As Philadelphia Union get back to league play after All-Star week, there are choices to be made. A three game stretch over eight days with three huge matches that could determine the Union’s season. The first is their road match at Portland who are unbeaten since April. Just four days later the Union will take on Chicago Fire at home for a chance at playing in the US Open Cup final. The tough stretch of games ends with a trip to New England who sit just above them in the eastern conference standings. First things first our Philly Sports Network Union Crew Preview the Union’s match against Portland.
Dare I say the Philadelphia Union will be playing with house money this weekend??? I mean, no one expected them to pull off a 3-1 victory at Houston last week. I said from the start of the road trip that no less than six points from these three road matches (Houston, Portland, New England) would suffice. I’m sticking to my guns. Obviously the more important of the remaining two matches is the one versus the Revolution next week. There is much more at stake for the Union as far as playoffs are concerned.
The Portland Timbers are no Houston Dynamo, and that’s bad news for the Union. They are dominant at home, not having lost thus far this season, and are tied with FC Dallas for the least amount of losses (3) in 2018. At Providence Park this season, the home squad has crushed their opponents’ output, doubling their goal tally at 16-8. The Timbers haven’t lost in their previous 14 matches – the most recent loss being April 8. That is not a misprint. Forward Diego Valeri is still the star of this club, leading the Timbers with nine assists, and sharing the goal scoring lead of seven with newcomer and Swedish International striker, Samuel Armenteros. Midfielder, Diego Chara is always one to look out for if you’re on the defensive side of the field. Chara will most likely be counted on for more scoring punch this weekend as Armenteros is battling a back injury.
Yes, the boys in blue have three matches in eight days, with lots of travel between matches. Yes, the Open Cup semi-final versus Chicago is looming mid-week. But, I don’t think that will have any effect on the lineup Jim Curtin puts out in Portland Saturday night. The question still remains: to Sapong, or not to Sapong? I say go with Cory Burke. The odds of the Union leaving Portland with a win are slim to none, so you might as well throw all your chips in and go for broke. The best scenario I see is them coming out with a draw, and hey, a point is a point. But no one will sneeze at a loss at one of the toughest places to play, as long as the Union win at New England next week. House money baby! Let’s shock your supporters and pull off a miracle!
Timbers: 2 Union: 1
Union man of the match:
Philadelphia’s 2018 campaign continues out west Saturday night. The task? Earn a result against a team that’s failed to find victory just three times this season. The Portland Timbers’ home record sits at 8-3-0 and they currently ride a 14-match unbeaten streak – longest active streak in MLS. In fact, with a win or draw against Philadelphia Saturday night, Portland can tie their club record for longest unbeaten streak at 15 matches (2013-2014 season under Caleb Porter).
However, Philadelphia could play the almighty underdog role and spoil that opportunity for Portland and their enormous fan base.
At 9-7-3, Portland are positioned comfortably in fourth place in the Western Conference with at least three games in hand – Portland has played just 19 matches so far. Philadelphia has 21 matches under their belt. Yet, Portland holds a slim upper-hand in goals scored with 30 compared to 29 from Philadelphia. Portland also possesses the reigning MLS MVP in Diego Valeri who recorded his ninth assist of the season during Portland’s 2-1 win over Houston Dynamo last weekend. Valeri tallied seven goals so far to accompany the assists as well, making him the primary target for Jim Curtin’s young back-line to worry about.
Along with Valeri in terms of goal scoring for Portland is Samuel Armenteros. Armenteros missed Portland’s match against Houston due to injury. Unfortunately for Philadelphia fans, Armenteros returned to training and is expected to be available for selection Saturday night if his skipper, Giovanni Savarese chooses to.
Earlier this week, Curtin mentioned 22 players would make the road trip to Portland. The Brazilian winger, Ilsinho, stayed home with an aggravated leg injury meaning Curtin will rely on depth yet again.
Also worth noting, all four of Philadelphia’s homegrown talents who appeared in the MLS Homegrown match traveled to Portland as well.
Now, Curtin will need to make some tough, yet calculated decisions in terms of roster decisions. Does he play his normal starters against Portland in what will be an uphill climb of a match for his squad? Or does he allow some reserves to grab some time in hopes of keeping guys rested for the U.S. Open Cup semi-final clash next Wednesday against Chicago?
A betting man would mention Philadelphia has a significantly higher chance of beating Chicago over Portland. Plus, there’s a trophy involved when discussing that tilt against Chicago.
One thing Curtin can rest assured knowing is that his depth pieces are more than competent. At the striker and wing positions, depth has never been an issue while the central midfield reserve slots have been filled mainly by Warren Creavalle. Perhaps Anthony Fontana could grab a shift to showcase his skills Saturday night.
Maybe even, Haris Medunjanin could grab a spot on the bench Saturday night. We all remember what happened the last time Philadelphia entered a hostile environment, right?
Timbers: 2 Union: 2
Union Man of the Match:
The Union are going to have to turn to their depth at some point in their next three games. With this match against a high-flying Portland side, could we see that depth tested?
It would make sense. of the games on this three game stretch, the Union will want to see a wins against Chicago and New England. Beating Chicago would mean a trip to back to the US Open Cup final; a win at New England would mean having a huge leg up in the race for the playoffs. I expect the Union’s lineup late Saturday night in Portland to look very different from normal.
In goal, I think Andre Blake starts, it’d really shock me to see McCarthy in-goal.
On the back line I think we see some changes. I see Auston Trusty and Ray Gaddis staying in the starting 11. However, I think Jack Elliot replace’s Mark McKenzie, and Fabinho will come in for Keegan Rosenberry.
In central midfield I only see one starter staying in the 11. That starter is captain Alejandro Bedoya. partnering with him, I think will be a coin toss between Warren Creavalle and Derrick Jones. Personally, I’d love to see Jones play against Portland, but Curtin tend’s to favor Creavalle. At the 10, I see Anthony Fontana get a run letting Dockal rest.
On the wings, I see Fafa Picault staying in the 11 on the left-week. On the right-wing, I think we’ll see Marcus Epps start, and David Accam come off the bench.
At the striker position, I think Jim Curtin will stay with who’s hot. While rotating the roster will be important over the next week, I think Sapong still rides the bench and Burke starts.
This shakeup in the starting 11 would result in a Union 18 that looks like this:
Blake; Fabinho, Trusty, Elliot, Gaddis; Creavalle/Jones, Bedoya; Picault, Fontana, Epps; Burke.
McCarhty; McKenzie, Rosenberry; Creavalle/Jones, Accam, Dockal; Sapong.
Now that I’ve predicted five changes in the starting 11, don’t be surprised to see Curtin roll out the same 11 from Houston. This game would be the one where I think the Union could gamble with house money, and if they do that, then I expect these changes to be made.
This squad is one that can compete, but I don’t see them pulling out the W in Portland. Now if it’s the normal starters, I’d be more inclined to say the Union get some kind of points in Portland!
Timbers: 2 Union: 1
Union man of the match:
Be sure to come back to Philly Sports Network for more Philadelphia Union, Steel FC, and other soccer content!
Follow our writers on Twitter:
Peace out Union fans!
Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports.