While Philly are still alive in the MLS Playoffs race, everything could hinge on one match. The US Open Cup Semifinal will determine the rest of 2018 for Philadelphia Union.
At this point in the season, the Philadelphia Union seem to be in a good place. 12 games left in their MLS campaign, and the Union are in the thick of a playoff race for one of the last two spots. Philly are also on an US Open Cup run as they take on Chicago Fire in the semifinals tonight. This match will affect the teams confidence no matter the outcome.
Best case scenario, huge confidence boost:
If the Union can find a way to win against Chicago. Their confidence will be through the roof as they head into their last 12 league matches. Nine of those 12 games are against eastern conference opponents; that’s 27 points up for the taking. A huge opportunity is there for the taking, and a confident Union team takes advantage of that opportunity.
Of those nine games against eastern conference opponents, five of them are teams in playoff contention, or below the Union (@ New England, vs New England, @ DC, @ Orlando and vs Montreal). These matches must yield points for the Union to get to the playoffs. The other in conference games are vs NYCFC, @ Columbus, vs NY Red Bulls and @ NYCFC. Games that could be potential playoff matches.
If the Union win the US Open Cup Semifinal, they will be able to go about the rest of these crucial league games knowing that they have won a crucial game already. While the circumstances and team’s will be different, this Union team needs a confidence building game to go off of. The US Open Cup Semifinal can be that game, however it can also be the exact opposite with a loss.
Worst case scenario, a lingering deflated confidence:
Should the Union fail to beat Chicago in the US Open Cup final, they will feel the effects of the loss throughout their last 12 games. The games against the teams around them will be come even more important to “save the season”. The weight of each match will hover over this team.
As was prevalent in their early matches the Union’s confidence when deflated means everyone suffers. The play-making midfielders try to do too much with the ball. The wingers move central to try to get involved, and the striker will get lost in the shuffle of everyone else moving forward. This kerfuffle will leave the back line exposed. While the defense and goalkeeping has been the bright spot all year, they will have trouble dealing with attacks when the Union are spread thin.
A loss has the potential to turn this team into a train-wreck. The lingering effects of a deflated confidence will plague this team. at this very crucial time of the 2018 campaign the Union’s confidence is crucial, a loss in the US Open Cup Semifinal would crush that confidence.
A preview of the US Open Cup Semifinal:
As the Union come off a disappointing trip to Portland, they will need to be focused and tactically sound to beat the Chicago Fire. A 15 hour trip back home from Portland may hinder that a bit, but there’s no doubt the Union will be up for this match.
Philadelphia’s Tactics and Team
The downside is that Mark McKenzie seems to still be hurt, and Ilsinho is still not ready to go. This will mean that we will see more of Jack Elliot, who looked very good against Portland and more of David Accam against his former team. A well structured Union team has been able to beat the Fire once at Talen Energy Stadium, but a disorganized one will result in a game that is much more balanced, like the Union-Fire game in Chicago.
The Union will need to rely on playing from the back, and keeping possession to douse the Fire. This means that the Union’s midfield triangle are crucial to this type of play. Medunjanin will need to drop deep to get on the ball and break down Chicago. Bedoya and Dockal will need move into the open spaces to get on the ball and work it into the attacking third. It worked perfectly against the Fire back in May.
I see the Union having this 18:
Starting 11: Blake; Gaddis, Elliot, Trusty, Rosenberry; Medunjanin, Bedoya; Picault, Dockal, Accam; Burke.
Bench: McCarthy; Marquez, Fabinho; Jones, Fontata, Epps; Sapong.
This team has the talent and grit to get the win. However, Chicago will also field a very strong lineup, and could cause problems for the Union.
This time around the Union will face a Fire team that is leaps and bounds better than the one they played back in May. Bastian Schweinsteiger is back in the midfield, and hitting screamers. Dax McCarty is still a maestro in the midfield for Chicago. Nemanja Nikolić and Aleksandar Katai have 19 goals between them and lead the Fire’s attack. While their defense and goalkeeping has been skeptical, the Fire will be ready to correct those mistakes to try to get themselves to an US Open Cup Final, which they’d host if they win.
This match comes down to the Union’s organization on the field. If they can keep possession, and test the sketchy Chicago Fire back line, they should be able to create enough offense to win this match. On the other end. It’ll take a collective effort. Swarming McCarty and Schweinsteiger in the middle of the field is the way to make the fire one-dimensional. Take them out, have a winger help out the outside back keeping an eye on Katai, and have the center backs track Nikolić in the box will take Chicago off their game.
I see the Union getting the job done. It’ll be a struggle, and possibly a shootout, but I see the Union taking care of business on their home field to get to their third ever US Open Cup Final!
Prediction: Union: 2 Fire: 1
Union Man of the Match: Borek Dockal
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Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports.