5 Things to Watch Ahead of Philadelphia Union vs Minnesota United FC

Union Jim Curtin
CHESTER, PA – NOVEMBER 28: Philadelphia Union keeper Andre Blake (18) celebrates with defender Kai Wagner (27) and defender Jack Elliot (3) after winning the game between Nashville SC and Philadelphia Union on November 28, 2021 at Subaru Park in Chester, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

The time is almost upon us, the 2022 MLS season is almost here and the Philadelphia Union will be getting the entire league campaign underway with their home opener against Minnesota United. I thought I’d take a look at 5 things you should look out for during the match. 

Minnesota Will Come to Defend

Since they first joined the MLS in 2017, Minnesota’s philosophy of play has been to be defensively sound, hit their opposition on the counterattack, and take the limited chances they have during the game. I’d suspect they lineup in a 4-2-3-1 formation, pack the midfield with numbers and try to restrict the space and time the Union has to be creative. They’ll essentially come to frustrate the Union and take advantage of any mistakes that could happen due to that frustration. 

How Minnesota May Attack

While their main philosophy seems to be defensive-minded, Minnesota has made quite a few moves to their attacking options for this season. During the winter period, Minnesota has purchased 3 new strikers, Luis Amarilla, Bongokuhle Hlongwane, and preseason standout Abu Danlandi.  

It’ll be very interesting to see if these purchases will cause a shift of intent from Minnesota or even a move away from their 4-2-3-1 system that they’ve had since they started playing in the MLS. I would imagine Adrien Hunou will be leading the line for Minnesota in the opener, but Luis Amarilla comes with very high praise, and Abu Danladi has been their best player during a poor pre-season campaign. This being said, they could switch to a front two and give Hunou a partner up top. 

Emmanuel Reynoso Will Be Minnesota’s Key to Success 

We’re not 100% sure what formation the Union will play in this game given the lack of striking options the Union has to choose from for their opener. It will most likely be the Christmas tree formation we saw them deploy in their last pre-season game and so a lot of responsibility will lie on Leon Flach’s shoulders if the Union are to succeed in their first game back. 

Emanuel Reynoso is by far the best player Minnesota has. Since joining from Boca Juniors in late 2020, Reynoso has 6 goals and 10 assists in 42 MLS games and boasts an impressive 1 goal and 6 assists in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Reynoso is the guy who controls every Minnesota attack and will be the one teammates look for when the team is countering, so Leon Flach needs to be on top of his game if the Union are to win this one.  

Battle of the Fullbacks

An interesting battle that will take place in this game is the battle between the two sets of full-backs. Wagner and Mbaizo are massively important to the way the Union go forward and create chances, while Gasper and Metanire for Minnesota are key in the attacking system.

This will be a key battle to keep an eye on during the game, the Union fullbacks will have more chances than their counterparts to be big influences in the game, but it’s important they do their job defensively because Minnesota can create from the wide areas if they are allowed time and space. 

Who Will Lead the Line for Philadelphia?

This isn’t like my other points given this will be determined before the match but I thought it’s an interesting topic to discuss. Who will be playing upfront for the Union is one of the biggest headlines heading into this game. Philadelphia will be without winter signing Mikael Uhre, and it seems Sergio Santos will also miss the game. This leaves other winter signing Julian Carranza and Corey Burke as the two options.  

Julian Carranza has been very impressive in pre-season for Philadelphia and I’d say he’s actually the favorite to be the starter come Saturday. However, I think Corey Burke will be the better option for the Union in this game. Minnesota are below the league average in terms of aerial duels won for last season and their CB options aren’t the tallest. Dibassy is 5 foot 11 and Boxall is 6 foot 2, while Corey Burke is 6 foot 4.

Going back to a previous key battle, if Wagner and Mbaizo can win their battles down the wings and create good crosses into the box, it should be almost guaranteed for Burke to either score or cause enough commotion in the box for the Union to capitalize on. I also always prefer a bigger man to lead the line in a single forward formation, as you should always have your striker hold the ball up and use the CAMs and wide players as the main attacking threat going forward. 

Whoever the Union decides to go with, they need to be making a statement on opening day. They’re far away from the underappreciated underdogs they were. They’re now a highly respected team in the MLS and considered one of the best teams in the league. It’s time to not just prove the doubters wrong, but also prove the believers like us right. 

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