaker for the run in, having won both head to head games by a combined score of 8-0 so far, and holding a +29 goal difference in contrast to Hartford’s +3.
Another question mark hanging over Hartford is that in their three games against perceived playoff contenders (Indy Eleven and Pittsburgh) they have lost all three games by a combined score of 12-1. It will take a big uptick in performance to stay on pace to top the group this coming weekend.
Philadelphia will have been pleased to pick up what was only their 2nd point on the road this season with a good performance, as coach LeBlanc and his young players continued to develop. The Union’s next game would be another road trip to face New York Red Bulls II this weekend.
45+2’ HAR Sam Strong (Danny Barrera) 1-0
76’ PHI Jack McGlynn (Anthony Sorenson) 1-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
#62 LD Anothony Sorenson (Philadelphia Union II) – The young fullback was a dominant force in the second half, keeping Hartford winger Cohen and capping an excellent attacking performance with the assist on McGlynn’s equalizer.
3: CD Sam Strong – Top quality performance from the physical center back who showed composure on the ball and also added Hartford’s goal from a set play.
2: LM Gabriel Torres – The high energy Brazilian defended well and provided threat down the left flank for the home team.
1: CF Alfonso Vazquez – Young forward with a high upside, Vazquez ran hard and looked to stretch the Union backline in behind all night.
Philadelphia Union II
3: LD Anthony Sorenson – Man of the Match.
2: LM Jack McGlynn – Showed quality, composure and ability to create in the final third from midfield and capped a good game with the equalizing goal.
1: CF Caden Stafford – Held ball up well with back to goal and linked play well with supporting runners from midfield.
HAR: Mandanda, Lara, Politz, Strong, Torres (Johnson), Jorgensen (C McGlynn), Haak (Cohen), Barrera (Mesias), Rogers, Vazquez, Dixon (Naglestad).
PHI: Freese, Sorenson, Craig, Huckaby, Harriel, Kingue (Bohui), Rabadan (Flores), Aaronson, J McGlynn, Picazo (Miscic), Stafford (Rayyan).
Full highlights can be found on the Philadelphia Union website here.