After what will be a three weeks break from playing an MLS match, the Philadelphia Union are set to return to play. While the beginning of their season was seen as a sprint, their first seven days after this international break is even more of one. The Union return from break to a brutal stretch that has three matches in seven days.
Union return from break to brutal stretch
Philadelphia has returned to training and is ready to return to its 2021 MLS season. They proved they can handle a tough stretch of games with the beginning of their season. For Philly to only be three points off of first place after playing 12 games through MLS and CCL play is fantastic. Now, they’ll be rested for a brutal stretch of three games in seven days. They come back from break with a trip to Atlanta, then have a midweek home match vs Columbus, then travel to Chicago on the weekend. What should we expect to see from the Union on this stretch?
@ Atlanta on June 20th
The Union begins this stretch in a place they have had recent success, at Atlanta. Atlanta United sits in eighth place in the eastern conference on 10 points. It’s clear that they have been heavily reliant on Josef Martinez to score. Coming off of his injury, he has yet to regain the quality that we are all accustomed to seeing from him. This has caused Atlanta to look a bit lost in their attack. Their defense hasn’t been stellar either; they’ve let up seven goals through seven MLS games, and four in their CCL matches. This team is far from the power that they were in years past.
For Philadelphia, they will need to play their game down in Mercedes Benz Stadium. The Union has already won in 2021 in the first leg of the CCL quarterfinals. An impressive 3-0 win shows them the blueprint for this match. To counter the interplay of Atlanta and the large crowds in the stadium, the Union needs to be lethal on the counterattack. We all know Philly loves to press teams, they’ll need to do this against Atlanta to get the ball off of their dangerous playmakers. This, in turn, will put pressure on Atlanta’s suspect backline.
Getting points from Atlanta in Atlanta is crucial if this Union side wants to push for that top spot in the East. A loss will be seen as unacceptable, especially after this long break.
vs Columbus on June 23rd
Columbus Crew SC comes to Chester on a Wednesday to continue the frantic return to play. Columbus is in sixth place on 11 points from seven matches. The main problem for Columbus has been their inability to score goals. Last season, en route to winning MLS Cup, they had Gyasi Zardes and Lucas Zelarayan putting in goals left and right. This year, Columbus has only scored seven goals from seven games. The main strength of this side is its defensive shape. Columbus has only allowed six goals this season. As we saw in the MLS season opener they are a very sound team.
The Union opened their MLS season in Columbus. The game was uneventful as both sides were coming off of opening CCL matches. It was a nil-nil match that showed that the defenses for both teams are very good. For the Union to have success against Columbus they will need to boss the midfield. Keeping the ball away from Nagbe and Zelarayan is key to stopping their attack. Philly center backs will do well to stop Zardes, so keeping the ball off of the playmaker’s feet. Doing that and being at home should help push the Union to be the better team in a midweek match.
The Union needs to keep winning at home to show that they are a team to be reckoned with. The layout on how to beat Columbus is there. The trick will be to get past their backline. Anything less than three points at home would be bad in this match.
@ Chicago on June 26th
Chicago Fire has been a dumpster fire at the beginning of their 2021 season. They sit in 13th place with only four points from seven matches. The Fire has scored four goals and let in 11 in that time. They are struggling to find goals with a striker in Robert Beric who thrives on service; unfortunately, there is no service to be found. The defense isn’t a strength of the team either. Letting in 11 goals in seven games will put you in the basement of any standings and that’s where they find themselves after this international break. The Union should have no trouble at Chicago.
Philly has already gone out to Chicago this season and won 2-0. That result started a good run of form that led to the Union moving to second place in the east. This time around Philly will need to do just what they did in the first match. Pressing Chicago stops their hardly-lethal attack. Good interplay and perfectly timed set-piece plays do Chicago in. The Union has already done this, and their recent form has shown that their attack is versatile and can beat teams this way.
The Union needs to take three points from the teams at the bottom of the table to stay at the top. This should be an easy three points for Philly; even a draw would be a disappointment for this team.
The fast and furious start begins this week
The Union return from break begins in a fast and furious sprint. It will either be a monumental success or a major disappointment. For this stretch, Philly will need to take seven points to stay on pace with New England at the top of the east. Anything less than that will likely mean that the Union will drop in the standings.
We at Philly Sports Network will have you covered with previews, features, and recaps from all this action. Be sure to come along for this crazy ride that is the 2021 MLS season!
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Mandatory Credit: PHILADELPHIA UNION, ANDREW ZWARYCH