Just four points separate the Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution as the two Eastern Conference clubs face off at Talen Energy Stadium Saturday night.
Philadelphia enters the match on a hot streak of sorts. Their last victory could be a sign of playoff promise. However, on the other hand, the past still haunts the fan base as many remain on the fence regarding the team’s potential as the season comes to a close. Either way you slice it, Philadelphia is very much in the playoff picture sitting in fifth place with 33 points.
When asked about his club’s last match-up against New England, Union head coach Jim Curtin emphasized the importance of restarts as his team prepared this week. “That was a competitive game. That was an intense environment, one where it had a feel of playoff intensity. Goals were scored off of restarts for both teams, so obviously that’ll be a big point of interest for the week,” said Curtin. He was also sure to mention the confidence throughout his group. “We’re coming off very confident but at the same time in this league if you’re not prepared and treating every game with the right mentality, you get punched in the teeth in this league and that’s the reality of things… There’re no easy games,” said Curtin.
The match will be far from easy as New England hovers just below the red line with 29 points. The Brad Friedel coached club will enter Chester hungry for points. That much is known. However, Philadelphia is expected to win and anything less will be a sure-fire disappointment.
So how will Philadelphia attack New England? Curtin hopes the newfound confidence will translate into more of the same impressive soccer for his club. “We need all 11 guys fighting for the same principles and same ideas on the field. We’ve had that cohesion and there’s certainly confidence within the group that you can feel at training, you can feel in the locker. You can feel in the film sessions. We have it right now, we don’t want to let it go,” said Curtin.
Those ‘principles’ and ‘ideas’ revolve around being brave and remaining humble and hungry. Much like their match vs New York City FC, the defensive work rate from back to front will need to remain high in hopes of smothering any chances New England can manage to create moving forward. Philadelphia executed a near perfect 2-0 win against New York City thanks to quick reactions from their midfielders whenever the ball was momentarily lost. That same intensity will be needed to frustrate New England in hopes of retaining possession.
As for the starting XI Saturday night, well there remains a few question marks. Winger Fafa Picault returns from suspension and he could easily earn the start along with Cory Burke and CJ Sapong to round out the top three. Curtin mentioned his ability to continue the interchanging up top that’s been so beneficial for Philadelphia over the last three matches. Picault creates more chances for interchange with Burke and Sapong when compared to Ilsinho, who tends to remain on the wing more so than not.
“Ilsinho is not the type of guy that’ll pop up at the number 9. He’ll maybe have interchange with Borek [Dockal]. Borek does like to come out wide sometimes…” said Curtin Wednesday. If you take into account Ilsinho only played roughly 30 minutes last match and the fact he picked up a knock during his time on the pitch, all signs point to Picault returning to the starting XI for Philadelphia.
Picault’s ability to stretch the field coupled with the physical presence of Burke and Sapong up top will surely cause problems for New England’s backline. Another factor to consider are the aerial abilities of all three attacking options in Picault, Burke, and Sapong. Simple headed flicks forward on aerial balls can create even more problems for an opponent’s back line.
Yet beating a team three times in one season will prove to be a daunting task. Following up the club’s best performance of the season is also tough. And extending that win streak to four straight is even more difficult. But if there was ever a time for Philadelphia to continue their winning ways, it’s right now.
Prediction: Philadelphia Union 3 – New England Revolution 1
Union Man of the Match: Cory Burke
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Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.