An in depth look at Philadelphia Union’s 2017 opponents: part 3

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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 3:

The five most important games of the season:

@ NYCFC.
Saturday, June 3rd. Time still to be determined.
2016 record: 15 wins 10 losses 9 ties.
2016 Eastern Conference Standing: 2nd.
Strength: World class veterans. Weakness: Youthful players.

The summer kicks off with what I think will be the most important stretch of the 2017 season. Four straight eastern conference opponents, and one western conference foe, lead up to a two-week break for the Gold Cup group stage.  It starts with playing at NYCFC, which is the only away game in the four game stretch. In two games against City last season, the Union won their home match, and lost their away match. Even though they lost the away battle 3-2, the Union found ways to exploit the shaky defense NYCFC has. The Union are going to have to go toe-to-toe with City if they expect to come out of this one with points, how could the Union do this?

Last season the Union took advantage of mistakes made by NYCFC. Some skilled play earned a PK for Philly which Alberg buried. Later, a Union corner was headed into NYCFC’s net by one of their defenders trying to deal with it. City are going to make defensive mistakes that will give the Union chances. Finish the chances and victory could be imminent; all that stands in the Union’s way is the menace that is David Villa.

vs New York Red Bulls.
Sunday, June 18th. 5:00pm.
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 Union open a three game home stretch with their hated rivals New York Red Bulls. They will want to start their home stand on a good foot against a tough opponent. Philly knows the blueprint to beating the Red Bulls; beat their high press with effective passing on counter attacks. The Red Bulls are the most impressive pressing team in MLS, thanks have to be given to coach Jesse Marsch for the style. When the Union can beat the press they triumph over New York, as they did in the US Open Cup last year. Losing to the press produces losses like last seasons finale. Can the Union beat the press in this game?

 New York has lost a key player in Dax McCarty. They do have youth to fill that gap, more specifically Sean Davis. However, youthful players wont bring the same kind of coverage Dax gave Red Bulls in their counter attacking scheme. When the Red Bulls push high, their attackers try to press the oppositions defenders into turning the ball over. Whoever plays their box to box midfield role, also pushes forward to take away the vacated space in the middle of the field. This leaves the holding midfielder to cover the entire middle of the field if a break ensues. Sean Davis does have a motor, but he lacks the vast amount of experience Dax gave Red Bull in those situations. If the Union can counter the Red Bulls press, then they should dominate to start the start of the home stand.

vs DC United.
Saturday, June 24th. 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 third, and final, game against DC at home before the second half of the season. After playing DC twice on the road, they get their dreaded rival at home during a critical stretch. After playing them twice, I suspect the Union to have one win and one draw. They will look to get another W at home, where they have dominated DC over the past two seasons. However, recent news of a former Union fan favorite signing with DC makes one ponder this game a bit.

Yes, Sebastien Le Toux is officially a member of DC United. This match will be Seba’s return to Talen Energy Stadium in 2017. While the Union are trending upwards against DC at home, Seba being on the pitch late in a game does make a win feel a little shaky. I have to imagine that Seba will, somehow, find the net on the return to his former home. A goal from Seba, and strong defense, could be enough to take 3 points away from the Union. Philadelphia will have to come out swinging and take advantage of their opportunities. In past home matches against DC, the Union have won games on late set pieces. If they win chances from set pieces, especially late in the game, then they should find a way to succeed.

 


vs New England Revolution.
Sunday, July 2nd. Time still to be determined.
2016 record: 11 wins 14 losses 9 ties.
2016 Eastern Conference Standing: 7th.
Strength: Strong attacking players. Weakness: Team cohesion/defense. 

The Union play their first, of two matches, against New England half way through the season. New England’s 7th place finish in 2017 shows how close they were to the playoffs, but how far they actually were to competing with top teams in 2016. Signing Kei Kamara made the Rev’s attack lethal, but more attention was needed on the defensive side of the ball. Their 2016 goal differential of -10 was the second worst in all of MLS,  yet they had the same record as the Union in 2016. Efforts needed to be made by their front office to address the defensive struggle, and recently one key hole in their defense was filled.

New England have their new strong centerback, who they think will hold down their back four. However, they still need another defensive signing to have procure a sense of relief on defense. If they don’t address that issue, this game could be a breeze for the Union.

The way to beat New England was laid out last season by the Union. Press them in their own end, and get good service into the box. The union did this well in 2016 in their 3-0 rout, which could have been 5-0 if not for two missed penalties. New England’s attack does pose problems. However, the Union played well against the restructured attack in New England last season. They stifled Kamara, and kept the possession to stop the Rev’s attack. If the Union can keep the majority of possession, and stifle New England’s attack, they should be able to create chances like this one.

 

@ Sporting Kansas City.
Thursday, July 6th. 8:30 pm.
2016 record: 13 wins 13 losses 8 ties.
2016 Western Conference Standing: 5th.
Strength: Good attacking build-up play. Weakness: inconsistent tendencies.

Sporting Kansas City never looked like title contenders in 2016, and 2017 seems to look the same. SKC had trouble finding consistency last year. A lot of that was due to the way the created their attack. Kansas City’s attacking build-up came from the middle of the field. When it came to playing through their wing players, they couldn’t get good service. That changed this offseason.

 

SKC signed two new wingers who will give them the speed, and service, that attacking players like Dom Dwyer need. An upgraded attack isn’t the only thing new with SKC. They now have a defense that will feature USMNT stars; Graham Zusi, now playing right back, and Matt Besler, coming off of ankle surgery. These adjustments will make the Union’s job of coming into the blue hell much harder.

This new Sporting team won’t make the same mistakes they made in Philadelphia last season. They now have wingers who can produce, and will have veteran defenders to sure up their back line. If the Union want to go into Kansas City and bring home points, they will need to find ways to control the game. Keeping the ball away from SKC’s new wingers, and finding ways to create chances will be key in the game. If the Union can take advantage of a scoring opportunity, and shut down the wingers, then they will find success in this match.

The dead heat of summer will arrive during this stretch for the Union. This section of the schedule is the most important, playing major conference opponents, and leading into a two-week break. I predict a win at NYCFC, a win vs Red Bulls, a tie vs DC, A win vs New England, and a loss at Kansas City. . That’s 10/15 points from these six games; making their overall points on the season  32/54.  A crucial time for the Union produces their best play. three wins, one tie, and one loss.

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

 

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