Last weekend the Union pulled off a huge upset by defeating the Montreal Impact and retaining a clean sheet to keep their play-off chances alive. This week, they face an equally challenging task in the form of beating New England at PPL Park to complete the next chapter in what could be the biggest underdog story in MLS history.
Achieving that goal however will be no easy task. The Revs are fifth in the East on 34 points, whilst being undefeated in their previous four games. Not only that but the team are well rested after a bye week and embrace the return of Jermaine Jones. But their saving grace could well be the Revs away form. They have a -14 goal difference on the road, the second worst in the league and have only accumulated two road wins all year.
The Union enter the game with the return of Vincent Nogueira and also Andrew Wenger. Whilst the winger will probably remain benched, Nogs will surely give the Union the offensive threat they have craved in recent fixtures. With Maidana and Nogs creating so many chances in the centre whilst Le Toux and Barnetta attempt to control the flanks, the Union have perhaps their most intimidating lineup that they have seen all season.
They have also seen a dramatic improvement in goalkeeping. With M’bolhi now gone, the team have turned to McCarthy and Sylvestre who have both had varying levels of success..but the keeper last game was Andre Blake. The highly touted first overall pick finally made his debut and was able to hold Montreal to a shutout..with a midfield as diverse and an attack as strong as the Impact, it definitely deserves some praise…that and he had to fend off the Ivorian beast himself, Didier Drogba.
The Revs are dangerous offensively but on the road can never seem to get their defensive positioning right..a problem the Union know only too well. But it could be either a blessing or a curse. The Union sacrificed a lot of possession in the first half and were lucky that a scrapping Impact couldn’t capitalise. Nguyen will have other ideas if the Revs can dominate the first half like the Impact did or as his team did in the second half against Houston. The USMNT international has netted three goals in his last four and with Jermaine Jones tipped to make the starting lineup, his creative freedom could go from average to explosive with the touch of a button.
In terms of a lineup, the Union could see a few changes. With Vitoria back to full flight and now the return of Nogueira, the team have a lot of freedom..and depth that was missing in the last few weeks. Blake should be given one more test in goal before Curtin brings McCarthy back in whilst Vitoria and Marquez will partner up in the defensive line. Edu should sit in just ahead of them with Nogs and Maidana controlling the midfield. Barnetta will be a big threat on the left as he continues his adjustment to the MLS whilst the in-form Le Toux will look to score in yet another consecutive game. Sapong should be the lone striker but the formation could become a 4-1-4-1 as opposed to the usual shape. It allows for much more control in the centre of midfield whilst allowing the two centre mids to press higher up the field.
The key to this game has to once again be possession. Curtin has already hinted about how he is aiming to control the transition aspect and for me that was the biggest positive against Montreal. The team were able to slow the ball down off of an attack and then press forward as opposed to the sometimes scrappy through balls we were used to seeing. This saw a much more composed team and a much better pass completion rate in comparison to recent weeks. If that is the focal point of this team then it is going to be hugely effective, bearing in mind how aggressive the Revs like to push.
The Revs will be “revving up” (it was coming..) for a big game. They know how crucial for this is and will approach it as though it was a playoff game. The Revs have far to many goalscorers to be underestimated. With Agudelo and Davies scoring 13 goals between them, it’s hard to overlook them. The Union’s back four is going to be pivotal this weekend..which is why having Vitoria, Marquez and Edu all back there is so crucial. The residents of PPL Park cannot afford to surrender the same opportunities that they did agains the Impact, because unlike the Canadian side..New England will punish.
Both teams need to come away with a win this weekend there is no doubt about it. We may just see a performance replicating that of the Open Cup game in which the Union battered Chicago down to the ground. If the team go out there with just as much drive and hunger as the Revs then this game is going to get interesting. The Union’s fullbacks will assumingly stay back which could see the midfield third being the most active of the day. Both teams should find the back of the net and with the Revs struggling so much away from home, the Union have to capitalise on that to end what has been a great run of form from the away side. As an optimist I could see a 2-1 win for the Union but honestly feel as though it has a score draw written all over it..but we’re from Philly..we fight.
Philadelphia Union 2-1 New England Revolution