An in depth look at Philadelphia Union’s 2017 opponents: Part 2

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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 2:

Three straight against 2016 playoff teams:

@ LA Galaxy.
Saturday, April 29th. 10:30 pm.
2016 record:12 wins 6 losses 16 ties.
2016 Western Conference Standing: 3rd.
Strength: Strong home-field advantage. Weakness: Loss of coach/key players.

LA Galaxy had a good 2016; however, it was nowhere near the high standard LA always set. LA missed out on a bye in the playoffs, and had to play in the wildcard round. They made it past Salt Lake, and lost a heart-breaker to Colorado in the second leg on PK’s. A Union legend sent LA home:

Le Toux’s PK sent LA home!

LA’s core players will look completely different in 2017. The Galaxy have lost head coach Bruce Arena, who is now coaching the US mens national team. They also lost Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane Mike Magee, and A.J. DeLaGarza. However, LA has found some replacements for those major losses already. They traded their 2017 SuperDraft pick for Miguel Aguilar, the attacking midfielder formally from DC United; also Jermaine Jones was acquired from Colorado Rapids. Rumors swirling around also say that Giovani Dos Santos’ brother Johnathan may be close to a LA move. This core of players, coupled with their amazing home field advantage could hurt the Union.

The Union have rarely fared well at StubHub center, LA Galaxy’s home. The last time the Union made the trip to LA it was 2015, they were demolished 5-1. Last season, the Union played the high-powered Galaxy at Talen Energy Stadium and earned a fun 2-2 draw. The Union  will need to approach this years game the way they did last season to find success. Taking advantage of set piece and LA mistakes give’s the Union a chance in this match. This match is always a hard one for Philadelphia, but if they play with intensity they should be able to pull out at least a point.

 

vs New York Red Bulls.
Saturday, May 6th. 7:00 pm.
2016 record: 16 wins 9 losses 9 ties.
2016 Eastern Conference Standing: 1st.
Strength: High pressing style of play. Weakness: Defending the counter attack.

The Red Bulls had another amazing season in 2016. Winning the east, and having the top scorer and assister on their squad was one of the main reasons for their success. A 3-1 aggregate loss to Montreal in the playoffs was a unsatisfying end to a great regular season. The Red Bulls are a well-organized, high pressing team. They love to press opposing defenses when they turn the ball over as Ken Tribbett knows first hand.

The only way to beat the Red Bulls is to hit them on the counter attack when they lose possession. The Union did this very well last season especially in the US Open Cup. After going down a goal, Philly showed resolve. They didn’t try to push the game, until the Red Bulls were over-committed. Then, it was a simple counter attack that lead to two quick goals from Chris Pontius.

The Union won that game by playing to the Red Bull’s weakness. That is what they’ll look to do to kick of the third month of the season, beat their bitter rivals in the first of three meetings in 2017.

 

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

The Union play their second game against DC United on the road pretty early in the season. The Union get their away matches versus DC United done in the first 10 games of the season. I predicted that the Union would get a tie from the first game at DC United. United pose a threat with their savvy attacking players, which could feature an ex-Union player. The Union know they can attack DC United by pushing  forward. If their outside backs are able to get into the attack, then the Union should find chances.

Defending DC is a difficult task; their side will have had almost the entire first third of the season under their belt. That is enough time for a team to really know on the field tendencies. The DC attack will be lethal with Kamara, Mullins, Sam, Neagle and Nyarko. The Union will have to stay disciplined especially in the middle of the park. If the Union can control time of possession, and break up DC’s build up play in the middle of the midfield, then they should be able to pull out at least a draw!

Three in a row against Western Conference teams: 

vs Houston Dynamo.
Wednesday, May 17th. 7:30 pm.
2016 record: 7 wins 14 losses 13 ties.
2016 Western Conference Standing: 10th.
Strength: Coaching change/new signings. Weakness: Team cohesion.

Houston had a very bad 2016. There was no confidence in their coaches, and the Houston players reflected that. This offseason, Houston has been the busiest team in MLS. It started with appointing a new coach. Wilmer Cabrera, former coach of USL affiliate club RGVFC, came in and started reshaping this team. 10 players from last years squad were either dealt to other teams, or had their contracts declined; the biggest names being DeMarcus Beasley, and Will Bruin. They have been active bring players into the side too; two forwards and four defenders were added ahead of the 2017 season!

This team is one that is in total rebuild mode. They do have a new coach who is building his team the way he wants, but there could be a lack of team cohesion on the field. Honestly, I can’t get a read on this team until I see them play in 2017. The Union get the western conference team at home in early May which should give them the upper hand. However, if this new Houston team gels, and their defense is better than it was last season, then they could pose problems for Philly.

vs Colorado Rapids.
Saturday May, 22nd. 7:00 pm.
2016 record: 15 wins 6 losses 13 ties.
2016 Western Conference Standing: 2nd.
Strength: Physical defense . Weakness: Lack of attacking firepower.

The Union were definitely the surprise team in the east last season; Colorado was a surprise as well out west. No one saw their second place finish coming! Colorado’s tough western conference loss, to the eventual MLS Cup winners Seattle Sounders, ended their 2016. The Rapids are gearing up for another strong season in 2017. Colorado’s strength came from their physical defense; they dominated teams by shutting down their attack, and hitting them a counter attack. Their only weakness was that they didn’t have a true striker to finish their chances. They addressed that this offseason, by adding ex-LA Galaxy forward Alan Gordan. The Rapids also dealt aging-veteran Jermaine Jones to LA; this frees up space for their star, Shkëlzen Gashi, to be their number 10. Colorado looks more dangerous on the offensive side in 2017.

The last time Colorado came to Philly was the opening game of 2015; that game ended in a 0-0 draw. This game looks to be very different. In 2015, both clubs trajectories were sloping down; in 2017; their trajectories are on the upswing. This game could be similar to last years contest a 1-1 tie in Colorado. In that game both teams were physical and looked to breakdown the other through the counter attack. This year, if Philly can dominate the time of possession, they should be able to find a way to get the win against a strong opponent.

@ Real Salt Lake.
Saturday, May 27th. 8:00 pm.
2016 record: 12 wins 12 losses 10 ties.
2016 Western Conference Standing: 6th.
Strength: Pace in the attack. Weakness: Team defense.

Real Salt Lake looked like a team that could compete for the top of the west through the first half of 2016. A slip up towards the end saw them fall to the last wildcard playoff spot, and a loss in the wildcard game to LA Galaxy. Real’s attack has been the real deal; their speed sets a lot of MLS defenses on edge. RSL’s speed killed the Union in 2016:

The speed and attacking prowess for Real Salt Lake is only getting stronger in 2017. Albert Rusnak, he 22-year-old Slovak international signed with RSL. He takes over the place left by departing forward Javier Morales. Salt Lake only lost one time at Rio Tinto Stadium last season. The Union will have their hands full there this coming year. They will need to limit RSL’s time of possession, and find way to exploit the still suspect Real defense to have a chance in this one.

The spring will have sprung during this stretch for the Union. While there are some tough games here, there should be some decent results. I predict a loss at LA, a win vs Red Bulls, a win at DC, a win vs Houston, a tie vs Colorado, and a loss at Salt Lake. That’s 10/16 points from these six games; making their overall points on the season  22/39. Another good stretch three wins, one tie and two losses from six games.

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

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