Can Philadelphia Union play to their potential in Win-or-go-home match v.s. New England Revolution?


The Philadelphia Union were able to take seven points from three group stage matches in the MLS is Back Tournament. They did this all while not playing their best soccer. Two wins and a draw in their last three matches is a great haul, but there is still a major question looming over this club. Can they play to their potential? In a win-or-go-home match against the New Revolution, Philadelphia will have the opportunity to answer this question.

Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

In a pivotal win-or-go-home match in the Round of 16 in the MLS is Back Tournament, the Union will need to rely on their identity to get past the Revolution’s style. This will be the determining factor in this match. The Union loves to press and counter, the Revs love to possess the ball. Whoever can impose their will on the match will likely come out on top.

The Revs Style

New England under Bruce Arena has become a team that looks to possess the ball to get results. They look to move the ball forward to get it to their playmakers like Gustavo Bou and Carles Gil.

In this upcoming match. It’s looking like the Revolution will be without Gil. His ability to link the midfield to the attack is a big hit for New England. The Revolution play in a 4-2-3-1, that at times looks like a 4-4-1-1. Without Gil, it will put a lot of strain on Bou to become more of a playmaker.

It will also mean that whoever are playing in the defensive midfield for New England will likely have to stretch the field to help keep possession. Players like Kelyn Rowe, Scott Caldwell and Wilfried Zahibo are usually tasked with structuring the team’s shape, so if New England loses the ball they are there to clean up a counter-attack. Now without Gil in there, if these central midfielders push forward, then it may mean Philadelphia will have space to counter if their press works.

As we get closer to this match New England coach Bruce Arena addressed the media. He confessed he has not seen much of the Union over the years, and noted that they are a good team but not unique. The Union will need to show that their identity may not be unique, but it does make them a true contender.

The Union’s Identity

Philadelphia will look to press their opposition into mistakes and then will pounce on a counter-attack looking to make them pay. This style of play has really created the identity of the Philadelphia Union.

A 4-4-2 diamond formation with quick and strong players able to press and turn defense into attack paid dividends in 2019 and has shown to be what the Union will do in 2020. In the MLS is Back Tournament, the Union have been able to show this identity at times, but not all the time. Hence the question can the Union play to their potential?

This Philadelphia team has been lauded as a team that should break out, they are talented and show they can play well in their counter-pressing style of play. In the group stage, the team has tried to progress every match. Taking the appropriate steps to play good soccer in their identity and show their quality. Union captain, Alejandro Bedoya, sees the opportunity for this team to progress and live into their potential.

The Union are indeed a fun team to watch now. They are a team with an ambition that has shown when they play their soccer well, and to the level that they have planned, that they can hang with the best in MLS. As Philly moves forward to this unique knockout rounds of the MLS is Back tournament, they will have to execute well in the attacking half.

Doing this against a New England side that may be a bit stretched to help cope with the absence of Carles Gil presents opportunities for the Union’s attackers to have some space to operate.

Brenden Aaronson is one of those players who could step up in a big way for the Union. He has shown that he has the ability to be a great number 10, but can sometimes over-work himself at times. With more open spaces against the Revs, Aaronson could really show what he’s made of. He and the other Union players are being looked at by their coach, Jim Curtin, to progress in their play all the time.

Jim wants to see progression from all players on his team. With his first-choice starting 11 being available, Jim should put his players in a position to show the progression they can make. More time to train and make adjustments will likely be the difference for these Union players to live up to the potential of being a top team in MLS.

Here are some things to watch in thisRound of 16 win-or-go-home match.

Three things to watch

  1. The Union’s attack

    As stated by Coach Curtin and Captain Bedoya, the Union’s attack needs to be more clinical and ruthless wit their chances. Kacper Przybylko, Sergio Santos and Brenden Aaronson will be tasked with providing and finding goals, while players like Bedoya and Monteiro will be asked to help out providing the appropriate service. If Philly’s attack is more clinical than in the group stage, the Union should be able to find a win.
  2. Philly’s defense and stellar goalkeeping

    The Union’s defensive shape has been good in this tournament. That coupled with the amazing play of goalkeeper Andre Blake makes for a side that is hard to break down. should Philadelphia keep their great defensive structure, and have Blake make a couple of amazing saves look routine, Philadelphia will be able to stifle New England.
  3. The super-sub that can change everything

    We all know the Union have an ace up their sleeve in super-sub Ilsinho. He will be asked to come on for a portion of the second half to create a moment of brilliance like he has done so many times before for Philly. It worked out against Orlando, if Ilsinho is able to find a pocket of space to make New England pay, he will do it and help move the Union forward.

As we get ready for this win-or-go-home match, don’t forget to check out our previews on Youtube and on the Doop by the River Podcast!

YouTube Preview:

El Parcero Philly takes a look at the Union’s upcoming match v.s New England, and the rumors surrounding Brenden Aaronson!

Doop by the River Preview:

El Parcero Philly and Tim Lovenguth discuss the Union’s draw against Orlando City SC, preview the Union’s match against New England Revolution, and talk about the successes and disappointments in the MLS is Back Tournament. Don’t miss the 20th episode of Doop by the River.

Listen to “Can the Union deal the Revs a Knockout punch?” on Spreaker.

Be sure to come back to Philly Sports Network for more Philadelphia Union, Union II, and other soccer content!

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Peace out Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports