The quest for the Quarters: Union vs D.C United US Open Cup Preview

Tonight marks the fifth game in just fourteen days for the Philadelphia Union and with injuries still embedded deep into the lineup, the situation is far from ideal. However, D.C are in the same boat when it comes to fixtures and then have to travel to Seattle to face the Sounders. With a long period of time before the Union’s next game, it’s one final time to give it all before getting some well deserved rest ahead of their playoff charge.

The Union are coming off of what was a disappointing point on paper, but an impressive one overall. The conditions were horrific and both teams were fortunate the game went ahead. Saying that, the team showed great character and fought bravely to a 2-2 draw.

This marks the third time the teams have met this season, with both previous encounters being spread evenly with a win a piece. However, cup football is a very different beast. The Union were taken to penalties in the previous round, in what turned out to be a very slow paced game. This match is going to end up being a binary opposite, both teams want success. The Union have a rich history here and would love to make it to the final again, D.C are chasing their fourth US Open Cup and are going to be a very tough opponent to overcome. So how should the Union line up?

I could see something like this being the formation fielded tonight. Whilst there may be a few differences, this may well be the most effective. Ayuk made a silly mistake in his previous game but the yellow prior to the Red was probably the wrong call. If you start Wenger on the right, you run the risk of inconsistency and another sub par performance in a position that is so imperative to the Union’s counter attack. But if you bench him, the morale drops and he may not play up to the level we know he can when he rejoins the lineup. In transitioning him to the left hand side, it gives the rookie a chance, keeps Wenger in the lineup and perhaps throws a curveball at DC who now have to cope with an unknown on both flanks.

Nogueira has the playmaking ability to hold down the central midfield whilst Maidana will naturally drift forward as a false nine or a deep lying playmaker. This allows Pfeffer to join the attack when needed but also be ready to run back and aid the defence. Fabinho and Williams have been exceptional as of late so expect their dynamic wing back play to be in full effect should they get the start. McCarthy should get the start at net, resting the uncertain Rais and getting him more experience.

In terms of the keys to the game for the Union, it’s going to be a case of exploiting the stretched depth of United. Yes, the Union aren’t exactly gifted with options but DC have it worse and you can expect them to field players who have barely started this season. Veterans like Markus Halsti may take to the field and it’s up to the Union to make sure they exploit their low match fitness. The great thing about the Union’s current situation is that every player is getting game time. DC haven’t had that leisure so when they rest players, the ones replacing them will need to adapt and adapt fast.

Another is going to be utilising the now franchise goals in a season tying record holder CJ Sapong. Whilst the youngster didn’t score against the Impact, he continued his fantastic run of form. If he can do that against DC United tonight then he’s going to be a real threat.

D.C right now have a very unpredictable formation. If Chris Pontius returns then he may well partner with Arrieta up front, but that would see some serious revisions in the formation as Connor Doyle may find his nose put out of joint. If Pontius is back in the lineup, expect Edu to be the man staying on his tail for the 90 minutes being played. The Union have to stay rigid for this game and make sure that the defensive shape does not fluctuate as the pace of play changes. Far too often the Union are found with gaping holes as the team push forward, if they can prevent that, not only will it give a tired DC United a headache, but also swing the momentum in the way of the home side who can dictate the pace of play.

Prediction:

The Union should come away with a win tonight. DC are a tough opponent to overcome, but with their fitness levels being low and match fitness levels of those looking to start perhaps even worse, the Union certainly have once again a big advantage. Short passing, creative wing play and playing Fabinho in a more attacking style of play should guide the Union to a shutout win. But things aren’t always that simple so we’re going with both teams to score and a Union win.

Score- Philadelphia Union 2-1 D.C United

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