An in depth look at Philadelphia Union’s 2017 opponents: Part 1

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The Union’s schedule has been out for a week! Now that there has been time to take in who Philadelphia will face, it’s time to take an in-depth look at each opponent! Here’s a look at the Union’s 2017 opponents part 1:
The season opener:

@ Vancouver Whitecaps.
Sunday, March 5th. 9:30 pm.
2016 record: 10 wins 15 losses 9 ties.
Western Conference Standing: 8th.
Strength: Attacking front/Goal keeping. Weakness: Team defense.

The Whitecaps come off a disappointing season in 2016. the talented Canadian side, imploded last year. Fights between teammates sums up how far this talented team fell in 2016. Vancouver look to right the ship this coming season. Adding defender Sheanon Williams, and re-signing four defenders including Jordan Harvey, should help sure up the Whitecaps defensive woes. David Ousted was the team’s MVP in 2016. His goal keeping was a bright spot; if he can get defensive help this team will be dangerous. Vancouver have an impressive attacking front. Giles Barnes, Erik Hurtado, and Kekuta Manneh can create quite the fire power, as the Union saw first hand in 2016. One of Vancouver’s ten wins last season was a 3-2 thriller at Talen Energy Stadium. The attack, lead by Kekuta Manneh, sliced through the Union’s back line; but Vancouver’s team defense was bad as well which gave the Union life.

In this season opener, both teams will look start strong. The Whitecaps will want to show their faithful fans that they mean business in 2017. The Union are hoping to show that last season was not a fluke. The Union have sured up some weak spots from last year, and are looking to sure up more before this match in Vancouver. Philly will look to get off to a good start like they did last year. 2016 produced a hot start for the Union; 2017 looks to produce the same hot start in the cold pacific northwest.

The home opener/Revenge game:

vs Toronto FC.
Saturday, March 11th; 4:30 pm.
2016 record: 14 wins 9 losses 11 ties.
Eastern Conference Standing: 3rd.
Strength: Giovinco.  Weakness: Defending the counter attack.

Toronto’s 2016  campaign was a huge success. They lost a heart-breaker in the 2016 MLS Cup final. Consequently; the core of their successful team is all coming back and are raring to go in 2017. The only significant piece to leave Toronto, Will Johnson, took his talents to Orlando City.  The Union will look to get revenge on the side that knocked them out of the playoffs in a gut-wrenching 3-1 loss. The player who should have been league MVP last season, Giovinco, will lead the deadly attack minded squad. This could play into the Union’s hands in their first home game of 2017.

Toronto love to push forward when on the attack, leaving room for a counter attack. While the Union will want to start their home 2017 campaign more offensive than defensive, hitting Toronto on the counter attack could provide the blueprint for a Union win against Toronto. Last season the Union made Talen Energy Stadium a tough place to play, they could do the same this coming season hitting Toronto where their weakness lies.

Two important Eastern Conference road matches early in the season:

@ Orlando City.
Saturday March, 18th; 7:30 pm.
2016 record: 9 wins 11 losses 14 ties.
2016 Eastern Conference Standing: 8th.
Strength: High-intensity attacking. Weakness: Poor defense.  

Orlando’s 2016 campaign was one that started off great. They were at or near the East in the first months of the season. The Union met them last April, then this happened:

After this free kick, Orlando fell from the top of the east and struggled throughout the year to fight for a playoff place. Cyle Larin, Kaka and Kyle Molino make up Orlando’s attack. In their third year together, these three look to take a huge step forward in the Eastern Conference. The downfall of Orlando has been their defense; their back four has been inconsistent over the first two years in MLS.

The Union make their one and only trip to Orlando early in 2017. They escape the summer heat by playing in March. Last season, the Union had to make the trip during the summer and played a sweaty 2-2 draw. Philly’s ability to win will be based on how well they can stop Orlando’s attackers, and also taking advantage of Orlando’s shaky defense. Maybe there will be another brilliant set piece to decide the contest!

 

@ DC United.
Saturday, April 1st; 7:00 pm.
2016 record: 11 wins 10 losses 13 ties.
2016 Eastern Conference Standing: 4th.
Strength: Team discipline. Weakness: Team cohesion.

DC United had a rocky start to 2016. It was only after they brought players in mid-season that they found success. DC has created a nucleus of other teams rejects like Lamar Neagle, Patrick Mullins and Lloyd Sam. They may bring in new players, but they get those players to buy in the DC United system. This however creates a problem with the team’s cohesion on the pitch. With new players coming into DC’s side they took longer to gel. Their playoff loss to Montreal saw them concede four goals at home. The Union will hope for that kind of success early in the season.

Philadelphia get one of their rivals away early in the season, which is a blessing. The Union Don’t have to worry if they drop points in this game, since they play DC later in the season twice. However, the Union will hope to get on the right foot against DC in this match. They will look to the past for help. They know they can hit United hard by getting crosses into the box, so that should be the blueprint for the Union against their rival away from home.

Three in a row at home:

vs Portland Timbers.
Saturday, April 8th; 7:00 pm.
2016 record: 12 wins 14 losses 8 ties.
2016 Western Conference Standing: 7th.
Strength: Savvy veterans. Weakness: poor road performances.

Portland was one of the most disappointing teams of 2016. The defending champions failed to win a road game last season. Their woes extended from a lack of creating chances. Portland is a team that has many savvy veterans, but their away record is horrendous. This was seen the last time Portland came to Philadelphia; the Union were 3-0 winners back in 2015.

Portland has to make the cross-country road trip early in 2017. The Union get the worst road team from last season as their second home game of 2017. This game kicks off a three game home stretch for the Union. It’s a game that the Union will want to take all three points from; to start their home stand on the right foot. The Union should be up to the task to go after a Portland team who has done little to improve their aging defense during the transfer window. As for stopping Portland attack, the Union will have to keep the speed of Mattocks and Nagbe in check. Id they can do that, then they should be victorious.

vs NYCFC.
Friday, April 14th; 7:00 pm.
2016 record: 15 wins 10 losses 9 ties.
2016 Eastern Conference Standing: 2nd.
Strength: World class veterans. Weakness: Team defense.

NYCFC fell short of their expectations in 2016. This team was aiming for the top of the East in 2016. With Villa, Lampard and Pirlo finally playing together, coupled with young talented players like Mcnamara and Harrison, this team had lots of fire power. The problem lied in their defense. NYCFC had the four most goals allowed in the East with 57, they only scored five more goals than they allowed. Their defense was weak, which lead to them acquiring goalkeeper Sean Johnson from Chicago Fire. Other than Johnson it looks like some of the same faces will be out there for NYCFC.

The Union can take advantage of NYCFC’s defensive woes at home, as they did last season when they beat NYCFC 2-0. The loss of defenders this offseason/the lack of acquiring any new defenders gives the Union a high chance of success. The key to the game will be stifling the strong attack that NYCFC has. If the Union can stop David Villa from terrorizing the back line, there will be chances for the Union to score goals and win the game.

vs Montreal Impact.
Saturday, April 22nd; Time still to be determined.
2016 record: 11 wins 11 losses 12 ties.
2016 Eastern Conference Standing: 5th.
Strength: High-paced pressing game Weakness: Team defense.

Montreal’s 2016 saw them a stoppage-time period away from competing in MLS cup 2016. Their team was one that was dominated by superstars Ignacio piatti and Didier Drogba. This coming year, Drogba isn’t coming back to Montreal. Instead they will look to Matteo Mancosu to be the target forward with piatti sitting behind him. Even without Drogba, Montreal’s attack will still be lethal. Their fast paced style is one that gets their wingers forward and looking for Mancosu and piatti. piatti is also special on the ball; his skill has produced some amazing goals, as he showed against Philly last season. Montreal trounced the Union 5-1; piatti adding a stunner late in the second half with this goal.

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The Union will look to end their three game home stand on a high note, beating a top Eastern Conference opponent. There’s one way to beat Montreal, by keeping possession. If the Union can win the time of possession, they will have a better chance of winning this game. If they lose the possession battle, Montreal will kill the Union with their speed.

The first seven games of the season are crucial for the Union. There Union should come out of these seven games with four wins. I predict they win at Vancouver, a tie against Toronto, a win at Orlando, a tie at DC, a win against Portland, a tie against NYCFC and a loss against Montreal. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 12/21 points from the first seven matches . That’d be a great start, three wins, three ties and one loss.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for part two of the in-depth look at the Union’s 2017 Schedule!

 

Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

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