Photo By Earl Gardner
What: Union (Home: 3-4-1) vs Impact (Road: 1-8-1)
When: Saturday, July 14. 7pm EST
Where: PPL Park
Referee: Juan Guzman
The Montreal Impact are four points ahead of the Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference standings. For a team riddled with injuries to key players like defender Nelson Rivas and number one draft pick Andrew Wenger, this is no small achievement.
Small achievements mean nothing to the Philadelphia Union right now. They need big ones, and they need a lot of them. With the US Open Cup behind them, the Union can focus exclusively on reviving their league campaign. As Wednesday’s loss to Kansas City showed, it is difficult to stay in top form for an extended period of time in the hot summer months of the MLS season. Fans have to hope the Union learned a few lessons from their midweek defeat, because Montreal was surely watching.
Dirty does the job
Peter Vermes said of Wednesday night’s match, “We ground the game out, and took advantage of the things we felt we could take advantage of.” This is quite the backhanded compliment to a young Union team. After getting trounced last time they came to PPL, was there any doubt that Kansas City would be more conservative in their approach? Teams are more conservative in games that can end in penalties anyways, so there was nothing overly surprising about how the visitor’s came out.
Vermes’ point is that a young Union team has found a system that works, and now they may be a bit reluctant to make the necessary tweaks as opponents begin to target weaknesses.
Kansas City respected Jack McInerney’s runs, they forced the Union to play through Brian Carroll, and they hit Philly with the same kind of consistently borderline rough play that Colorado used to make the ref swallow his whistle at PPL Park last year.
Fans can cry foul, Hackworth can rage like a teenager at a Korn concert on the sidelines, and Freddy Adu can sit on the ground with his arms up for the rest of the season, but at some point everyone will have to accept that in MLS this is the way things are.
That being said…
Don’t change the game plan. Tweak it, but don’t change it. The Rise of the Farfan and The ‘Mergence of the McInerney have opened up new options that the Union can explore against Montreal. Michael Farfan needs to improve his movement if he wants to receive passes in good positions, but he will receive a lot of help if Adu and Lionard Pajoy operate less independently and contribute to the team offense.
Currently, Adu and Pajoy do very well on the wings when they get into one-on-one situations. With such skills at their disposal, it’s worrying how little they work with Michael Farfan to develop an offense that can hold the ball in the opponent’s half.
Kansas City’s midfield pressure meant the Union were constantly trying to play out of the back, often with little success. Sporting KC understood that the Union have yet to develop what in basketball would be called a half-court offense. For all the Union’s first half possession against Kansas City (0ver 60%), they generated few chances and controlled play in the KC final third for very little time.
Montreal’s win over Columbus was the first time they have earned three points after falling behind. An early goal followed by sustained possession in the opponent’s half should be the next step in Philadelphia’s offensive evolution. And it should start tomorrow.
Controlling the counter
The last time Montreal shut out an opponent was their only road win of the season, a 2-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City at LiveStrong Sporting Park.
Since then, they have switched to a 4-5-1 formation that seeks to control the midfield and protect the defense. While the new formation has achieved neither of those goals, it does play to the team’s strengths more than the 4-4-2 did. The Impact do not have the midfield skill to possess the ball, but in Felipe, Justin Mapp and Patrice Bernier, they do have players willing to bomb forward and join the attack. It’s not usually very organized, but it has gotten the job done offensively.
Since the switch to a 4-5-1, Bernier has four goals and five assists. Playing the center, Mapp has fewer defensive responsibilities to ignore and can work on fixing his abominable questionable-pass-to-brilliant-run ratio.
The big work on Saturday falls to Carroll, who has to keep Montreal’s attacks to the outside and drastically improve his distribution. Carroll has to play much faster and get the ball to the Union’s attacking players with space to make things happen. If this happens, Philadelphia will be able to exploit an injury-plagued and, frankly, subpar Impact defense.
What to watch for
- Jack McInerney growing up: Everybody has seen what he can do now. So … what will he do now? Jack Mac’s offensive and defensive workrates have been incredible, and Kansas City made him use a lot of energy on the defensive side of that equation. Look for McInerney to work with Pajoy to force Montreal to play long. Also, he has to start drawing fouls in traffic. McInerney’s first inclination is a tricky one-touch pass when he feels pressure. In the future, he has to hold the ball, take a foul, then get up and get on the end of the free kick.
- Sheanon Williams getting upfield: Williams has been pinned back in recent weeks. It’s up to the strikers in front of him to move centrally and bring the talented defender into play. This sets up the umbrella around the box that forms the foundation for sustained pressure on the opponent’s goal.
- Zac MacMath playing with confidence: He was in the best form of his young career before the winner on Wednesday slipped by him. Look for MacMath to be aggressive early to show his teammates that he has a short memory.
- Okugo or Valdes getting upfield: With Montreal playing a lone striker, one of the Union’s skilled center backs can step forward into a stopper role when the team has the ball. Valdes did this against Toronto and it moved the whole offense into the TFC half. Afraid to play a high line against McInerney’s runs, Toronto’s defense moved backwards and the Union had space to work with in their opponent’s half.
- Justin Mapp dribbling: Let’s be honest, it will be fun to see the delightfully random decision-making of Justin Mapp again. It’s just not the same yelling, “WHY!!” at Freddy Adu.
- GK: MacMath
- DEF: Williams, Okugo, Valdes, Garfan
- MID: Carroll, Gomez, Torres
- FWD: Pajoy, McInerney, Adu
- GK: Ricketts
- DEF: Valentin, Camara, SHAVAR THOMAS, Brovsky
- MID: Bernier, Warner, Mapp, Felipe, Arnaud
- FWD: Di Vaio
- OUT: FW Chandler Hoffman (L big toe fracture); FW Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms); Michael Farfan (groin)
- DOUBTFUL: DF Bakary Soumare (R knee meniscus recovery)
- QUESTIONABLE: DF Ray Gaddis (R shoulder contusion)
- PROBABLE: DF Carlos Valdes (R knee contusion); GK Zac MacMath (R ring finger avulsion)
- OUT: DF Matteo Ferrari (R quad strain); DF Nelson Rivas (abdomen); FW Bernardo Corradi (L knee ACL tear); FW Andrew Wenger (L hamstring strain)
Suspended if cautioned