International Absences, Lack of Depth, and General Crap Play Has Union on Brink of First Three-Game Losing Streak Since 2018
Major League Soccer doesn’t follow the FIFA calendar, which means we get situations like this past weekend, where the Philadelphia Union go out and lose 3-1 in Los Angeles while All-Star goalkeeper Andre Blake captains the Jamaica national team to the Gold Cup semifinals.
Dre made a huge save to preserve a 1-0 win over Guatemala in the 79th minute on Sunday afternoon:
WHAT A BIG TIME SAVE FROM ANDRE BLAKE 🇯🇲 pic.twitter.com/xVe6ed0GXb
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 9, 2023
Meantime, his Union backup, Joe Bendik, filled his shoes with concrete and did his best statue impression en route to conceding this opening goal the night prior:
From one end of the field to the other. 😮💨
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 9, 2023
There’s a lot of blame to go around on this goal. LA splits the lines waaaaay too easily, building back-to-front through the goalkeeper and then finding space on the right side while an out-of-position Matt Real jogs back and doesn’t do enough to deny that cross coming into the box. There’s some traffic inside the 18, but Bendik lets that get through on the near post and the Union go down 1-0 under 15 minutes.
It’s a save Andre Blake makes 999 times out of 1,000.
Blake is a generational-type player who leads his national team and has won myriad individual awards since joining the Union nearly 10 years ago, so there’s going to be a natural drop off no matter who comes in to replace him. Still, Bendik can and should do so much better there, and he could have done better on this one as well:
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) July 9, 2023
Great delivery, but one of the guys on the near post should have cleaned that up. Julian Carranza is in zonal marking and Mikael Uhre, who showed us some hideous set piece marking in the second leg of the Champions League semifinal, gets locked up bracketing a guy when he should detach and attack the ball instead.
But again, Bendik doesn’t do anything to help the case, just sort of flapping at the ball and not doing anything to make himself big. Keepers are taught to claim anything inside their six, which is admittedly difficult to do on a low-trajectory dead ball into traffic like this one, but you watch this play and know that Blake would have done something, anything to try to keep this ball out.
The thing with Bendik is that he hasn’t been good for this team, or any team, for some time now. A statistic from Matt DeGeorge at The Delco Times:
“Again, Joe Bendik 3-24-4 in his last 31 MLS decisions. It’s very far from all his fault. But sometimes correlation strongly hints at causation…
In case you’re wondering, Joe Bendik has allowed 72 goals in said 33ish games (31 decisions, plus 2 no decisions) He’s allowed 12 goals this year on an xG of 6.6 That’s awful.”
“Joe Bendik has allowed eight goals in four starts in place of Andre Blake. Blake conceded four times in his last eight starts before leaving for the Gold Cup.”
With Blake confirmed to be gone through Wednesday, a Union loss in Nashville would deliver the franchise’s first three-game losing streak since the 2018 season, when they lost their final two regular season games and crashed out in the first round of the playoffs. This all comes after a nine-game unbeaten streak that lasted six weeks, from mid-April into early June.
Of course, it’s not just Bendik’s fault. The attack has dried up in recent games, just a handful of shots on goal in Los Angeles and Atlanta. They thrashed Miami 4-1 but needed a world-class volley to salvage a point in Orlando. Uhre at times looks like a lumbering and unathletic figure while the depth behind the starting strikers leaves a lot to be desired. Losing Cory Burke was a huge deal, and in hindsight trading Matt Freese, only for him to sit on the NYCFC bench, is now causing an equal amount of agita. There’s no impact player coming off the pine, not Quinn Sullivan, not Chris Donovan, not Joaquin Torres, and certainly not Andres Perea, who is the soccer version of Milton from Office Space, banished into Storage B with a flashlight and a can of pesticide to handle the roach problem. Ernst Tanner knew what the schedule looked like this year and his three depth signings in Damion Lowe, Torres, and Perea, have registered next to nothing on the Richter Scale.
Then you throw in Kai Wagner’s injuries this season, Lowe being on international duty, missing Jack McGlynn and the kids for part of the spring, and the fact that there’s been general regression from a team that scored 72 goals last year, and it’s no surprise they’ve only been able to show occasional glimpses of greatness. Alejandro Bedoya is running out of steam entirely, Daniel Gazdag can’t impact the game, and Leon Flach and Olivier Mbaizo are what they are. In order for it to click again this year, everybody who had a career year in 2022 needed to play at or near the same level, and that’s not happening.
It’s a shame, because if they lose on Wednesday night in Nashville against a team that is notoriously stingy and currently fourth in the combined standings, then the Supporters Shield now looks unattainable. That wasn’t the case in June, when the Union had rounded into form and were ripping off wins left and right, flying up the standings and resembling the team they were last year. As of publication, the U are sixth in the Shield race on PPG, but need to make up an 11 point deficit on Cincy and hope the four other teams above them pace out at a lower rate.
As of 7/10/23 too many things are going wrong. The lack of depth is killing them. Dumbass international windows. Untimely injuries, general regression, and some sloppy and uncharacteristic play. Throw it all into the crockpot and out comes an inedible footy stew.