After a gruelling yet ultimately rewarding U.S Open Cup fixture during the week, the Philadelphia Union travel to Washington to face leaders of the East Conference and now familiar foe, D.C. United.
United may be leading the Conference but were knocked out of the U.S. Open Cup by the Union just a few games back and are now scrapping to get back to winning ways following two consecutive defeats. Whilst the Union haven’t won a league game away from home all season, the advantage of playing an out of form team that you have already defeated will be huge. Not only that, but the Union themselves have been in very good form over the last few weeks and should make for even stiffer competition than they were in their previous win over D.C. This will mark the fourth time that the teams have met this season as the MLS starts to create quite the rivalry between the two sides.
Normally this is where we talk about the various threats the Union have to be wary of, but after meeting eachother three times, Philadelphia certainly have a very good idea of who they’re up against. Conceding less than a goal per game, United, in terms of stats have the best Defence in the league. But strangely, a team in contention for winning the Supporters Shield are struggling at the other end of the pitch. In their 24 matches this season, they have only scored 22 times. It’s not a recent slump after some big wins either, in their last five away games, they have found the net just three times.
2005 Superdraft pick Chris Rolfe has the most goals on the team with 6 with the remaining goals being spread out amongst almost an entire team, but D.C. come into this game with an added weapon however. New signing Alvaro Saborio may well find his way onto the pitch in the second half to ease into the lineup. The former Salt Lake star not only adds some experience and an evident threat in front of goal ( a much needed one at that) but gives D.C. even more chemistry. An old partnership re-instated. Current D.C. man Espindola combined with Saborio at Salt Lake for an impressive 65 goals and 21 assists in just three seasons.
This is going to be the biggest challenge for the Union, containing such a dangerous strike force. Up front, the Philadelphia Union seem to have things nailed, with Aristegueta now back in the lineup following a highly motivated effort when he was substituted on against the Red Bulls, the Union have a chance to rotate and perhaps try some new tricks come the latter stages of the game. Nando was flying into tackles, challenging passbacks and contributing to all aspects of play. With a man sent off, it was the type of performance that was needed to help see them through to the next round of the U.S. Open Cup.
In terms of a potential formation, the Union should look something like this. With the back line now back to the problems it formerly faced following the trade of Williams, a 4-4-2 may well be the most effective formation here. It allows Edu and White to play CB whilst Marquez can get back to 100% if needed following a minor setback and gives Curtin the option of playing the defensive Brian Carroll or more attacking minded midfielder of Nogueira to partner Maidana. With Ayuk on the left hand side, threading balls through to everyone’s favourite ginger giant, it means Le Toux will receive a reduced work rate and relieve some pressure off of the right hand side. Le Toux instead can focus on winning the ball, stopping runs from DeLeon and preventing Korb from running into the Centre.
Curtin may well decide that a one striker formation is working well, if it isn’t broke don’t fix it. But Sapong will be itching to get back into the lineup and with Aristeguieta partnering him and adding some much needed height in the box, the opportunity may be too good to pass on. Bearing in mind, this side concedes the least goals per game in the league so the Union will need all the firepower they can muster up.
For the Union, the main key to a win here is the midfield. D.C. will be heavy on attack regardless of if their new signing starts or not. Arrieta is still a fantastic forward so if the back four can slow the pace of the game down and keep the ball with some short passes threading into the midfield, the rest will become a lot easier. Against Toronto, Maidana was almost frozen out of the game. A wise move by Delgado to stop someone so vivid when in motion. If D.C. can do that then the Union will be scratching their heads, scrapping along the wings to try and create chances. But if they can’t..then we may just see a few more mesmerising one-two passes in the build up to a few goals.
The two teams are starting to build quite the rivalry now with late drama trailing them in their wake. Zach Pfeffer’s stoppage time goal was just one example of a dramatic finish, a red card for the Union in the Open Cup before a righteous comeback and a Chris Rolfe 85th minute penalty have left their mark on the leagues quickest brewing rivalry.
Prediction: Coach Curtin will be wary of overusing some of his starters, especially with his main focus now shifting to the U.S. Open Cup, so we may see some surprises come match day, Zach Pfeffer could replace Nogueira whilst Casey could also feature. Wenger is still out with concussion whilst it’s unclear how soon Vitoria will return to the back line. However, his team will be high off confidence and playing in a fixture that always brings with it intensity and drama, the players will no doubt be ready for everything that D.C throw their way. United are currently on a two losing streak and judging off how intense the previous encounters have been and how much effort the players put in, that record is only going to extend.
Score- D.C. United- 1-2 Philadelphia Union