The Union are 7 points out of first in the eastern conference. They currently sit in fourth place behind New York City FC, Toronto FC, and New York Red Bulls. The Union are only four points above the redline, and if they continue to drop, they could wind up below the line. This conference is heating up. Many of the good teams in the east have corrected early slides to look like key contenders. The Union have been in a bit of a skid, but have the chance to right their recent wrongs in the next coming weeks. The question is this: Can the Union reclaim the Eastern conference?
In may and June the East was Philadelphia’s. They weren’t just playing teams they were beating teams. The key to their success was team defense, a successful press, and great transition play. A major factor to all three of those things was Vincent Nogueira at the number 8 spot. His defensive mindset helped with the team defense, he was good at pressing opposing players into bad decisions and could make great transition runs and passes. With his departure in June, they lost a step. They no longer had that player that could get them out of a bind in the midfield and create going forward. Barnetta did plenty going forward but was not great sitting deeper to break up the opposition’s possession. Now in August the Union look to revamp their number 8 position for the last leg of the season.
Enter Alejandro Bedoya. While it is not guaranteed that he is number 8, his addition and style of play suggests that’s what he will be for the Union. The US Men’s national team player is talented. He is an attacking midfielder by trade but recently has shown he is good in a defensive role. Bedoya played more like defensive midfielder for the US in the Copa America Centenario tournament. He played wide for the US, but his defensive work suggests he can play as an 8. He said so himself; disrupt the oppositions midfield build up, and create in transition. The Union need this type of play to be successful like they were early in the season, and there is a great opportunity for the Union to turn the tide in the next three weeks.
Today, the Union play at DC United (8/6), next Saturday, they play at New England Revolution (8/13), and play the Saturday after that, at home against Toronto FC (8/30). These are all Eastern Conference teams. All three of them are pushing to better themselves. DC United are a win away from the last playoff spot. New England Revolution are four points away from the Union’s fourth place. Toronto Fc are a win away from first in the East. If the Union can get results from these games, and stop these teams from making the East more congested, they will reclaim a hold on the Conference.
The Union play DC United tonight at 7PM. The Union are looking to sweep DC in 2016. They have already beaten United twice, and haven’t conceded against them this season. How can they complete the sweep? The answer is most obvious, by playing their game.
Philadelphia plays their game, when they play good team defense, presses affectively, and uses transition to create chances. They can do this against DC United; they already have. In the last meeting of these two teams, the Union dominated every aspect of the game. They pressed DC, and their transition play was outstanding. Philly found success running at defenders,which led to DC players committing silly fouls. The Union received two PK’s because of their aggressive transition play, If they can do this they should be able to win in DC. The key has been the defensive midfield pairing.
The defensive midfield pair for the Union against was different in both game against DC this year. The first game, the Union won 1-0 and played Carroll and Creavalle at the 6 and 8 spots. They were very defensive because of this pairing and didn’t create too much going forward. The Union found a late winner in that game to salvage some pretty unattractive soccer. The second game was a different story. The Union started Carroll at the 6, and Barnetta at the 8. Barnetta, an attacker by trade, helped the Union by pressing DC, creating turnovers and starting break ups. That is something Creavalle has never been particularly great at. So who will the Union play in the final match up against DC?
Alejandro Bedoya is with the team, but it is unlikely that he will be able to start, or even play at all because of his fitness level. So he wont play a factor in the midfield. The most obvious pairing would be Carroll at the 6 and Barnetta at the 8, since the both dominated DC in the last match up. I don’t think Creavalle starts, unless the Union want to be cautious on the road.It’s more likely Creavalle could be a second half sub to help shut down a DC attack. We won’t know till an hour before kickoff, but logic dictates it should be Carroll and Barnetta. There is a new player with the Union who could debut for the Union tomorrow against DC.
Striker Charlie Davies is with the club, and is in good shape. He would be a very good option to come off the bench to relieve CJ Sapong in the second half, and could also come on to help diversify the Union’s attack if they need a goal late. Davies helps bolster a Union attack that has thrashed DC this year. The Union’s attack should be poised and ready for a chance to get another shot at the DC United defense!
DC is the first of three crucial games for the Union. To get back to the top of the East they will need to get results against their Eastern conference opponents. They have three straight games against contending Eastern Confernece teams. Beating DC, New England and Toronto all in a row could propel them ahead of every team in their confernece. What better way is there to get back to the top of the East?
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports