Photo: Earl Gardner
Who: Philadelphia Union (11th place in the East, 2 points, 0-2-2) vs. Portland Timbers (1st place in the West, 10 points, 3-1-1)
What: 2017 regular season game
Where: Talen Energy Stadium, Chester, PA.
When: Saturday April 8th at 7PM
Watch: TCN, MLS Live, Direct Kick
Whistle: Robert Sibiga; Adam Wienchowski and Kyle Longville; Jorge Gonzalez
While this is only the fifth game of the season, Union fans are already looking at this game as must-win. The “Negadelphia” stereotype is out in full force this week and even the most optimistic fans are finding little hope to build a pipe dream on. The focus of much of this pressure has been Jim Curtin, whose tenure as head coach has never been more threatened than it is right now. Of course, the 1st-place Timbers aren’t about to take it easy on the Union, so it’s fair to expect both teams coming to win on Saturday.
Scouting report: Portland Timbers
They’re the highest-scoring team in MLS right now with 13 goals, which will certainly be weighing heavily on the minds of Philly’s injury-riddled backline. But there is hope to be had: Five of those goals came against Minnesota United’s hapless defense. Not that they haven’t shown offensive power in other games this season, including four against Houston and two in Columbus. In both those games, however, the opponent scored multiple goals as well; in fact, Crew SC won that game by scoring three of their own. So the Union’s best hope of finding points from this match would appear to be letting the Timbers spread themselves thin. Much of Portland’s midfield likes to play in the offensive half and allowing them to do so would expose a back line that’s nearly as injury-plagued as Philadelphia’s.
- Injury report: Gbenga Arokoyo (Achilies, out for the season); Liam Ridgewell and Vytas are both questionable.
- Suspended: None
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union
We know where the Union have been so there’s no reason to dwell on it here. This is, after all, supposed to be a preview, not a review, but at this point there’s no clear reason to expect the future will look much different. The only real questions going into this weekend are Sapong or Simpson, and Ilsinho or Herbers. And neither of those are major tactical decisions so much as questions of who is most game-ready in practice this week.
Which brings us to the big challenge facing the team and, specifically, Jim Curtin. The commitment to playing a 4-2-3-1, all the way from the academy through to the first team, is admirable. It allows players to grow in the system and know their role at each level of play. But at the first team, where results actually matter, who benefits from insisting on continuing to play a formation that is failing to yield desirable results? Now it’s absolutely possible that the formation can work against Portland, but if it doesn’t, is the team capable, or even willing, to try something new?
- Injury report: Josh Yaro, Maurice Edu, John McCarthy, Richie Marquez (Concussion-like symptoms)
- Suspended: None
Union Attack vs. Portland Back Line. The direct path to victory for the Union is to score early and score often. With two (arguably three) of Portland’s back four being backups, all the Union need to do is keep pushing until Jake Gleeson makes a mistake.
Player to watch
Alejandro Bedoya. He’s the highest paid player in Union history and Curtin doesn’t think he should be playing as the 10. And Bedoya agrees. But unless Curtin possesses a previously unnoticed capacity to surprise us, that’s where he’ll be playing. If he is able to get past his own imperfections at the position and have a positive effect on the game, this could be the match where his work rate and hustle finally pay dividends.
Prediction: Philadelphia 2 – 3 Portland
Union lose, but only just. This game will have goals in it, as both teams have leaky defenses at the moment. However, the Timbers have two players in the early-season running for the Golden Boot, while the Union have just two players that have scored a goal. Period. This could be the game where wingers or bench players begin to contribute, the only problem is it’s difficult to imagine them contributing at a higher rate than high-flying Portland.