The Philadelphia Union play their biggest match in club history against Concacaf giant’s Club America at the historic Estadio Azteca! Philly returns to their Concacaf Champions League (CCL) in Mexico on Thursday night against a team that is usually near the top of the Liga MX standings. This is truly a historic moment, but will the Union rise to that moment and show they belong with the top teams in the region?
The biggest match in club history
The Union has been waiting for months to continue its historic run in CCL. After beating Costa Rican side Saprissa and MLS foes Atlanta United within the first few months of the season, Philly had to wait almost four months for the semifinals of this competition.
In that time, the Union has been playing their MLS campaign, but in the back of their minds had to be the fact that they will be playing the club’s biggest match against one of, if not the biggest, team in Concacaf in the CCL semifinals.
Now, it’s time! The Union is down in Mexico City getting ready for their biggest match in club history. What can we expect from this game? Can the Union actually compete with the likes of Club America?
Strengths and Weaknesses of Club America
Club America is a giant club with a huge following. Think of them as the same way one might think of the New York Yankees in baseball, but for Central American soccer. That is a great comparison of what this team is like. They dominate their league, spend boatloads of money, and there is that aura of arrogance. With all that being said, it’s almost poetic that this Philly team that has taken up the mantel of underdogs punching above their weight gets to go up against them. Philly will have their hands full in this match.
The first strength that Club America has going for it in this first leg of the CCL semifinals is their stadium. The Estadio Azteca is one of world football’s cathedrals. The legendary Diego Maradona scored his “Hand of God” goal in this stadium to win a 1986 World Cup quarterfinal for Argentina. The stadium has loads of history and is intimidating in its own right.
Another strength for Club America is the altitude at which the match will be played. Mexico City is far above sea level, sort of similar to Denver here in the States. This gives the Club America players a leg up as they train and play their home games at altitude.
While these are strengths that don’t have to necessarily do with things on the field, this Club America side is also a dangerous side that plays a frantic and direct game. Keep an eye out for Salvador Reyes and Mauro Lainez on the left side. They like to bomb forward and make defenses very uncomfortable. On top of that, they have two top-notch strikers in Henry Martin and Roger Martinez. They will be the main danger for goals and wreak havoc on opposition center backs. If this wasn’t enough, creative midfielder Alvaro Fidalgo will look to break down the Union in midfield trying to find the right pass to create a goal.
This team is very strong and has strengths outside of the actual game that will help them as well, but they are not without weakness.
The main weakness for Club America is that they are just now starting their main season campaign. They have only played three games winning two and drawing one. With that being said, this side has not looked like it should on paper. The team is definitely still trying to figure itself out; this could open up an opportunity for the Union to pounce. If passes are a bit short, or the chemistry between players isn’t completely on point, the Union could possibly pull off something special.
Another weakness is the fact that this team is just now getting back to full strength. Four of their players are just now returning from the Olympics including goalkeeper Memo Ochoa. This means we don’t really know what kind of CLub America we are going to see.
Will this team put it all together in a huge match that they are favored to win? Their strengths definitely outweigh their weaknesses. However, their weaknesses are ones that present opportunities for the Union to hang in this match and possibly pull off the unthinkable.
How the Union will play?
Club America’s game plan will be to attack, attack, attack in the first 15 minutes given the Union’s tendency to give up early goals. Their creator, Fidalgo will look to break down the Union’s midfield and backline with the right passes to create a goal. The Union will look to defend, defend, defend in this match to counteract this Club America approach.
Philly will need to play as they have been playing over the past calendar year to get the most out of this match. They are a defend-first team that likes to selectively press and then counter teams when they create turnovers. In this match, this will be the key to success.
The Union will likely play in their 4-4-2 diamond formation. With Club America’s tendency to bomb down their left the Union’s right side must be up to the task. This is putting a lot on the shoulders of captain Alejandro Bedoya, and right back Oliver Mbaizo to halt those quick runs. If they can hold that, while players like Leon Flach and Jose Martinez clog up the midfield, then the Union will get more comfortable as the match progresses.
The attack will need to be quick and calculated. Club America loves to hold possession and force the ball down the throat of their opposition. When the ball moves forward for Philly, the likes of Sergio Santos, Daniel Gazdag, and CCL leading scorer Kacper Przybylko will need to be lethal with their movement, touches, and finishing.
Playing like this will allow for the Union to stay in the match, anything less could see this game get ugly.
Tonight the Union play at Estadio Azteca
The Union is poised and ready to play their biggest match in club history. They’ll need the fire they had in the squad all of last year and during their unbeaten run this season. I see the Union lining up this way on Thursday night:
Blake; Wagner, Elliot, Glesnes, Mbaizo; Martinez, Flach, Bedoya, Gazdag; Santos, Przybylko.
This team is the best XI right now for Jim Curtin. Can they do the impossible and win at the Estadio Azteca? Hopefully so! However, I see this game as a 2-1 loss. This result isn’t the best but it gives Philly a crucial away goal heading into leg two which will be at home in September!
Don’t miss the action tonight at 10:00 pm EST on FS1! Need another reason to be hype for this game? Don’t worry captain Bedoya has words on why you have to tune in!
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Mandatory Credit: PHILADELPHIA UNION, ANDREW ZWARYCH