Coming off of a controversial result against the Chicago Fire, the Philadelphia Union travel to Montreal to face an Impact side who have taken seven points from their last five games. In a situation where every point matters for the Union if they are to reach that last playoff spot, this could be the toughest challenge the team have faced all season.
The first real hit to the Union comes in the way of Maurice Edu. It was confirmed earlier on that an appearance from the Union’s captain would take a miracle. However the team won’t be totally lost without their defensive midfield leader. As discussed in our podcast earlier on, the Union look like a much better team now compared to when the sides met at PPL Park earlier this season.
With so many injuries, the team have almost learned to cope short handed. Players have stepped up to fill vacancies so often that they have become first team ready players. Marquez has looked great recently and with Vitoria back as a dedicated CB, the back four will be incredibly strong. Whilst Edu is quicker than Vitoria, it’s not speed you need against someone like Drogba, it’s strength..something Vitoria has in abundance.
As for the midfield, Lahoud and Carroll have done a great job at controlling the middle third, allowing Maidana to do his thing and become one of the best playmakers in the league. So whilst Edu’s absence will be a disadvantage for the Union, it does not leave them vulnerable by any stretch of the imagination.
The big key for this game is going to be the Union’s Defense. Until the Chicago result last week, the Union’s back four had actually looked the best it had for a while. Two clean sheets and some impressive performances from Gaddis and Fabinho laid the foundations for the CB’s to make an impact. The Back four have been able to retain their shape a lot more effectively, but with Fabinho’s ability to charge forward and whip a ball in..it can leave a huge hole. Until recently, that has been one of the main forms of attack for the opposition. Draw the full backs high before looping a ball in behind for a striker to run onto. Carroll and Lahoud have began to make that task a little trickier but coming up against someone as quick as Oduro or potentially Drogba. Oduro can out-run just about anyone but suffers a problem all too relatable…he struggles to find the net and convert chances.
Even if Drogba doesn’t start, you cannot underestimate Piatti or the creativity of Marco Donadel. Montreal’s midfield and strike force have become more than efficient this season and whilst Oduro may struggle to find the net, former Chelsea star Didier Drogba may not if he plays. Former Union winger Justin Mapp will make a return to PPL Park for the Impact and is expected to cause a few problems.
This is a game where the Union have to remain composed. Regardless of tactics, gameplans, expectations..they have to control the flow of the game and retain possession. Montreal are a patient team and have no problem getting the ball and playing it through over an extended period of time with short passes. Piatti for instance has eight goals for a midfielder and with former Liege centre back Laurent Ciman back in the team, the Union will struggle going over the top. The Union have to utilise the flanks..arguably Montreal’s weakest point and one which has become one of the Union’s strongest.
With Barnetta’s new found chemistry with Fabinho as he settles in to the role and a now in form Le Toux, the Union finally have the wing play they were craving when the year started. If the Union decide to start Maidana, he will for obvious reasons be a focal point of preparation for Montreal. Maidana could be set to make history with the amount of assists he is racking up and with three in his previous game, the Montreal midfield will be very much aware of his talent. So if Maidana does get marked out of the game, then full attacking responsibility will fall on the shoulders of the wide midfielders. Instead of Fabinho or Gaddis charging up the field, they have to now instead play a ball through to the danger men and retreat to cover their area..if they don’t then it could spell disaster.
In terms of a lineup, it should look something similar to this. Curtin has already eluded to Andre Blake finally earning a start in goal whilst the absence of Edu will see Vitoria and Richie Marquez partner up in the middle of Defense. Carroll and Lahoud will sit back in DM roles to t
ry and prevent Montreal’s dynamic attack whilst Maidana will become the playmaker, starting in a line alongside Le Toux and Barnetta with Aristeguieta starting as a lone striker.
Overall, I think the Union could snatch a draw here. Both teams should find the back of the net regardless of off a previous Premier League winner plays or not. If the Union can play Jim Curtin’s trusted counter attacking style of play and ensure that Gaddis stay on Oduro at all times, then I see no reason why they couldn’t cause a huge upset. However, realistically, it will be a fast paced game and the Union will have their hand forced by a Montreal team who are desperate to land a good finish.
Montreal Impact 2-2 Philadelphia Union