Union square off against a short-handed San Jose team tonight, can they capitalize on the road?

The Philadelphia Union failed to score a goal Sunday night on the road at NYRB, but will hope to bounce back on short rest across the country against the San Jose Earthquakes – who are missing two major offensive weapons in Cristian Espinoza and Chris Wondolowski (both suspended). Can Philadelphia find a way to grab points on the road during this final stretch of the season?

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody really knows why nor understands the thought process that goes into scheduling an Eastern Conference team to play across the country in the middle of the week sandwiched between two weekend games. The logic is severely flawed. And according to team sources, complaints have been filed in the past highlighting this very issue.

Yet, the Philadelphia Union will have to battle through the struggles cross country travel on short rest may cause. The decision to fly commercially out to San Jose Monday was made by Sporting Director Ernst Tanner despite a very strong effort from fans – and quietly from some players within the locker room – to splurge on personal charter flights. Yet with almost 48 hours and a good night’s sleep out on the west coast, it’s fair to assume the commercial travel plans really didn’t hamper any regeneration or training efforts.

But time will tell.

Mandatory Credit: MLS game guide

Will Philadelphia be able to come out of the gates with high-intensity? Or will they allow San Jose to dictate play?

Mandatory Credit: MLS game guide

One thing is certain, San Jose is without two main offensive weapons tonight. The team leader in goals with 14, Chris Wondolowski, and the team leader in assists with 12, Cristian Espinoza, are both suspended. The two have combined for a total of 30 goals between Wondo’s 14 goals and two assists and Espinoza’s two goals in addition to his 12 assists.

Mandatory Credit: MLS game guide

For more context on just how impactful these two are for San Jose, consider the team’s total goal-scoring output. Of San Jose’s 50 goals scored, 30 (or 60%) have come as a direct result of Wondo and Espinoza’s play.

Another aspect of San Jose’s play that has served as both a crutch and an advantage at times this season is their ability to man-mark throughout the midfield. The usual style of compact defending as a unit in a sort of block formation is thrown out the window in San Jose. They favor a peskier style of defending, one that has caused many teams a bit of trouble.

But Philadelphia’s midfield boasts a combination of both speed and smarts. With veterans like Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin coupled with the pace of Jamiro Monteiro and Brenden Aaronson, Philadelphia should be able to run San Jose ragged throughout the central areas of the pitch.

Medunjanin (if he is selected to play) will be asked to run more than he’s used to, which could be a factor in the second half. But ultimately, the match will come down to how Philadelphia’s midfield unit responds to what can be an annoying defensive strategy to play against. The key is off-ball running which forces San Jose players to vacate certain areas of the pitch. When those open spaces pop-up, Philadelphia will look to take advantage.

“I think it’ll be easier if it’s man-marking and 1v1 because we have a lot of guys that can handle that if they get the ball,” said goal-scoring striker Kacper Przybylko. “They can go 1v1 in that situation and they can create for us.”

Monteiro’s ball skills will be on full display tonight. Expect him to try and beat his man with his first few touches to suck other San Jose defenders in to help. The space they vacate then becomes precious real estate for other Union midfielders to fill.

But who exactly will suit up tonight for Philadelphia? Union Head Coach Jim Curtin has mentioned on more than one occasion throughout the past week that he and his staff plan on rotating the squad tonight. But as far as specifics, not much has been mentioned.

The usual suspects would be center back Jack Elliott and the above-mentioned Medunjanin, both of whom have played every single minute this year for Philadelphia. In place of Elliott would be Aurelien Colin and since Mark McKenzie suffered a painful hamstring injury on Sunday, the return of Auston Trusty is likely as well.

Curtin was clear on the fact that he and his staff will not be rolling out a second-team of sorts. Which signals the team’s intent to grab three points on the road tonight. But whether they can capitalize on the absence of San Jose’s offensive weapons remains to be seen.

Philadelphia is hungry though and they’ll look to take care of business as usual.

“I think we should just continue like we did at home,” said Przybylko. “Just do our best to bring the three points back home.”

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Peace out Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

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