The Union are riding a high through the month of July. A thrilling, albeit dramatic 4-3 win over Chicago last week put the Union right back in the thick of the eastern conference playoff race. Philadelphia’s fringe/role players went out last weekend and beat Entrieckt Frankfurt 1-0 in an international friendly. To add to the confidence boost, the Union defeated Orlando City SC 1-0 to make it to the US Open Cup Semifinals this past Wednesday. A hectic two weeks concludes with LA Galaxy coming to Talen Energy Stadium. Our Philly Sports Network Union Crew Preview if Philadelphia can keep riding their recent high to a win against Zlatan and the Galaxy.
Don’t let that win over Orlando Wednesday night fool you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The Union have proven over their short history that their solid play in the U.S. Open Cup does not translate into the same form in MLS regular season matches. So when we look into their match-up versus the L.A. Galaxy on Saturday, we’ll have to look at the bigger picture.
The Galaxy got off to a horrid start this season, but are now one of the hottest teams in the league. They’re unbeaten in their last six matches and have been playing solidly on both sides of the field. Although Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and his 11 goals, gets most of the attention as he should, his club has done a fine job of spreading the scoring around. Ola Kamara has chipped in with seven goals, and former Union winger Chris Pontius is having a very good bounce back year, tallying five goals and four assists. But the question for Saturday night is: Zlatan or no Zlatan? History has shown a star on the west coast most likely will not make the trip to Philadelphia. The Galaxy have two matches in four days, both in Los Angeles, later next week. I think they will be saving him. No Zlatan, coupled with a suspended Ashley Cole in the midfield, and the Union could possibly catch a break.
You can expect Zlatan to be there tomorrow night. At least that’s the word on the street so to speak.
After speaking with a few unverified stadium sources during Wednesday night’s U.S. Open Cup match, I learned employees at Talen Energy Stadium are preparing for what is expected to be the largest crowd in stadium history. Yes, even larger than the MLS All-Star game crowd.
Why? Zlatan of course.
He will travel. It may be a bold prediction, but the news on him is that he doesn’t travel when a turf playing surface is involved. Talen Energy provides a lush natural grass surface, a safe playing surface.
The increased hype surrounding this match is something to look into. The stadium hasn’t been anywhere close to full in three plus years. Tomorrow night could provide fans both young and old, tenured or brand new, an opportunity to see this team as ‘worth’ following. There will be fans heading to Chester for the first time tomorrow night. It’s up to Jim Curtin and his club to put on a good performance so those fans don’t leave devastated.
Whether or not fans leave pleased or not will rest solely on the shoulders of young center back duo Mark McKenzie and Austin Trusty.
Earlier this week Curtin mentioned there is literally no other player like Zlatan in the sport. And there probably won’t ever be another. So when he spoke with Trusty and McKenzie about defending Zlatan, he stressed a need to stay sharp. Curtin lamented that Zlatan has no true tendencies, he is unpredictable. In other words, it almost seems as if Curtin is expecting the Swedish superstar to make his mark on the match at some point. Just how impactful those moments will be is the question.
Wednesday night, Trusty and McKenzie contained Orlando City’s top scoring option, Dom Dwyer, for 90+ minutes. Dwyer was visibly frustrated for much of the second half thanks to the pesky defending from Trusty and McKenzie. Orlando favored aerial balls over the top and into the box, which favors Trusty. LA Galaxy’s roster is a bit more talented in the midfield, however, meaning Philadelphia’s backline could be shredded at least once tomorrow.
The obvious match-up to watch is Zlatan vs Philadelphia’s central defenders. But perhaps more importantly, Haris Medunjanin’s position just atop Philadelphia’s back four will be key. Wednesday night, Medunjanin displayed moments of chaos. At times he seemed a bit lost after tracking to far away from the center of the pitch. At other times, he committed costly turnovers. Medunjanin will have to be firing on all cylinders in hopes of supporting the back line through all 90 minutes of play.
Union man of the match: Fafa Picault
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Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports