What: Union vs New England Revolution
Where: PPL Park
When: 7:oo PM EST
TV: NBC Sports Network
Referee: Edvin Jurisevic; SAR (bench): Steven Taylor; JAR (opposite): Craig Lowry; 4th: Kevin Terry Jr.
A fairly comprehensive two-goal loss to the rival Red Bulls could have been the deflating match that ended the Union’s difficult march to a playoff position. Nothing lightens the mood like an All-Star event, though, particularly when the festivities are in your own back yard.
Big questions in Philly
The Union are certainly hoping there is some leftover energy at PPL Park from the midweek MLS All-Star Game. The lineup and tactical changes instituted since interim head coach John Hackworth took over seem to have plateaued, with opponents adjusting to the tactics and the new faces turning into stalwarts (with both the good and bad that comes with that designation).
Jack McInerney has made the Union attack much more dynamic, but does he have enough diversity in his game to make a long-term run up top? It’s a question that has been magnified by the aggressive roster moves coming from the Union’s Eastern Conference opponents.
Options up top for the Revs
New England, for one, has not been shy about improving their attack. Saer Sene arrived in the offseason, and Honduran Jerry Bengston will join the team after the Olympics (he netted two in Honduras’ opening match win). The Revs latest move was adding Congolese striker/middie Dimitry Imbongo after he impressed in a trial.
But how will all these strikers get their chances? Benny Feilhaber arrived with a playmaking pedigree, but it has been Lee Nguyen who has provided the creative edge to an otherwise blunt team.
Changes in New England
That said, predicting New England’s approach against the Union remains a difficult task. The Revs earned a scoreless draw at Kansas City last weekend playing with a mishmash of a lineup in their third match in seven days. Head coach Jay Heaps’ most intriguing decision was pushing jack-of-all-trades Ryan Guy into a striker role and tasking him with harassing the Kansas City back line. Heaps later explained that Guy had experience up top from his time in Ireland.
Heaps also tried to add width by nudging left back Chris Tierney into midfield and matching up the athletic Darrius Barnes with KC’s Kei Kamara. As dangerous as it is for New England to move Tierney out of the back, a dearth of Revs players who can put a quality ball into the box made it something of a necessary experiment. Unfortunately, Barnes hobbled off with an injury last weekend so Tierney may return to the back against the Union. Though with Philadelphia’s wingers in such poor form of late, the Revs may take a chance and introduce rookie Tyler Polak at left back and leave Tierney in the midfield.
Oh those Philly wingers
Lionard Pajoy’s effectiveness as a winger has been both surprising and positive. That said, he set a fairly low bar as a central striker.
Along with Freddy Adu, Pajoy has been more mercurial than consistent, and this has become an issue as opposing defenses learn to respect Jack McInerney’s runs into space. McInerney’s movement should be the catalyst that fires the wingers off their touchlines and into newly opened spaces. Too often this has not been the case.
A troubling consequence of poor wing play is how it restricts the involvement of the team’s attack-minded fullbacks. Both Sheanon Williams and Gabriel Farfan have been distressingly quiet in recent matches, unable to gallop forward as the team searches for links between the backs and midfield.
Tutored by the top
Both of these teams have learned much about themselves from Sporting Kansas City. The Union learned that they have the tools to push around a strong team if they can find space in midfield and play in anything above first gear. Philly also learned that they can only lean so heavily on Jack McInerney; KC adapted well when they returned to PPL Park for the US Open Cup.
New England found out last weekend that they can stop a strong attacking side and still generate a respectable number of offensive opportunities on the road. Without doubt, this is the lesson Jay Heaps will pound into his players before they take the field in Philadelphia tomorrow.
What to look for
- Wandering wingers – If the New England backs drop off, Pajoy and Adu must fill gaps so Michael Farfan can drop deeper and start attacks.
- BC playing fast - The Union are a much, much, much better team when Brian Carroll isn’t forced into a playmaking role. Opposing teams have figured this out and are doing more to push the play away from Marfan and toward the Union’s defensive midfielder.
- Lee Nguyen running at the defense - Nguyen is always willing to take people on, and if he doesn’t bring the ball with him, he usually brings a whistle. This brings us to the next point…
- Set piece defense - New England has a fair number of tall, lanky players who excel at heading the ball with an impressive lack of direction. This does not, however, mean that Stephen McCarthy and Saer Sene can be left alone. That said, the first player to be marked in any dead ball situation has to be Shalrie Joseph. The Revs captain attacks the ball and, unlike his teammates, knows the dark art of good aim.
- GK: MacMath
- DEF: Williams, Okugo, Valdes, Garfan
- MID: Gomez, Carroll, Marfan
- FWD: Pajoy, McInerney, Adu
- GK: Matt “Reis’s Pieces”
- DEF: Kevin “Home Alone” Alston, Stephen McCarthy “ism”, AJ “Like an eagle” Soares, Tyler “Third String” Polak
- MID: Kelyn “Almost Kevin” Rowe, Shalrie “Curtis” Joseph, Benny “Red Card” Feilhaber, Chris “The Boring” Tierney
- FWD: Saer “Worse Finishing Than A Batman Trilogy” Sene, Ryan “That” Guy
- OUT: FW Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms)
- QUESTIONABLE: DF Bakary Soumare (R knee menisectomy recovery)
- PROBABLE: FW Chandler Hoffman (L big toe fracture)
- OUT: DF Darrius Barnes (L adductor strain); FW Alec Purdie (L ankle sprain)
- QUESTIONABLE: MF Benny Feilhaber (R ankle sprain)
- PROBABLE: MF Clyde Simms (R gastroc tightness); MF Chris Tierney (R knee contusion)