Although Colorado and Philadelphia experienced much different outcomes in their week one match-ups, the teams had quite similar tactical approaches. Under new coach Oscar Pareja, Colorado used a 4-5-1 (or 4-1-4-1 for those of you who like to play in the numbers sandbox) with Jeff Larentowicz at the base of a midfield triangle. Pablo Mastroeni and Jaime Castrillon provide the creative spark in the middle of the pitch, controlling play and allowing Kisuke Kimura and Luis Zapata to get up from their defensive positions and overload the flanks.
Without Conor Casey, Omar Cummings is asked to lead the line. Often seen as a prototypical speed merchant, Cummings will be asked to play a more cerebral role alone up top, bringing the ball down and letting Castrillon and Mastroeni become involved in the final third. This is a Colorado team that pressed forward relentlessly against Columbus, and whether they maintain the same drive or sit back more in the tough PPL Park environment will be an interesting decision for rookie manager Pareja.
Freddy Adu is with the U-23s and Josue Martinez was maddeningly ineffective on Monday, so Peter Nowak might think about moving Michael Farfan to a wing and bringing Keon Daniel into the side. Those changes would allow the Union to add a second striker (Mwanga) to the front line while giving Porfirio Lopez and Sheanon Williams more defensive support. Like everyone else, Colorado saw Porfirio Lopez’s horror show second half against Portland and will go at him hard and fast. Controlling the wings is even more necessary against the Rapids, who will send Castrillon and Mastroeni into the box with regularity. If Brian Carroll is pulled wide to help, the middle of the park will start to look naked rather quickly.
The Union also have to string passes together in the final third. If the players who make runs (Marfan, Martinez, Mwanga) don’t have confidence that the team can maintain possession, they won’t make the initial runs that create holes in a defense. Those runs open space, but in order to use that space the team has to keep the ball while the back opens up. This did not happen often against Portland (Freddy Adu’s early shot from the top of the box being a rare exception).
A hot start
A post-St. Paddy’s Day home game? Saturday is going to be a runway that extends into Sunday for the Philly faithful. In other words, PPL Park is going to be rocking. Fans who have paid attention to the team’s offseason know that the 12th man is going to be even more important than it was in 2011. Jeff Larentowicz said the Rapids need to come out of the gate fast to keep the crowd down, and by the same token the Union need to take their shots early and make sure everyone knows the team is as happy to be back as the fans are.
Pinning the Rapids’ outside backs in their own half will open up the game for the Union. Look for a 4-4-2 out of Philly, with Carroll and Gomez looking to get the ball wide early. And not wide to Sheanon and Fro, wide to the midfielders so they can isolate the wing backs and draw fouls or beat them up the wing. The Colorado defense was not tested by the Crew, so the back four probably think they are better than they are. Making Kimura and Zapata question their freedom to get up the pitch will create space in the midfield to develop a coherent offense, the likes of which haven’t been seen in Philadelphia in years (unless Claude Giroux is involved).
- Questionable: Chris Albright (groin)
- Out: Conor Casey (achilles), Jaime Smith (ACL), Anthony Wallace (achillies)
- Probable: Hunter Freeman (ankle), Pablo Mastroeni (head)
- Freddy Adu (Olympics), Amobi Okugo (Olympics
Union (bowl 4-4-2)
- GK: MacMath
- DEF: Williams, Valdes, Califf, Lopez
- MID: Marfan, Carroll, Gomez, Daniel
- FWD: Mwanga, McInerney
- GK: Matt “Easy” Pickens
- DEF: Kosuke “エンジン” Kimura, Drew “I want” Moor, Marvell “The Shin” Wynne, Luis “Can’t stop ya” Zapata
- MID: Brian “I’m Not Carroll” Mullen, Pablo “I’ll dive for a penny” Mastroeni, Jeff “The Ginger Giant” Larentowicz, Tony “The Keyboard” Cascio
- FWD: Omar “Oh Indeed” Cummings