U in Preview — Matchday Promo: NYCFC vs. Philadelphia Union

Match Coverage, Match Preview, News, Union, UnionFanTV

Before each Philadelphia Union Matchday, Philly Football Daily Executive Video Producer Andrew Treves brings you the sights and sounds from the Union’s last time out.  

Andrew Treves captured the sights and sounds from the stands, concourse and field during the Philadelphia Union’s last meeting with the New York City Football Club. Check it:

 

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U in Preview — Matchday 2: Columbus Versus Philadelphia

Match Coverage, Match Preview, News, Union

After a week off, the Philadelphia Union are set to return to action this Saturday, when they host unbeaten Columbus Crew SC at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, PA.

First, Philly Football Daily takes a look at the visitors:

Columbus Crew SC (2-0-0):

Right now, Columbus look nothing like a team that needs saving.

Crew SC, as they are currently known, might not be around this time next year. Columbus could be playing their final season in Ohio, as a proposed move to Austin, Texas continues to loom.

In the meantime, the Crew have gotten off to a perfect start.

Columbus blanked “rivals” and reigning MLS Cup winners Toronto Football Club two-nil at BMO Field in Canada in their first match. They then staved off Montreal Impact 3-2 last week, in their home opener.

Players to Watch:

Columbus also look nothing like the outfit that nearly surprised the league last Fall, when the Ohioan club narrowly missed out on making MLS Cup after falling one-nil on aggregate to the eventual winners, TFC.

They’ve parted ways with several notable first-team players from last season.

Justin Meram was shipped South to Orlando City SC, Norwegian Ola Kamara was swapped for United States international and LA Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes, while both Kekuta Manneh and Waylon Francis have moved on to new pastures, too.

Gyasi Zardes, ST

Mentioned above is Gyasi Zardes, who is quickly settling into manager Greg Berhalter’s team and filling the void left by last season’s club-leading goalscorer Ola Kamara.

Zardes is, based on his numbers so far, mounting a run at the MLS Golden Boot award. In two matches, the Crew’s new signing has three goals, which makes Zardes an obvious player for fans and Union defenders to keep tabs on.

Zach Steffen, GK

It’s highly unlikely that goalkeeper Zach Steffen, a former Philadelphia Union academy player, will put the ball into the back of Andre Blake’s net this Saturday. Instead, he’ll be tasked with doing the opposite at the other end.

In each passing game, the Columbus No. 1 continues to make a strong case to succeed Tim Howard and Brad Guzan as the future No. 1 for the USMNT. Steffen, 22, is visibly mature beyond his years and is the anchor of the Crew’s backline.

Expect Steffen to be vocal throughout the match, barking orders of positioning and marking toward his defenders. Also expect the Coatesville, PA native to make a few big-time saves in his homecoming on Saturday.

Federico Higuaín, MF

Federico Higuaín scored his 50th career MLS goal in last week’s match against Montreal. The Argentine is a player Union midfielders Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin will have the tall-task of tracking all day long.

“Pipa” has a natural tendency to roam the pitch freely and an ability to spray passes that split opposing defenders, switch the field, and spring the Crew’s attack. Even at age 33, Higuaín is a real game changer.

Projected Starting XI: 

Here’s how the visitors are predicted to lineup in Chester this Saturday:

Starting XI Opponent.jpg

Injuries and Suspensions: 

Mike Grella (OUT) and Gaston Sauro (OUT); Josh Williams (Questionable)

Philadelphia Union (1-0-0): 

It remains to be seen how the Union’s bye week will affect the team’s momentum heading into Saturday’s match against the red-hot Crew.

Philadelphia’s week absence from MLS play, of course, was due to their opponent, Seattle Sounders, having a midweek CONCACAF Champions League match against Club Deportivo Guadalajara in Mexico.

MLS has rescheduled the Union’s match at Century Link Field against Seattle to Wednesday, September 19. 

Following a comfortable and deserved two-nil win at home, against a nine-man New England Revolution on March 3, the Union will be looking to extend their own unbeaten start to the season and halt the momentum of an in-form Columbus side.

Jim Curtin’s team were comfortable in possession and showed a tenacity in running at the New England backline all night. However, it should be noted that the Union played up a man for more than 85 minutes and up two from then on after.

Far from clinical in front of goal, the Union’s offense will look to do better by their scoring opportunities on Saturday.

Players to Watch:

Curtin isn’t expected to make many changes, if any at all, to the Starting XI that defeated New England 2-0 last time out.

CJ Sapong, ST

CJ Sapong, who signed a new, two-year contract with the club on Wednesday, scored one of the goals in the Union’s match against the Revs. Last season’s club-leading goalscorer with 16 league goals arguably should’ve had as many in the last match.

Sapong was presented several good chances in front of New England’s rookie goalkeeper Matt Turner, but the Union’s frontman was, admittedly, not clinical enough on the night.

But it happens to even the best forwards, and Sapong is currently in the best form of his MLS career.

Sapong will be a handful for Columbus’ center-backs all night, using his body to hold up the ball for the Union’s attack, and he’ll draw fouls in key scoring-areas for Medunjanin, or the next man, to do the rest.

Bořek Dočkal, CAM

According to Curtin, in his weekly press conference held on Wednesday, Bořek Dočkal will take the field on Saturday, although the Czech international midfielder is reportedly not fit enough to last a full 90 minutes.

Fans who were hoping to see the the Union’s most notable offseason signing debut in the home opener against New England will finally get their chance on Saturday, against the Crew.

Dočkal is on loan from Chinese Super League club Henan Jianye FC and will remain with the Union for the remainder of the season. It remains to be seen whether the Union’s new No. 10 will start on the bench or in the Starting XI on Saturday.

Homegrown player and Newark, Delaware native Anthony Fontana started at Dočkal’s preferred CAM position last time out, logging 65 minutes and scoring on his MLS and Philadelphia Union debut.

Ahead of Dočkal’s debut for the club, here are some of the Czech’s 2016/2017 highlights.

Auston Trusty, CB

Like Jack Elliott, Auston Trusty’s defensive partner to his right, Philadelphia’s other Homegrown debutant had a quiet, but impressive showing in the club’s first shutout of the season.

Trusty had several shaky passes early on, as it was to be expected, but the young defender quickly settled into the match, showcasing his speed when chasing down and tracking runners throughout the night. Trusty also showed a fearlessness going into tackles, which is undoubtedly a byproduct of years playing soccer in Delaware County.

At just 19, Trusty’s is playing at a level well-ahead of his years. Predicted to start again on Saturday, all eyes will be on the United States youth international. This time, Trusty will be tasked with shutting down a senior international player in Gyasi Zardes.

Projected Starting XI: 

Here’s how the home side are predicted to lineup in Chester this Saturday:

Starting XI Union.jpg

Injuries and Suspensions:

Ilsinho (OUT); Fabrice-Jean Picault (SUSPENDED)

Match Notes:

Kickoff: 2 PM EST

Venue: Talen Energy Stadium

Referee: Nima Saghafi

Tele: 6ABC, MLS Live


Be sure to follow Philly Football Daily on Twitter for LIVE Tweets throughout the match,  during the post-match press conference, and directly from the locker. You can also follow along here, on PFD, with our Story Stream, which will include Tweets, score updates, and commentary.

Until then, thanks for reading. Cheers.

U in Preview — Matchday 22: New England Versus Union

Match Preview, News

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.

Final Thoughts

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. 

U in Preview — Matchday 21: Columbus Versus Union

Match Preview, News

It’s back to Talen Energy Stadium, back to the drawing board for Jim Curtin and the Philadelphia Union, after a lackluster performance in Columbus. 

In the first installment of the home-and-home series against Columbus Crew SC, it was the Ohioan outfit who came out on top to claim a vital three points. Neither side were at their best on the day, or full strength for that matter, but Columbus ultimately did enough to see off another playoff hopeful.

At this point in the season, it’s a result that could prove to be the dagger for the Philadelphia Union’s post-season hopes. Here’s how the table looks these days (Hint: not very good).

Jim Curtin will look to bring a few of his guys back from injury and suspension on Wednesday night, when the Union host the Crew for round two of the pivotal home-and-home.

UnionFanTV takes a closer look at how both teams shape up, this time around.

Philadelphia (6 W, 9 L, 5 D; 23 points)

It was a rather green Blue-and-Gold side that Curtin rolled out last time around. Injury, suspension, exhaustion and international duties kept several key Union players out of the XI, and even the 18 for Saturday’s loss.

Young Guns Marcus Epps and Adam Najem were handed their first career Major League Soccer starts in Saturday’s defeat. Injury to Fabian Herbers, suspension to Roland Alberg and international assignment for Chris Pontius forced Curtin to look toward his bench to fill the void left.

Fans who missed the debuts of Epps and Najem in the Starting XI might get another chance on Wednesday. Herbers and Pontius will both miss out on Wednesday’s contest against Columbus.

Herbers is recovering from sports hernia surgery; the German is expected to miss the next 4-8 weeks. While Pontius is away in California with Bruce Arena’s United States Mens’ National Team; the Union midfielder will look to hoist the Gold Cup on Wednesday night, when he faces off against club teammate, Andre Blake and Jamaica.

Epps is the most likely to get another start for Curtin in the Union’s next outing, especially with Fafa Picault still questionable after tweaking a hamstring in the match against Montréal last week.

Of course, this is as of Monday, July 24. We’ll keep fans posted on the injury status of Picault, including every Union player heading into Wednesday’s match. 

One to keep an eye on: it will be interesting to see if Joshua Yaro lines up next to Jack Elliot at the start of Wednesday’s match. While veteran center half, Oguchi Onyewu was given a well-deserved rest on Saturday, Yaro was given the run-around by Curtin.

Yaro looked fairly calm and composed on the night, and the 22-year-old defender matched Colombus’ speedy attackers for pace. Yaro even scored a goal! Although the Ghanaian probably wishes he could get that one back.

Another player to keep an eye on is Union leading scorer, CJ Sapong. He missed out on the last contest with a right ankle sprain. In his absence, Jay Simpson got the start for the Blue-and-Gold.

There’s still no word on the status of the Union’s target man, who has nine goals on the year. 

Simpson looked lively once again, but was unable to find the back of the net. It marks 12 matches without a goal for the Englishman, who was brought in by Sporting Director Earnie Stewart during the January transfer window.

Curtin will hope that his side can generate more scoring chances at home, as the Union registered just two total shots on goal between their matches against Montréal and Columbus. Fortunately for the gaffer, there is reason to believe they will be better, as 16 of the Union’s 26 goals this season have come playing at Talen Energy Stadium.

They’ve had to rely on heroics at the other end, especially from the Union’s No. 2 keeper, John McCarthy, who has had several standout performances since stepping in for the absent Andre blake.

Expect the Union to turn up the tempo on Wednesday night, throwing numbers forward and pressing high up the pitch. Three points is a must, if the Union are to have any shot at securing a playoff position.

These are clearly desperate times for the Philadelphia Union, which could prompt Jim Curtin to go for it and tinker with Wednesday’s lineup.

Columbus (10 W, 10 L, 1 D; 31 points)

Winners of their last three competitive matches, Gregg Berhalter’s team is riding high and certainly in good spirits.

While the Crew have struggled to score goals as of late, they haven’t conceded at the other end. Saturday’s result was a third consecutive clean sheet for young goalkeeper and former Philadelphia Union academy standout, Zack Steffen.

They’ve remained unbeaten in three even without arguably their best player in Federico Higuaín. Good news for Columbus fans, and even worse news for Philadelphia’s supporters, the Argentinian playmaker could make his return to action on Wednesday night versus the Union.

Higuaín, who has missed the Crew’s last two matches with a right knee sprain, has bagged nine goals and five assists so far this season. It’s impressive numbers from the midfielder to say the least, but by no means are they an anomaly for the South American Designated Player.

If Higuaín is to return to the fold, expect a Union midfielder — most likely Alejandro Bedoya or Derrick Jones, should he suit up — to shadow him all night long.

Another player Union defenders will have to keep close tabs on is Norwegian striker Ola Kamara. Crew’s front man has matched Federico Higuaín’s goal tally this season with nine goals to his name.

Kamara threatened McCarthy’s goal on several occasions in the previous matchup, and if it weren’t for another strong performance from the young goalkeeper, Kamara might very well have added multiple goals to his already impressive record this campaign. Look for Kamara to seek revenge in their second meeting on Wednesday night.

Wednesday’s home-and-home finale is the first of three away matches for Columbus. After the Union, the Crew will head out west to take on Real Salt Lake and San Jose respectively. It’s a grueling upcoming schedule, one that is similar to the Union’s.

Final Thoughts

Hope is waning for many fans and members of the media alike. I, for one, am worried about the Union’s injury woes. Although the Union have depth (for once), there is loads of inexperience within their reserve ranks.

While Epps and Najem are undoubtedly promising young players, whom have already showed flashes of maturity early in their respective careers, I worry that they are still too unpolished.

What the Union need at this point in the year are veteran guys, who can grind out results, both at home and on the road. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to keep those guys healthy as of late.

I also worry about the Union’s inability to spur any sort of attack. For once, the backline is the least of fans’ worries. Two shots on target in two matches speaks volumes. It’s no secret: if you cannot get off shots, you’re never going to score. Right now, the Union look plain lost in the attacking half of the pitch.

If the Union are to have any shot in this match, they’ll need to keep the ball, something they rarely do. And if the Union do manage to keep control of possession, they’ll need prominent players like Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin to provide quality service to whoever Curtin throws up top.

On paper, the Crew’s hardest match of their next three is arguably the Union. After Saturday’s result, one would have to think Berhalter’s team will feel confident enough to go for it at Philadelphia. If Columbus drop two points, or even three, they can find comfort in knowing their next two matches are against more favorable opposition.

They’re tasting blood, at the moment, as the Crew currently sit two points back from Atlanta United in fourth. A win would see them jump the Georgian club in the table and gain some ground on Orlando City SC, who are on their backs, currently.

Wednesday night could either be a springboard for a miraculous second-half of the season run, or the dagger through Philadelphia’s heart. Fans shall soon see. Make sure to check back tomorrow for injury updates and more from Jim Curtin’s weekly presser.