Union face a new set of challenges in a week that could make or break their confidence

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The Philadelphia Union were able to continue their emphatic home run with a win over DC United on Friday night. Philadelphia found the break through in the ninety-second minute on a wonder goal from defender Richie Marquez, to earn the team a 1-0 win. The game was a bit of  snoozer before the goal. Each team had chances, but in the end only Philly was able to capitalize. After a tough rivalry game win, the Union find themselves atop of the Eastern conference. They will need to keep up their impressive play this week if they’re to stay there however; The Union travel to Orlando to play on Wednesday night, and then travel to Colorado to play on Saturday. These games are going to be difficult when you factor in the travel and will either make or break the Union’s confidence.

The first place Union play two games in four days, for the second time in three weeks, this weekend. The last time Philadelphia played midweek and on the weekend they drew LA Galaxy, and Montreal Impact. While those games were against difficult teams and the stakes were high, these two upcoming games mean even more. The Union are on a five game unbeaten streak, hold first place in the eastern conference, and have played one/two fewer games than the other Eastern conference contenders. If the Union get good results in these two games, they will retain the top spot in the East and will gain even more confidence. So  the question is, how can the Union do this?

Coach Jim Curtin stressed that these games are important because they are the “games in hand” that the Union have on the rest of the conference; he also stated that good results from these games is going to be a complete team effort. For the weeks trips to Orlando and Colorado the entire team will be traveling. This is the first time the Union have brought every single player on a long trip. Curtin alluded to needing every player to be with the team should their number be called. This tactic is important to the Union’s success! The Union have had good production from their starters, but where there are two games in four days rotation could be necessary.

The Talen Energy stadium residents have used their core starters in most games and have rarely had to tap into their roster..but these two games seem to be the time for the Union to use their new-found depth at many positions. The Union play in hot and humid Orlando on Wednesday, and then have to go out west to deal with the high altitude of Colorado. Depth is going to be key, but how are the Union going to deal with the extreme travel and whether? And who could feature over the two games?

Philadelphia are deep this year, even if they haven’t quite showed all of the cards in their hand. The Union have had eighteen of their twenty-three players feature in games. However, they have fallen into the same starting eleven in recent weeks. Le Toux, Sapong, Pontius, Barnetta, Nogueira, Carroll/Creavalle, Fabinho/Gaddis, Marquez, Yaro, Rosenberry, Blake. As you can see there has been some rotation in the line-up thanks to the roster depth. There have been players who have also come off the bench or had some starts as well.

Rookie attacker Fabian Herbers has been a super sub for the Union this season, Defender Ken Tribbett had a stretch of games early in the year before getting injured, newcomers Alberg and Ilshino have started some games and featured as subs, Leo Fernandez has featured a bit, and Anderson played one game this year proving he is forth on the center back depth chart. The only players to not feature are: Speedy winger Walter Restrepo, Cameroonian U-20 national team member Eric Ayuk, injured captain Maurice Edu, and rookies Cole Missimo and Taylor Washington. The only player that will not feature this weekend is Maurice Edu; who is in the last month of his injury. The four players who have not seen the field for the Union this year have had consistent minutes with affiliate team Bethlehem Steel FC. So all of these players will be traveling on the teams long road trip this season but who they see minutes?

You have to look at the two opponents to answer this question. Coach Curtin has previously stated that every game against eastern conference opponents are like rivalry games. So I would think the Wednesday night clash against Orlando will feature the “starting group” more or less, and that subs will be used strategically by the Union to rest some important players. Look for Wednesday’s starters be: Le Toux, Sapong, Pontius, Barnetta, Nogueira, Carroll, Fabinho, Marquez, Yaro, Rosenberry, Blake. Possible subs being: Herbers for Pontius, Alberg for Barnetta, and Ilshino for Le Toux. These subs give rest for these three important players, and keeps the attacking pressure on. Wednesday night should look similar to the normal Union; Saturday is another story.

While Saturday nights game is going to be 1st in the West versus first in the East, don’t look for the Union to roll out the same lineup as Wednesday night. Fatigue and travel will inevitably play a factor on the match. The Union will likely start other players in multiple positions, and should be able to do fine. Colorado will be without star players Jermaine Jones and Shkelzen Gashi as they will be reporting to their national team duties. So a little squad rotation will happen, and can still produce a favorable result.

This week will be tough and telling. The Union are on a grueling trip; they will fight long travel, quality opponents, and brutal climates. If this team is going to go anywhere this year they will need to get results from these games. I think it is realistic to say the Union can come away from this trip with four points. I think they will get a hard-fought win in Orlando, and then rotate the squad and produce a draw at Colorado. The Union play Orlando Wednesday night at 7:30 eastern time, a win gives the Union some much-needed distance away from other Eastern conference teams; let’s see if they can keep this unbeaten streak going and keep their confidence. Come back to Philly Sports Network later in the week for Orlando game analysis, and a preview of  the battle of 1st place teams.

 

Mandatory photo credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

 

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