Following a much needed and much deserved break, the Philadelphia Union return to MLS action this weekend as they host the Portland Timber at PPL Park t mark the second time the sides have met this season. The Union go into the game coming off of U.S Open Cup success and a 2-2 draw against the Impact in what was a very rainy affair. Seven points in their last five have seen the Union improve massively as they now sit four points outside of the playoff berth. The Timbers on the other hand have been hugely dominant as of late, winning five of their last six, and their second in a row with a victory against the Earthquakes just over a week ago. The Portland side sit just a point away from topping their conference.
One huge factor coming into this one is the Union’s injury woes. After such a huge break, players like Sapong who had previously completed all 90 minutes as a lone striker in most games not only have a chance to recover but know that help is on the way. Sebastien Le Toux returned to training during the week as did Steven Vitoria. The confirmation of Nando’s loan extension will also set some reassurance amongst the attackers as the new signing, once back from injury can help an already impressive Sapong.
The Union have been short handed in recent weeks but have arguably played their best football. Eric Ayuk has not only stood in for Le Toux but showed extremely impressive potential. Had it not been for a silly red card, the rookie would be almost guaranteed a start even once Super Seb returns. But with Wenger still struggling, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Ayuk replace the right midfielder in the coming games. The emergence of wing-backs Fabinho and Williams has been a real highlight, whilst the central midfield has become a lot more formidable. Maidana has taken a leading role and continues to help improve the games of players like Pfeffer and Nogueira. The question is, what do the Union have to do to combat the explosive Timbers?
To put it simply, the Union simply have to find a way to storm the trenches. The Timbers have one of the most impressive defensive records in the league, conceding only 20 goals in 19 games with eight clean sheets in the process. Adam Kwarasey has the most clean sheets in the MLS and will be looking to add another tomorrow. To overcome this, the DOOPers need to simply have their most creative players on the pitch and stick to the gameplan that Curtin deploys. Too many times in the past, the Union have conceded a goal and lose the rigidness that was obviously intended. The players begin to roam from positions, leaving more holes open. Like the Galaxy, the Timbers are a team who will make you pay for defensive errors. Possession and a slower tempo will be needed to stop Darlington Nagbe and Adi. But without further ado, here’s our predicted lineup:
If you read last weeks preview, you’ll see how close we were with our prediction, only two players were different. This is what we feel would work best against the Timbers. It would be easy to start two forwards or have Maidana as an AMC but frankly, a point against a team so dominant would be a good result. I would much rather see that position drop back and allow Edu to start as a defensive mid. That also allows the return of Vitoria who will partner the impressive Richie Marquez. Sapong once again will start as the lone striker with Ayuk eventually replacing Wenger and Le Toux reclaiming his position on the wing. Andre Blake should get the start in net purely for the fact that putting trust in a player who knows he’s leaving soon is good for nobodies morale. Blake is probably the most effective keeper in the lineup despite his lack of Union experience. McCarthy’s heroics here would be simply used as a weapon for the pacey Darlington Nagbe, it makes sense to give the start to Blake an entrust in the future of the team.
Whilst the Offence will need to be at its best against Portland, the Defence are going to be encountering a war of their own. But it may be a war they win. Adi and Nagbe are notorious threats, that is no surprise to anyone in this league. Adi alone has 8 goals this season, whilst Superdraft prodigy Nagbe continues to prove how important the event really is. Playing Edu as a defensive midfielder will alow extra cover for the two CB’s as they try to contain the elusive pairing. If the defence can man mark or at least deploy a counter attacking style of football to draw the opposing players out of position before launching a dangerous ball to Ayuk or Le Toux, then they may well not only stop the two forwards but maybe even win a game against Portland for the first ever time.
There still remains one player that the Union have to keep a steady eye on though and that man is Diego Valeri. He’s the type of player that MLS teams dream of having. Looping passes, sensational skill on the ball and emphatic finishes are what makes the Argentine so lethal, keeping him chained up is going to be an incredibly hard task, and one which depending on its success, may decide the game.
Prediction: The Union have had a deserved rest and will feel refreshed as they head into this fixture, with players returning to the lineup who they so desperately need. If this match had occurred three weeks ago, it would have been a Portland win, no doubt. But, with the Union coming back to full force, at home, with their starting 11 bursting with energy, I think they can steal a point.
Score: Philadelphia Union 1-1 Portland Timbers