Philadelphia Union season opener preview: Vancouver Whitecaps


It is time! The 2017 MLS season kicks off today! The Union however don’t see the field until Sunday night up in Vancouver. Now is a good time as any to look at how this team will stack up against a very strong Vancouver Whitecaps team. Here’s our 2017 Season opener preview.

The Whitecaps did a lot in the offseason to make their team a strong one. Last season Vancouver had a very poor showing. A talented team that never found the results when it mattered most. A lackluster side in 2016 looks to have made themselves into a competitor for 2017.

Vancouver got rid of their older playmakers, and brought in/brought up younger ones. Recently, Vancouver brought in Striker Freddy Montero. The attacker, who once played for Vancouver’s rivals Seattle Sounders, comes back to MLS and looks to go on a tear. Bringing in Montero meant they didn’t need Giles Barnes; they traded the attacker to Orlando for midfielder/defender Brek Shea.

They are also hoping to get the most out of their 16-year-old homegrown Alphonso Davies. The young winger made his debut last season for the Caps, but now looks to break out and earning a starting spot. Vancouver has had to get ready for competitive games sooner than other MLS teams. For the last two weeks they played a two game series against the New York Red Bulls in the CONCACAF Champions league.

Vancouver got a 1-1 result in the first match at Red Bull Arena, and played their second game last night at home. In which, they had a dream start.

The 16-year-old scored an early goal for Vancouver. Their defense then shut down the Red Bulls. Brek Shea made his debut for the Caps, playing well defensively and in transition. As a second half sub Freddy Montero also made his club Debut, and in the 76th minute he scored a stunner that ended the Red Bulls Champions League hopes and propelled Vancouver to their first CONCACAF Champions league semi-finals.

Watching how this side beat down on the top team from the east last year is unsettling. Even though the Red Bulls lost their captain, one hoped they’d play the Whitecaps harder in a game that really mattered. Anyways, the Whitecaps look strong in many aspects. Their defense looks solid, their wingers are fast, and they have a true finisher. They will be without their captain defender Kendall Watson, due to suspension. So how can the Union stack up against this strong-looking squad, and how can they pull out a decent result against a surging team?

The Union will need to control possession to beat Vancouver. A daunting task I know, but the Union could be built for it. What the Red Bulls lacked last night was a D-mid who could dictate the play, and keep possession (where’s Dax McCarty when you need him right Red Bull fans… by the way he’s in Chicago).  The Union have that type of player in Haris Medunjanin. If he can get on the ball when the Union win possession, they will be able to dictate the flow of play. Vancouver wants to move fast down the wing at home. If the Union sit back and absorb that pressure, and look to counter (as they have done in the past on the road), they will get lit up. They need to win the ball and slow the game down to create the chance to win.

I have the Union lining up like this:

If the Union can create turnovers, and have Medunjanin on the ball looking to play Herbers, Ilsinho Pontius and Simpson forward  then the Union should be able to break down Vancouver’s defense. The Red Bulls had a good bit of possession towards the end of the first half last night. They drew Vancouver to foul them, and set up dangerous set pieces that almost resulted in goals. The Union can do this with Medunjanin, and Bedoya, on the ball in the attacking third. This type of control, creates a strangle hold on the style of play. If the Union want to have success they will need to do this. Who will step up for the Union so they can do this?

Obviously Haris Medunjanin will need to display his amazing passing and set piece abilities, but who else will break out? I think Jay Simpson will need to be menacing for the Union to get the result they want. Whether that be actually scoring, or running off defenders drawing their attention to find the open teammate. If Herbers is in fact on the field as the 10 he will need to look to distribute. If he can receive a pass from Medunjanin, turn and find Pontius, Ilsinho, Simpson or Bedoya moving forward the Union will have chances to hit Vancouver in the run of play. The other offensive players will need to be sharp and not turn the ball over to create a counter attack for the Whitecaps. The defense as a whole also needs to play a very strong game.

If the Union want to start the year off on the front foot, the defensive unit will need to correct preseason mistakes. It is great that Blake is the outstanding security blanket that he is, but he can’t be relied on 100% of the time. the outside backs need to hustle back on a break. Marquez and Onyewu need to communicate better on who is the first to approach an attack. This defense can be very good, but they will only be great if they step up their game. Vancouver’s fast attack is scary, but this Union defense is poised. They will be up to the task of stopping the high-flying Whitecaps attack. So what will happen, how will it all go down?

My heart tells me that the Union can do this. Good defending, strong play in possession, and smart attacking should see this team pull out a victory. My head however, is telling me otherwise. This Vancouver team is hot, and firing on all cylinders before the season even has started. You can only contain their speed for so long, and their attack is poised for a strong night against the unproven Union defense. So what’s my prediction?

In my season preview, I predicted a win, and I’m gonna stick to it! My heart is screaming that this Union team is poised and ready to stop this high-flying Vancouver team. It’ll all come down to defending, controlling possession time, and finishing chances. If the Union can do this, then I’ll look good for predicting a win back in January! Also the club will open 2017 with the W!

Be sure to come back to Philly Sports Network later for a look at what role Maurice Edu will play for the Union this season. Until then peace out Union fans.


Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports