After a brief, but fruitful stop in Chester, PA, the Philadelphia Union have traveled up Interstate-95 to Foxborough, MA, for a Saturday bout with the New England Revolution.
Are the Philadelphia Union a playoff team? Wednesday’s emphatic result over fellow playoff contender, Columbus Crew SC, has left many fans asking themselves this very question.
Although if you ask our good friend, John, Host of We The People Podcast, there’s just no chance in Hell. Listen, here.
Here’s the latest look at the Eastern Conference table, following the Union’s thumping 3-0 victory over short-handed Columbus Crew SC on Wednesday night.
Say what you will, but only Time alone will tell, or rather reveal, who the Union are this season.
It’s certainly never too late to do a little soul-searching, which is exactly what Jim Curtin’s team could use, especially after the controversy that unfolded Wednesday night, before the crowd on hand at Talen Energy Stadium (more context, here).
Saturday’s match offers Curtin’s side an ample opportunity to do just that.
Here’s a closer look at what both sides are about, heading into Saturday’s contest.
New England (6 W, 9 L, 5 D; 23 points)
One of Major League Soccer’s cellar-dwellers, New England enters the fray on Saturday with 23 points to their name, which is good enough for 11th in the East and 18th in the Supporters’ Shield table. Currently, New England sits just three points back from Philadelphia, who has a game in hand over the Massachusetts-based club.
Curtin’s side got the better of Jay Heaps’ boys last time around, taking care of business at home, against the depleted New England outfit. It ended 3-0 to the Union, but it would be remiss to ignore the slew of players missing for the Revs that day.
New England was without several big names, thanks to various national team assignments, player suspensions, as well as the Union’s personal favorite, the good ole Injury Bug.
However this time around, New England will be nearing full strength.
With Kelyn Rowe having returned from Gold Cup duty last week, in addition to the return of midfielders, Xavier Kouassi and Daigo Kobayashi to the fold, the Revs will look a much different side than the one Union fans last saw in the beginning of July.
New England’s morale has surely been handed a boost by the return of several key players, including after snapping a four-match winless skid by grinding out a thrilling 4-3 victory away from home, against a reeling Los Angeles side.
Winless in the league no longer, the Revs will certainly look to vanquish another skid they currently find themselves part of. That happens to be a three-match winless run against the Union.
In the teams’ previous three encounters in the league, the Revolution have been shutout by the Union on all three occasions, as well as outscored by the Boys-in-Blue 10-0. In Philadelphia’s last business trip to Gillette, the Union managed to put four past then New England No. 1, Bobby Shuttleworth.
New England will look to curb the Union’s attack this time around, and they’ve enlisted some help ahead of Saturday’s match with the signing of 29-year-old center back, Claude Dielna from English Championship side, Sheffield Wednesday.
It remains to be seen if the Frenchman will suit up for the Revolution, but a quick look at the club’s 45 goals against this current campaign would suggest that Heaps will roll out his newest signing right away.
Despite a leaky defense, New England have only dropped two results at home this season, with both losses coming against teams above the red line (Chicago and NYRB). It’s one of the reasons the Revs are still in the playoff picture, aside from their ability to put the ball in the back of the net.
They field a slightly above average attack, at best, with 33 goals to the good this season. Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo, and Lee Nguyen are New England’s top guns in attack.
Fagundez has mainly played the role of creator this season, contributing seven assists on the year. Nguyen and Agudelo have paced the Revs with eight and seven goals respectively. Nguyen has also been instrumental in setting up the players around him, as he is currently tied with the young Uruguayan with seven assists.
It’s the triple threat fans should look out for on Saturday, and the Union will undoubtedly have in their crosshairs all night long.
Expect Fagundez, Agudelo, and Nguyen (FAN) to interchange with diagonal runs across the Union’s backline throughout the 90′ and look to get in behind the pairing of Jack Elliot and Oguchi Onyewu.
Like the Union, the Revolution are down, but laughingly not out of it just yet. There will be a revenge factor for New England when they take the field against the Union on Saturday, as well as every intention to keep pace with Union and Co. in the East.
Philadelphia ( 7 W, 9 L, 5 D; 26 points)
Philadelphia have snapped a skid of their own, recently. A convincing 3-0 victory at home against Columbus Crew SC saw the Union snap their two-match unbeaten run, in which they lost ground in the playoff hunt.
It was an oddity of the match, which saw Columbus fall to nine men, and the home crowd serenade one of its own players with a smattering of boos and jeers. But all in all, it was exactly the response Curtin’s side needed, after two rather poor road displays.
Curtin’s team racked up just three shots on goal in their previous two matches, yet managed twice that on Wednesday night. Creating scoring opportunities has been a real issue for the Union this season, and it’s partly because they haven’t found a replacement for Swiss international, Tranquillo Barnetta, at the No. 10 position.
Alberg, who was the player booed off the pitch on Wednesday after missing a penalty that he snuffed from teammate, CJ Sapong, has spent time at the 10 in several matches this season. However, it remains to be seen if the Dutchman will play, following the drama he conjured up in his last outing.
There are quite a few others who might miss out for the Union on Saturday.
Union winger, Fafa Picault has spent the previous two contests sidelined with a tweaked hamstring, while Derrick Jones is another question mark for Curtin heading into the match.
Picault was a full participant in training yesterday, but the return of Chris Pontius from the Gold Cup, as well as the brilliant display from young Marcus Epps in just his second career start, could be enough to nudge Picault to the bench.
Jones has been sidelined ever since the midfielder failed concussion protocol mandated by Major League Soccer. Although Curtin has stated that Jones is not currently suffering from any concussion-like symptoms, it is unclear when the young American will be cleared to play by the league.
It would be remiss to forget that Union No. 1, Andre Blake, will not be available for selection on Saturday. If you’ve been living under a rock, Blake garnered a nasty laceration for his heroics in the 22nd minute of the Gold Cup Final.
Fortunately, it looks to be nothing serious, with the initial X-Rays coming out negative. Blake did require seven stitches, which will keep him out for at least 10 days when they are removed. After that, the Jamaican will be listed as day-to-day.
UnionFanTV wishes Andre Blake a speedy recovery.
In the meantime, Union backup, John McCarthy will stay between the sticks. Most fans will feel pretty confident in McCarthy, who has had several impressive performances while filling in for Blake.
Some good news for the Union: their leading goalscorer is a definite to suit up.
Union’s frontman, CJ Sapong has been a thorn in New England’s side, over the years. Sapong has bagged four goals in his last three outings against the Revolution, and he’s drawn blood first on all three occasions.
As they have all season, the Union will rely on Sapong, who leads the team with 10 goals to his name, to hold up the ball so that the rest of his teammates can join in on the attack. It’s what they lacked away to Columbus last weekend, and a big reason they tallied no shots on frame.
A fourth consecutive victory in New England would see the Union pull level with Orlando City SC in seventh place in the Eastern Conference on 29 points. And with a match in hand against Columbus, the Union would sit just two points back from the sixth and final playoff position.
It’s a make-or-break match for the Union, again.
Win, and there is still a (long) shot at making the Promised Land come October. Lose, and their season is as good as over, unless some unforeseen miracle or worldly Deadline Day signing.
Despite the Union’s inability to create scoring opportunities this season, I don’t think they’ll have any issue scoring goals against this New England team.
As long as unselfish players (not naming any names) are off the field, and the Union continue to spread the ball out wide as well as they did on Wednesday night, I have faith that they can put two or three past Cody Cropper.
If they come out hungry like again, put loads of pressure on the opposing center halves and clean up the medicine ball passes at the back, there’s no reason the Union cannot earn a positive result on the road.
Kickoff is slated for 7:30 PM ET on The Comcast Network, MLS Live, as well as probably a number of illegal streaming sites.