An in depth look at Philadelphia Union’s 2017 opponents: part 5

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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 5:

 

Back to back games against the expansion teams:

vs Atlanta United.
Saturday August 26th. 7:00 pm.
2016 record: N.A.
2016 Eastern Conference Standing: N.A.
Strength: Strong coaching/big signings. Weakness: Pressure of high expectations.

Of the two expansion teams, Atlanta United is the team that is making a splash with designated players/big signings. Even their coach is a big name; Gerardo “Tata” Martino used to be the coach of Argentina’s National Team, Paraguay’s National Team and La Liga’s FC Barcelona. With a big name coach, came a huge signing. Atlanta made a huge splash by spending 8 million dollars for 22-year-old Paraguayan international Miguel Almiron. This signing is an amazing one, because Atlanta brought in a young world-class player to MLS, which is not usually where early twenties starlets come to play. Atlanta also acquired USMNT keeper Brad Guzan, who will join Atlanta this coming summer. Atlanta isn’t playing around, but how will the Union play against them?

The Union will have their work cut out for them against Atlanta. They have some great new to MLS attackers, who will be used to the league by the time this game roles around. Atlanta will also have experienced midfielders and defenders, not to mention the USMNT starting keeper Brad Guzan. The Union will have to go about this game as they do any home game, look to start on the front foot. The Union have done a good job of creating a home field advantage at Talen Energy Stadium. Atlanta does have talent that other expansion team have not had in the past, but if the Union have a fortress at Talen in 2017, then they’ll have the upper hand on Atlanta.

@ Minnesota United.
Saturday September 9th. 8:00 pm.
2016 record: N.A.
2016 Western Conference Standing: N.A.
Strength: Young core of players.  Weakness: Not spending money on DPs.  

Minnesota are the western conference expansion team. Unlike Atlanta they drove a different route building up their team. Instead of big money/DP signings, they found players that fit around a system that coach Adrian Heath wants to run. The biggest player they brought in is Kevin Molino from Orlando City. $650,000 was the price paid for Molino, which isn’t too shabby for a player of Molino’s quality. The Loons have populated their squad with MLS players through the expansion draft, and brought in Christian Ramirez and Miguel Ibarra, two of the clubs legends from when they played in the NASL. They get a home match against Philly.

The Union play their last road non-conference game at Minnesota, and it’s one that should be a decent test to end the Union’s summer. Minnesota will be a very disciplined team under Heath. They’ll have the home field advantage, and will be coming towards the crunch time of the 2017 season. The Union will want to use caution when going forward, the Loons have the perfect personnel to execute counter attacks. The Union will look to play sound possession soccer at Minnesota, not doing so will result in bringing no points back to Philly.

Three straight Eastern Conference opponents to kick off the fall:

@ New York Red Bulls.
Saturday September 17th. 1:00 pm.
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 final match against the Union’s heated rivals, New York Red Bulls, comes at Red Bull Arena. The beginning of fall presents a game that could have playoff  implications for both sides. The first two matches against Red Bull in 2017 are home matches, and are matches I think the Union can win. Their familiarity with New York, and the loss of key players, like Dax McCarty, gives the Union a great chance of hitting the Red Bulls in their weak spot. Beating the press/counter attacking the Red Bulls has equaled a favorable Union result. So what will happen in this meeting?

Since the Red Bulls have home field advantage, and could be looking for their first win against the Union in 2017, I think they will come out swinging. The Union know how to beat the Red Bulls press, but at this point in the season home points are crucial. If the Red Bulls follow their normal game plan, and add that bit of urgency that the last few months of the playoffs bring, then the Union may have a problem beating the press. However, if the Union can get in the Red Bulls head and get some good counter attacking chances they could break this game wide open. Either way it’ll be another notch added to this fun/frantic eastern conference rivalry.

vs Chicago Fire.
Saturday, September 23rd. 7:00pm.
2016 record: 7 wins 17 losses 10 ties.
2016 Eastern Conference Standing: 10th.

The Union get both games against Chicago fire late in the season, which could prove to be beneficial, or devastating. Chicago may be the number one winners of this current offseason. A new Striker was brought in to give them a true number nine. Two veteran central midfielders were brought to Chicago (Juninho and Dax McCarty), and no key pieces from the Fire were dealt. Chicago, the worst team in MLS in 2016, looks to make a gigantic push forward this coming season. Heres a look at how they could lineup.

https://twitter.com/JogaBonitoUSA/status/821178828596924416

Chicago style of play is going to rely on the ability of their central midfielders. Juninho going forward, and Dax McCarty cover/holding down the center of the park, are going to be crucial to the Fire’s success. The Union get the first game against Chicago at home. They will look to attack from the get go, but will also look to create counter attacks when Chicago moves forward. Unlike the Red Bulls, Chicago won’t press as affectively when the lose possession. This will leave quite a bit of space open in the center of the field to attack Dax McCarty. If the Union can dispossess the Fire, and get numbers forward to overwhelm the Fire’s suspect defense, they should end up with a favorable result.

 

@ Atlanta United.
Wednesday, September 27th. 7:00 pm.
2016 record: N.A.
2016 Eastern Conference Standing: N.A.
Strength: Strong coaching/big signings. Weakness:Pressure of high expectations.

The Union’s second meeting with Atlanta comes at the newly built home, the state of the art Mercedes-Benz stadium. over 27,000 season ticket members are already signed up to cheer on Atlanta at their home matches, and the stadium isn’t even finished yet! This will prove to be a match with a lot at stake. It will also be unfamiliar territory for the Union. Atlanta will be in the mix of the playoffs, and will have a massive crowd that will rival the likes of Seattle in size and sound. The Union will have to come in to this hostile territory looking for crucial road points late in the season.

The Union did not fare well against teams with high intensity crowds late in 2016. A three game stretch against Portland, Toronto and NYRB only resulted in one point late last season. If the Union want to make that next step in 2017, they will need to find ways to get wins in hostile environments late in the campaign. This game will prove if the Union are ready to make the strides that contenders need to make late in season. A formidable foe, and a hostile crowd stand in their way of massive road points! This game could be the start of the Union taking a stride towards being a playoff contender in 2017.

 

Defending MLS Cup Champs late in the season:

vs Seattle Sounders.
Sunday, October 1st. 1:00pm.
2016 record: 14 wins 14 losses 6 ties.
2016 Western Conference Standing: 4th.
Strength: Mixed core of young/veteran talent. Weakness: Pressure of defending their championship crown.

The schedule gods saved the best western conference team for last. The Union’s final game against a western conference opponent is a home match versus the 2016 MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders. The Champions lost a few key players this offseason (Andreas Ivanschitz & Nelson Valdez), but have brought in replacements for both. Harry Shipp was brought in from Montreal, and Will Bruin was brought in from Houston. The key core of players is still in tact for Seattle, and their captain Clint Dempsey is finally back, after dealing with an irregular heart condition. This team looks scary as eve, and the Union get them at the most crucial point of the 2017 season.

The last time the Union played a meaningful game late in the season against Seattle was the 2014 US Open Cup final. The Union fell 3-1 in extra time to lose their first ever championship final. It’s a hard bit of history for the Union, but it’s something I’m sure the Union players will be reminded of before this match. They may even be forced to watch this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScZ66ZP5sDA

This game may not be as big as that game three years ago, but it will have major implications. If the Union can keep that high attacking/pressing mentality against Seattle, and defend counter attacks, then they should be able to pull out late season points. These points could propel them to a higher playoff position.

 

A possible playoff game preview:

@ Chicago Fire.
Sunday, October 15th. 3:00 pm.
2016 record: 7 wins 17 losses 10 ties.
2016 Eastern Conference Standing: 10th.
Strength: Offseason moves.  Weakness: Team cohesion.

The final away match of 2017 comes at Chicago. Had this game been at the end of the 2016 campaign, it’d feature a Philadelphia team on the verge of the playoffs, and a Chicago team that was the worst in the league. However, this game will be played at the end of 2017, and it has the potential to be a possible playoff preview.

Chicago, with its revamped team, is set to compete with any team in the east for one of the six playoff spots. This home game against the Union will surly feel like a playoff game for the Fire. The Chicago faithful will be out, signing their Fire chant over, and over, and over again, hoping it moves their team to victory. The Union will be looking to end their road campaign on a high note. A win at Chicago would not only be a huge confidence boost heading into the season finale, but it would also be a win against a daunting, playoff-caliber team. The Union will look to play sound defense, and counter when presented the opportunity. If they can do that, then they will find success in the windy city.

Last regular season match:

vs Orlando City.
Sunday, October 22nd. 4:00 pm.
2016 record: 9 wins 11 losses 14 ties.
2016 Eastern Conference Standing: 8th.
Strength: High-intensity attacking. Weakness: Poor defense.

The season finale comes at home to a Orlando side that could be in a very different place than they were when the teams met  for the first time in 2017. Philly goes to Orlando in March, and has to wait seven months to play them again. Orlando seems to be a team that will be on the verge of a playoff spot in 2017, if it comes down to the final day of the season, this game will be all the more interesting. The Union will be looking to get a victory in their last match to keep momentum going for the playoffs, and if that means crushing the hopes and dreams of Orlando in the process, so be it!

In 2016 the Union had a playoff clinching scenario at home, in October, against Orlando; win and get in. Philly came up short in a 2-0 loss which put a major damper on the team’s spirit moving into the playoffs. This season the Union will look to right the ship by beating Orlando in the 2017 regular season finale. To do this the Union will need to have their foot on the gas the entire game. They have to keep Kaka and company off of the ball if they want to emerge victorious. The stakes of the game, and the ability to put the final nail in coffin that is Orlando’s 2017 season, should give the Union the edge in this match. Maybe they’ll win on a free kick again!

This final stretch is a daunting, but if the Union can play well, they should be able to get good results. I predict they draw vs Atlanta, draw vs Minnesota, lose at Red Bull, draw vs Chicago, draw at Atlanta, lose vs Seattle, win vs Chicago and win vs Orlando.  This is the worst stretch for the Union; procuring two wins, four ties, and two losses. They end this stretch with 10/24 points, which is the worst ratio point ratio of any season stretch. It brings the Union’s season total to 53/102 points.

While this may seem like a bad way to end the season, the Union will win their last two matches and ride those wins into the 2017 playoffs! To compare these numbers to last years numbers, the Union will secure 11 more points than 2016’s 42 points. This number should be good enough to put the Union in the top three in the eastern conference!

That’s my 2017 Union season break down! I hope you enjoyed looking at the different teams and scenarios of each game of the upcoming 2017 season. Be sure to leave comments if you want to discuss any of my reasoning/ game picks for 2017. Also feel free to @ me on Twitter; my handle is @TGing21.

Be sure to come back to Philly Sports Network for more Philadelphia Union Updates! Until then, peace out Union fans.

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