Sorry for the bad pun..I couldn’t resist. The Union travel to San Jose to face an Earthquakes team who they have never defeated on the road. A team who are in a fine run of form and pushing for a playoff spot. The Union certainly have their work cut out for them, but can they pull something out of the bag?
The mentality here has to be to focus on the Open Cup and whilst the two game suspension of Maidana may seem like a curse, it may be a blessing in disguise. At this stage in the season with play-off hopes all but over, the team should be focusing on rotating to ensure that everyone is match fit for the Open Cup Final at PPL Park in a few weeks time. With Maidana now absent, it will force Curtin to experiment with some different players to see how they perform. Do you slide Barnetta back in to a central role or do you start Pfeffer? Does Ayuk come in if Barnetta moves down or does Wenger? There are a lot of questions about the most effective starting eleven for this team and it’s Curtin’s job to dissect that as the big game approaches.
The big key to this game is going to be finishing. The Earthquakes have conceded just one goal in August and have four clean sheets in a row. Two of those teams are LA Galaxy and DC United…two teams who are fighting for a Supporters Shield crown. The two teams also combined this season for 84 goals, San Jose shut them out. The Union on the other hand are a binary opposite. The Union’s strikers have only scored one goal in the entire month of August. Sapong has been on an ice cold streak recently whilst Le Toux has stepped in to save the day on the wing. If the Union have any hope at all of taking one point let alone three, finishing has to be the key. They cannot afford to be firing shots wide every few minutes, the shots taken have to be composed and well thought out. No tricks, no flicks, just a well placed shot into the bottom corner to beat a keeper who hasten shutouts and ninety saves to his name in the way of Bingham.
However, it’s the Unions back line and DM’s that could well dictate the game. Off the bat, the travelling side will be forced into a counter attacking style of play but one that has to slow the pace of the game down. Lahoud did a great job of dictating the pace in recent weeks, breaking up attacks and giving the midfield time to make runs before sending a ball through. Marquez will be assigned the task of stopping team top scorer Wondolowski who has found the net 12 times this season and he may just be the perfect match. Marquez has had a great season for the Union and will be more than up to the challenge. However, if the back line are caught sleeping or ball watching like we have seen so many times, Shea Salinas will almost certainly punish them. Philadelphia come into the game having conceded 12 goals in their last five away fixtures..but with back to back clean sheets on the road, it isn’t all doom and gloom.
In terms of a lineup for the Union, McCarthy should get the start in goal due to Blake’s International duty whilst the back four will consist of Gaddis and Fabinho at full backs with Marquez and Vitoria in the centre. Unchanged Lahoud seems to be the better player in transitional play so could start at DM but be subbed off later in the game for Carroll. Nogueira will most likely be partnered by Barnetta in midfield with Ayuk and Le Toux on the wing, leaving Sapong as the lone striker.
The Union tend to lose the games they should win and win the ones they should lose, but this game is going to be thin on goals. Whilst both teams are missing key players, the Earthquakes should seal a narrow win in a game where chances are minimal and possession is floated around the middle. The Union’s inability to finish chances could cost them dearly here as the weak link between Wynne and Bernandez often allows some fast paced counters..but it will be the away team’s inability to capitalise on such moves that will cost them a point.
San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 Philadelphia Union