Philadelphia Union have won four in a row, and have not lost since August fourth. Philadelphia’s high-flying midfield, coupled with the scoring prowess of first year player Cory Burke, has the Union playing to their offensive potential. Couple that with a back line that bends but does not break, and a keeper playing at the highest level, and you get a Union team that is as close to a competitor in MLS’ Eastern Conference as they’ve been in years. The Union face a huge test at they head down to hot DC United for a midweek clash with playoff implications.
Following Saturday night’s 1-0 clean sheet victory against New England Revolution, Philadelphia Union have two straight road matches to finish off what could be a defining week for their 2018 season. The first road test is in DC against an Eastern Conference foe climbing the table in search of the last and final playoff spot.
However, DC United lost 1-0 Sunday night to their rival New York Red Bulls. The lost snapped a three-match win streak and an even longer five-match unbeaten streak. Expect DC to look for a big rebound win against Philadelphia as they begin a healthy stretch of home matches. They’ll finish the season with nine home matches and just two road trips. Philadelphia enters hostile territory tomorrow night.
Which means discipline and focus will be key for Jim Curtin’s squad. And of course, the Union’s young center backs will have their hands full all match due to the presence of Wayne Rooney up top for DC. Since joining DC back in mid-July, Rooney appeared in nine games scoring three goals and registering three assists. He almost tallied his fourth goal of the year Sunday night, but he hit the crossbar from six-yards out in the second half.
Rooney’s off the ball movements have been difficult for MLS defenses to track so far. His intelligence on the pitch is obvious as he continually shifts his movements which confuses back lines. He can pop up in the midfield, out wide, or try to get in behind with ease. A key match-up will be Rooney vs. Auston Trusty and Jack Elliot, especially in the second half. Rooney may look to switch up his runs late in the match to trick both Elliot and Trusty. The youngsters will need to be on high alert for 90+ minutes tomorrow night.
The last meeting between these two teams resulted in a five-goal affair which saw Philadelphia with the 3-2 win at home back on April 28th. Goals from Ilsinho, CJ Sapong, and Borek Dockal lifted the Union to victory that night.
But expect this match-up to be a bit different. Considering the intensity that will surely take hold in the match, a low scoring game is most likely going to be the result.
Perhaps the most intriguing match-up tomorrow night will be Philadelphia’s stellar midfield trio of Alejandro Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, and Dockal vs the midfield of DC which is powered by an all-around machine in Russell Canouse, a Lancaster, PA native. Canouse is a strong player with great physical presence in the middle of the pitch. Much like New England, DC will most likely try to clog the midfield to frustrate Philly’s trio. With some impressive athletic midfielders to combine with Canouse in Luciano Acosta and Paul Arriola, DC could cause havoc if they get on the front foot early.
But that’s where Philadelphia’s top three will need to step in. Cory Burke, Fafa Picault, and Sapong normally do a solid job in hold up play and those skills will need to be on full display tomorrow night in hopes of retaining possession and controlling the match.
Yet another interesting aspect of this match is both club’s goalkeepers. Bill Hamid for DC is no slouch in net, while we all know of Andre Blake’s superior skills along the goal line. Both will need to come up big for their teams with the playoffs right around the corner.
Prediction: Union 1 – DC United 1
Union Man of the Match: Alejandro Bedoya
As the Union head out to play two road games against teams lower than them in the Eastern Conference, a win was necessary against the struggling New England Revolution. It wasn’t pretty but the Union bested the Revolution 1-0 last Saturday. This result boosted the Union’s already high confidence.
While the Union did beat NYCFC not too long ago, the win against the Revolution proved that this Union team can beat a team that they are supposed to beat. That is a trait that many former Union sides were not able to do, and the result was missing the playoffs. Now the Union have beaten the Revolution every time they have played them this season. Philadelphia will look to do the same to DC United on Wednesday night.
DC United are no New England Revolution. While they are below the Union, and fighting for a playoff spot United are a rejuvenated club. The opening of Audi Field in July has helped DC have an actual home field. The addition of veteran striker Wayne Rooney has revitalized their attack, and created a buzz around the old torchbearers of MLS.
Rooney, and a legitimate home field have paid dividends for DC United. Since Rooney’s debut and the opening of the stadium back on July 25th, DC has five wins, three losses and one draw. This is enough to hoist them into the playoff conversation. They only lost one home game, against the strong New York Red Bulls, and have a plus eight goal differential in their new home. The Union will have to be sharp to beat DC in DC.
As Mat stated above, the an intriguing thing to watch in this match is how the Union’s midfield triangle of Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya and Borek Dockal operate. If this triangle can control the play, and keep the ball in DC’s half, the Union will be able to control the game. If this does not happen, you’ll see a lot of DC on the ball playing through Rooney to create offense. This creates a tall task for the Union’s young center backs.
Auston Trusty and Jack Elliot will have to be up to the task of marking Rooney, and making sure he’s not allowed to become the source of DC’s offense. DC United have had success over the last month when Rooney is able to create in the final third. One of the Union’s two young center backs will need to be on him the entire game to throw DC off.
This match has midweek draw written all over it. Back a few weeks ago, I wrote that I thought the Union would draw this match. Now, I see things a little differently. DC United played all of their starters in a loss to New York Red Bulls this past Sunday. I think that lineup and loss will affect their legs on two days rest. The Union are also dealing with heavy legs; however, their confidence and play are through the roof. I think that extra bit of confidence pushes the Union to find a winner at DC; I also see Andre Blake standing on his head to preserve the three points as he did last Saturday.
Prediction: Union 2 – DC United 1
Union Man of the Match: Andre Blake
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Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports