The next five games are crucial for Philadelphia Union’s 2018 hopes

USATSI_10844927_168382939_lowres

In the next three weeks the Union play five games. Four are against eastern conference opponents in MLS play. The other match is their first match in the US Open Cup. Their fourth round match against USL’s Richmond Kickers. All these matches precede The World Cup week break. Depending on the results of these five matches, the Union may have good results to build on or could be knocked out of contention of both their MLS and US Open Cup campaigns! The Philadelphia Union’s 2018 hopes rest on how they do in the next three weeks.

Here’s a look at the Union’s matches over the next three weeks:

@ New York Red Bulls | May 26th
vs Chicago Fire | May 30th
@ Atlanta United FC | June 2nd
vs Richmond Kickers | June 5th
vs Toronto FC | June 8th

This Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday stretch is grueling. This part of their MLS schedule was speculated as most difficult stretch of games for Philadelphia before the season. Now the US Open Cup game adds another crucial match in the already difficult stretch. Let’s take a closer look at the five games, and how the Union stack up to each team!

@ New York Red Bulls | May 26th

Union-Red Bulls games are always fist fights. Very rarely do you see a blow out; this game should be no exception. Jim Curtin has faced the Red Bulls more than any other team in his Union coaching career. That means that he, and Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch know each other well! With that, both will be able to know how to get their teams up for the match. For Philadelphia, this is a match that they consider to be a rivalry; however, this match is much more than just a rivalry game.

If the Union find a way to get a win on the road, and New England lose their match against Vancouver, the Union would move above that red line. I know, I know, my optimism may be misguided, since this team is so inconsistent. But think about it, this Union team has talent, it’s whether or not they use their talent game-in and game-out. If they get a win, or even a draw against Red Bulls, that’d be a huge confidence boost. A positive result means the union would be on a three game unbeaten streak, at the most crucial point of the season. For a more in-depth preview of this match, check out what all three of our Union writers had to say, by clicking that link below!

Philly Sports Network’s Union Crew preview: Will the Union be knocked down a peg by high-flying Red Bulls?

vs Chicago Fire | May 30th

The Union will follow-up their tough game against Red Bulls with a short turnaround at home vs Chicago Fire. The Fire have fallen on some hard times this season. They’ve only won one game on the road, and coming in on a short week could propel the Union to another home victory. The Fire have struggled at Talen Energy Stadium over the past few years, and the only player who was a catalyst for the Fire’s attack against Philly is now playing in Philly. That player being David Accam.

King David Accam has been a flop early in this season for the Union, which is why he’s found himself on the bench behind Fafa Picault and Marcus Epps. This midweek match against Chicago will be his chance to step up. With so many games in a short amount of time, why not unleash Accam against his former team, who have struggled defensively against players the make direct runs behind their back line. Of all the matches in this very important stretch, this one is a must win. Chicago is below the Union in the standings lose or drop two points at home to them, and the Union will see themselves trend downwards.

@ Atlanta United FC | June 2nd

Atlanta United is possibly the most talented team MLS has ever seen! They are so good especially in their building they fill Mercedes-Benz stadium to its 71,000 capacity. The Union go to Atlanta on the weekend after playing Chicago on that Wednesday. The timing of this match will dictate how the Union play this one. In one of, if not the most difficult place to play, the Union will likely rest a bunch of players.

Atlanta is the more dominant team. This game will be one where the Union likely play players who they won’t play the following Tuesday in their US Open Cup game. Look for guys like Cory Burke, Anthony Fontana and Derick Jones to get a run against tough opposition. Also, players who have lost favor may get a run too (Richie Marquez, Jack Elliot, Fabian Herbers and maybe even Jay Simpson). The one glimmer of hope the Union have in this match is the fact that Atlanta has been a little shaky defensively. If the Union find chances, then they may be able to salvage a point from this one. However, I’m not that optimistic about this match.

vs Richmond Kickers | June 5th

The Union open their 2018 US Open Cup play against a different team! There’s no more Harrisburg City Islanders, they are now Penn FC, and they lost in the third round of the US Open Cup. So, now the Union get to play United Soccer League side Richmond Kickers. The Kickers are currently 13th in the eastern conference of the USL. Union USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC have beaten Richmond twice this season already with a combined scoreline of 7-2 over the two matches.

After resting players against Atlanta, the Union will bring some starters back for this one. They will also play some of their two-way, Union-Steel FC, players. This mixture of talented starters, and players who have already beaten Richmond this year, will help the Union get the win and move on in the tournament. It won’t be a breeze, no US Open Cup games are like that, but this Union team should be able to get to the round of 16!

vs Toronto FC | June 8th

The last match of this tough stretch is the Union’s last match against the defending champions. Toronto has been riddled with injuries, and have not had many positive results. One of their only wins came at home in a 3-0 rout of the Union. In that one Philly barely showed up. This second fixture may look a lot different.

The Union can pull out all their stops in this one. They get a full week off after this match, and may need to get a crucial three points at home. The main danger man is Giovinco, but he has been a shell of himself. Michael Bradley has been used as a center back and has struggled. With all their injuries and ground to make up, they will come out strong, but if the Union truly defend their home turf. They’ll find a way to get one up on the reigning MLS Cup Champions.

What can we expect?:

If you look at this grueling stretch of games, it’s obvious that at the end of it the Union’s 2018 hopes will either be strengthened or dashed. Looking at the best case scenario sees the Union as a battle tested team. Getting six-to-seven points from their four MLS matches against eastern conference opponents, would be enough to keep them in playoff contention. A win in the fourth round of the US Open Cup helps them progress in that tournament as well. That’s three wins out of the five games that’s needed for that best case scenario.

On the flip side, the Union could easily lose all their hopes in 2018 during this stretch. Lose at Red Bulls,  at Atlanta,  at home to Toronto FC and draw vs Chicago, and the Union would most definitely be in the basement of the east.  All that coupled with a loss to Richmond in the US Open Cup, and you can kiss the entirety of the 2018 campaign goodbye.

Whether either of these scenarios play out is still TBD. However if either of them happen it could lead to positives. The best case Scenario has the Union being a competitive team. The worst case scenario, would light a fire under the ownership to actually make a change along the lines of the coaching staff. Where will we be when the World Cup break roles around? We’ll have to wait and watch destiny play out.

Be sure to come back to Philly Sports Network for more Philadelphia Union, Steel FC, and other soccer content!

Follow our writers on Twitter:

Tim Lovenguth

Matt McClain

Jeff Green

Peace out Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

More from our Sister Sites