Forecasting the Philadelphia Union Playoff 18

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The East-leading Philadelphia Union are currently in a mini-slump, including an underwhelming win against a mediocre Houston Dynamo team at home last week, and a poor-as-can-be performance and loss at the Chicago Fire on Saturday night. The MLS Playoffs begin exactly two months from now. Atlanta United FC has taken over first place, NYCFC is breathing down the Union’s neck for a second, and there won’t be a chance during these last seven matches to rest anyone. Saturday night’s starting eleven had Marco Fabián replacing Andrew Wooten at one of the two forward positions and Jamiro Monteiro at the ten, taking Fabián’s spot. It was a mess and also showed that coach Jim Curtin has lots of questions about his club going into the stretch run.

https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/soccer-predictions/mls/

Only one of the Union’s remaining opponents (Columbus Crew) is not projected to make the 2019 Audi MLS Playoffs. The Union will make the playoffs. According to fivethirtyeight.com, they have a 99% chance to do that. But the odds of them holding onto first place are less than 50%. If they were to win 2, tie 2, and lose 3 to close the season, they will have still secured a home playoff match in the first round. No guarantees though. Regardless of their playoff position come October 19th, the 18 for the Union will need to be settled and solidified. Here’s what it should look like…

The Locks

Andre Blake (Goalkeeper)

This has been an up-and-down year for the lone Union all-star. He’s made a habit of the spectacular save throughout his career. That has been true in 2019 but it’s been a less common occurrence. This season, Blake has been underwhelming for his standards, but he’s still the Union’s best option and can still perform at an elite level on any given night.

Kai Wagner (Left Back)

This is a no-brainer. The first-year defender has been solid to spectacular since opening day. He rarely gets beat one-on-one and is as tough as they come. Add to that his ability to constantly deliver a solid cross into the box and his six assists place him near the top amongst MLS defenders.

Jack Elliot made the most of his opportunity in 2019. Mandatory Credit: Getty Images

Jack Elliot (Center Back)

“Gentleman” Jack has been a revelation. Coming into the 2019 season, Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie were two sure things at the center back positions. After McKenzie was unavailable at the start of the season due to injury, Elliot got the start and never looked back. He has a knack for pulling off saves of his own with his 6’6” frame and has played every minute this season.

Ray Gaddis (Right Back)

I know what you’re thinking. Why is Gaddis a “lock”? It’s not because he’s one of Curtin’s favorites. It’s not because he is the longest-tenured player in Union history. Yes, he is very limited in developing offense out of his side of the pitch. But you must admit, by Gaddis’ standards, this is probably the best season he’s ever had. He would have to have an epic collapse between now and October to lose his spot in the starting lineup.

Haris Medunjanin (Base of the diamond)

At 34 years of age, the Union’s elder statesman continues to defy logic. I wasn’t even for re-signing him but he’s proven me wrong. As impressive as his 9 assists at playing as deep a position as he’s assigned, Medunjanin has also played every minute of every match. He is one of the leaders on the pitch and has earned his place in the starting eleven from now until the end of the season.

Jamiro Monteiro (Left side of the diamond)

Oh, Sacha Kljestan really threw a wrench into the Union’s season. I won’t get into him not getting a stiffer punishment from the league. I won’t. I digress. Earlier this season, Monteiro was spectacular, dynamic, efficient, everything. Since his return from injury, his first touch has been a bit off and he doesn’t quite have his timing down with teammates. But at his best, he is the Union’s finest offensive performer. If he’s not playing his best, he is still the best option here. To beat any of the elite clubs in the East, the Union cannot afford to keep him on the bench.

Alejandro Bedoya (Right side of the diamond)

O’ Captain, My Captain! He is the ultimate leader on and off the field. Bedoya has become more involved in the offense than he’s ever been and seems to always be in the right place at the right time. Like Elliot and Medunjanin, Bedoya has not missed one minute of play.

Marco Fabián is starting to turn his season around. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn – USA Today

Marco Fabián (Top of the diamond)

The oft-injured, high-priced midfielder, was beginning to wear out his welcome in Chester a few months ago. He had scored only two goals between March and June, missed several matches due to injury, and looked nothing like he was advertised when he was able to play. Since then, Fabián has started seven straight matches, scoring four times. Saturday was evidence that he needs to stay at the ten.

Kacper Przybylko (Forward)

Although the German International didn’t get his first start until two months into the season, he’s the Union leading scorer with 11 goals. Since that first start, Przybylko has played all but one minute, is very active while defending, and rarely has poor back-to-back performances.

Ilsinho (Midfielder)

The Union super-sub has always had a knack for generating ooh’s and ah’s from fans, but in 2019, he’s been as productive as one can be in his limited time on the field. In under 800 minutes, Ilsinho has tallied four goals, seven assists and is having his best campaign as a member of the Union. Although he hasn’t scored since June 8th, he is one of the few players on the club who can take over a game.

Fafa Picault (Forward/Midfielder)

He’s in a tough position. The Union was performing at a high level with Picault starting as one of the forwards, but his scoring was down (10 goals in ’18) with only four this season, and the signing of Andrew Wooten sent him to the bench. Regardless, Picault will be in the 18 come playoff time, either on the bench or as a starter if Wooten doesn’t produce.

Andrew Wooten may have Fafa breathing down his neck for the starting nod. Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Andrew Wooten (Forward)

The newly-signed German has too much talent and goal-scoring history to be left out of the 18. I think he will find his stride soon. Whether it will be next to Przybylko or as a sub will be determined in the next few weeks.

Auston Trusty (Center Back)

As in a “lock”, Trusty will either be starting alongside Elliot or available for Curtin to call on as a sub in the event of an injury. He had a solid start to the season, but recent performances landed him on the bench. Even though Curtin chose Mark McKenzie to be on the bench against Chicago, I viewed that as more of a threat to Trusty than anything. Also, McKenzie has only 12 minutes of match experience playing alongside Wagner and chemistry is important along the backline. Look for Trusty to regain his starting spot soon.

Aurelien Collin (Center Back)

I love Collin. He’s been an all-star multiple times, been named to the MLS Best XI, won the U.S. Open Cup, as well as MLS Cup and MLS Cup MVP. His career speaks for itself, but being a 33-year-old and having played in only 21 matches since 2016, he has the cards stacked against him. But that’s just as a starter. You can see evidence in his most recent start, which was his third in a row, and demonstrated that is now past his limit. Aside from his tackle in the box, Collin was beaten on the other Fire goal as well and was clearly a beat slower than in the previous two weeks. His experience in 12 play-off matches makes him essential if Trusty were to get injured.

Creavalle will be counted on as a “stopper” come playoff time. Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Warren Creavalle (Midfielder)

He shouldn’t be starting in a playoff match but if the Union find themselves up by multiple goals, he should be called on to reinforce the defense and put the other team away. Creavalle is limited offensively (although he’s shown some nifty moves as of late), but what he does, he does well.

Joe Bendik (Goalkeeper)

With Union rookie Matt Freese having only five MLS starts under his belt, along with a few recent injuries, Bendik is the obvious choice here. Although he doesn’t have any playoff appearances, Bendik is an experienced veteran and has 173 starts in his eight-year MLS career.

That leaves two spots…

R.J. Allen or Matt Real (Outside back)

This one will be an interesting call. Real has been playing well in Bethlehem but his MLS inexperience could be to his detriment in the post-season. Allen meanwhile, has 52 career starts including a few in the playoffs. When push comes to shove I think Allen gets the call here.

Brenden Aaronson or Anthony Fontana (Midfielder)

OK, I know some of you think this is no contest but keep a few things in mind. Aaronson got off to a great start and played well during the first few months of the season. But to be honest, he’s been underwhelming since. Getting bullied by defenders and sporadic starts could mean he needs some growing to do. Fontana has played sparingly this season but I think he’s growing on Curtin. The last two months will be a battle between these two.

Odd Men Out

Sergio Santos, Mark McKenzie, Fabinho, Olivier Mbaizo, Matt Freese, Michee Ngalina

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Mandatory Credit: Getty Images, Brace Hemmelgarn – USA Today and Philadelphia Union

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