The Philadelphia Union has had a stellar start to their 2021 season. They dismantled Diportivo Saprissa in two-legs of CCL play and drew against the MLS Cup Champions Columbus Crew SC to open their 2021 MLS season. This weekend, Philadelphia plays in their home opener against Inter Miami. Here are five things to watch for at the Union’s home opener!
5 things to watch for at the Union’s home opener
In the Union’s supporters’ shield winning season, they never lost at home in the regular season! They are looking to replicate that form this season. It will be no easy task, as the 2021 season is back to a full/normal schedule. They get to try to start another run on Saturday against Inter Miami in the Union’s home opener!
1. Philly’s getting healthier
One of the main issues the Union faced heading into the start of their 2021 was health and depth; especially at the forward position. Four players who could have played a factor or role at forward have been out. Now it looks like three of those four will be up for selection ahead of the game against Miami! Sergio Santos is the most notable name of the bunch. He was able to come off the bench in the season opener and looked sharp. If he starts that will be a huge leg up for the Union.
Cory Burke and Ilsinho have also been out for a long period of time. Head coach Jim Curtin said they were back to trading and available for a role off the bench this weekend. Both have a certain set of skills in the attacking third. If either of those players comes on they can change the game for Philly. Whether it’s Burke’s determination or Ilsinho’s flair. 20 minutes of either player gives the Union more ammunition to get a win!
Jack DeVries is the only injured Union “forward” who is still out. He’s still dealing with a nasty concussion. Hopefully, he gets back in the mix soon so Philly is at full strength!
2. Miami has a clear weakness
Inter Miami lost their first match of their 2021 season at home to LA Galaxy. The 3-2 result is one that will not sit well with Miami fans. The Miami attack and midfield are ruthless and can score. Their counter-attacking 4-2-3-1 formation relies on wingers Robbie Robinson and Lewis Morgan’s speed and width, central midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro to pull strings when on the ball and find openings in the defense, and Gonzalo Higuain to score the goals. This is an impressive style, but they have one clear weakness to their team and that is their defense.
Against LA, Miami showed they had a hard time playing against two forwards. They only dealt with that for one half against LA as it was a second-half switch to win the game. Against Philly, they’ll have to play against two forwards for all 90 minutes. Miami’s center backs Jorge Figal, and Leanardo Gonzalez Perez (LGP) both have the tendency to step up to try to win balls or pressure attackers. This leaves space behind and in the wide areas for the opposition to take advantage of that space. It’s how LA Galaxy came back to win in Miami week one, and it’s how Philly will look to play for the majority of the game in week two.
If the Union press Miami from the jump; like they do to all teams, and make the center backs commit forward, then Philly will have opportunities early and often to get players in behind the defense and in on goal!
3. Curtin’s player selection
The Union has yet to start their preferred starting XI in 2021. It looks like Jim Curtin will have his preferred players available for selection for this home opener. Will we see Sergio Santos get the start at striker and Anthony Fontana to move back to his normal position as a central attacking midfielder? This then pushes Jamiro Monteiro to the left side of the diamond midfield and takes out the very impressive youngster Leon Flach. The answer to this question should be a resounding yes!
The Union has the players in their preferred starting XI to impose their will on Miami from the beginning of the match. These players are fit and ready for the chance to get back on the field in front of their fans. Having not lost at home in the regular season in 2020, but losing at home in the playoffs as the overall “1 seed” in MLS must have left a bad taste in this team’s mouth. Now they are healthy and ready to show that Subaru park is their fortress.
If Curtin picks the preferred starting XI then the Union should be on the front foot from the jump. If not it might allow Miami to get a bit more comfortable. After Inter Miami’s last trip to Subaru Park, that’s not something Union fans would want to see.
4. The Stars vs The Style
Inter Miami comes in with stars like Higuain, Pizarro and Matuidi. They are all big-money guys who are counted on to lead the team. When they don’t show up or are shut down, it’s clear that Miami isn’t at their best. This was the case last year. In 2020, Miami burst onto MLS’s scene boasting about their signings, and failed to really gel as a team. This season they have a new coach Phil Neville who will try to get things in order, but early on it’s clear that he has work cut out for him. He needs to impose a style of play to the team that will bring out the talent of their stars and the other players in their squad. Has this happened yet? Probably not, which is why Miami is a team with a few stars but no cohesion.
The Union is a team with no big stars, but a clearly imposed style of play and culture. No one is bigger than the badge the players wear on their chest, and everyone fights for each other. This has pushed Philly to their exponential growth year by year under Curtin which eventually won supporters’ shield. This team is flying on all cylinders I matter who is on the field, which is something a lot of other teams can’t say.
This match will be Miami’s stars vs Philadelphia’s style of play. Which will win out? One would think it’d be the instilled style of play, but anything can happen in the PSN of 90 minutes!
5 How the Union will start the match
The most important thing to watch in this match is how the Union starts the match. If the Union play has their best available starting XI on the pitch, they will be able to create mismatches that will lead to opportunities to score. One match into Neville’s coaching career in Miami, his side has looked to be sound in their shape and disposes and counter teams. If they try this against the Union they will be pummeled. Philly will look to exploit the center backs who don’t like to stay home, playing balls in behind or into the channels out wide. It will then be up to Philly to find and convert chances.
If Miami is too concerned with pushing for a counterattack, they will leave huge gaps for the Union to play into. For the Union, this is big for players like Santos, Przybylko, Fontana and Montiero. They all can play great combination passes when they have a numbers advantage. However, it’s all about converting the chances they will get from Miami’s undisciplined backline. If Philadelphia can play their style to the standard that they have for the past year in the first 20 minutes of this match, there is no reason they shouldn’t have a goal or two.
The key to this will be if Sergio Santos starts. His pace and directness are game changes in a high-pressing system. If Miami leaves those holes for him to exploit, then the Union should score early and often in this match.
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Mandatory Credit: Scotia Bank Concacaf Champions League