Photo: Earl Gardner
Who: Philadelphia Union (11th place, 2 points, 0-4-2) vs. Montreal Impact (10th place, 6 points, 1-2-3)
What: 2017 regular season game
Where: Talen Energy Stadium, Chester, Pa.
When: Saturday, April 22 at 1 p.m.
Watch: 6abc, TVAS, MLS Live
Whistle: Nima Saghafi; Eric Wesbrod and Jason White; Mark Geiger
Calling Philadelphia Union’s recent run of play a “slump” is being generous. The team hasn’t won in 14 games. The fans know it. The coaches know it. The players know it.
It’s an extra weight on the chest of a team already gasping for breath.
For the first five weeks of the season, Montreal felt that burden as well. After advancing to the Eastern conference final, the Impact started 2017 winless. Last weekend, however, they earned a much-needed victory.
Atlanta traveled to Montreal, and the home side won 2-1. It wasn’t without drama as Anthony Jackson-Hamel scored late in stoppage time to take all three points.
Now, Montreal comes to Philadelphia inhaling fresh air.
Normally, the Union would count a home game against the penultimate team in the Eastern conference standings as a blessing. It’s a little more difficult to do when you are the team in last. Montreal is looking to prove it’s always easier to win the second game. Philadelphia is hoping for their first win.
The fans, coaches, and players are waiting to exhale.
Scouting Report: Montreal Impact
Age before youth
Of the 11 projected starters for the Impact, only two are younger than 30. They would be the two fullbacks, Ambroise Oyongo and Chris Duvall.
Matteo Mancosu and Ignacio Piatti are 32. Marco Donadel and Hassoun Camara are 33.
The old man of the team is Patrice Bernier at 37-years-old. Piatti is the talisman, but Bernier is the true creator. Think of Piatti’s game being similar to Ilsinho (if the Brazilian could produce 17 goals, 6 assists, and finish as an MLS MVP finalist.) The Argentinian no. 10 loves to take on defenders, often isolating himself from his teammates. This works when you are as talented as Piatti.
Bernier, however, is bringing his teammates into the game. He offers great vision and keen decision making. Prior to this season, the native of Quebec’s highest assist total was eight in both 2012 and 2013. Through the first six games, he is already halfway to that number. Bernier’s four, by the way, are the most in MLS.
While Montreal’s lineup features plenty of experience, its bench features a dynamic youngster. Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla is an 18-year-old winger Homegrown Player originally from the Ivory Coast. Despite his birthplace, Tabla has regularly featured for the Canadian U17 and U20 teams.
The winger earned his first start against Chicago while Piatti was sidelined with an injury. He more than made the most of it. He has the pace and flair, looking silky on the ball. In attack, the teenager was unselfish almost to a fault. Tabla did shoot in the 90th minute, and it proved to be the first goal of his professional career. It won’t be the last.
Can a 4th official give a red card? With the combination of Mark Geiger and Montreal, the answer may come on Saturday.
Through six games, five red cards have been shown. Three of those have gone against the Impact.
Normally, this kind of statistic is more quirky than qualitative. When red cards show up in bunches, it’s not much different than the roulette wheel landing on black seven times in a row.
There is something more to it for Montreal. The Canadian side is committing 15.7 fouls per game, the most in MLS.
Head coach Mauro Biello has his defenders play a high line with his team looking to score on the counterattack (they rank 1st in interceptions per game with 16.3.) If the Impact turn the ball over playing this way, it leaves them susceptible to breakouts. The tactical fouls follow.
- Injury report: Out — Shamit Shome (M, foot), Andres Romero (M, hamstring); No designation — Victor Cabrera (D, leg)
- Suspensions: None.
Scouting Report: Philadelphia Union
Jim Curtin’s job is in danger.
Despite what Earnie Stewart says publicly, there is no ignoring the team’s performance. Professional sports are a result based business.
Fans will not care how good the team looked in the first half against Toronto if the winless streak extends to 15…16…17 games. There is a point when an owner and sporting directer can no longer ignore the anger and apathy of the supporters.
Curtin can’t worry about any of this.
His focus must be on getting the most out of his players and his lineup. The question now becomes whether to stick with the status quo or implement major changes.
Judging by Wednesday’s practice, there may only be one change to the starting 11. Raymon Gaddis took Keegan Rosenberry’s place with the first team.
The thinking was Oguchi Onyewu’s lack of mobility was inhibiting Rosenberry’s effectiveness. The fullback was caught providing cover instead of bombing down the wing. When Jack Elliott entered the starting lineup, the change was minimal. The sophomore’s play has been poor this season. Gaddis would offer a more stable presence, but Rosenberry’s upside is much higher.
What stands out most are two players Curtin is leaving in the lineup, Chris Pontius and Roland Alberg.
Pontius has been a ghost. His poor play mirrors the team’s. This highlights one of Curtin’s primary flaws. Despite offering no production, the coach will stick with his man. Last season it was C.J. Sapong. The year before it was Andrew Wenger. It can be better for a player to take a trip to the bench rather than grind on the field.
When Curtin handed Alberg his first start last week, there was hope it was the missing piece to spark the attack. Instead, it reinforced the decision Curtin made the previous five games. The Dutchman was ineffectual, drifting in and out of the game. He played more as a second striker than a no. 10.
The move to potentially start Alberg again speaks more to the lack of a serviceable attacking midfielder. Alberg has talent. It may be the best option for a goal-hungry side.
- Injury report: Out — Joshua Yaro (D, shoulder), Maurice Edu (D, ankle/tibia), John McCarthy (GK, concussion), Ken Tribbett (D, ankle); Questionable — Warren Creavalle (M, calf)
- Suspension: None.
Key matchup: Chicks dig the long ball
Instead of focusing on the players battling on the field, the focus will be on a few decisive statistics. Parantheses indicate the team’s league ranking
- Long Balls: Mon-80 (3rd); Phi-79 (4th)
- Aerials won per 90: Mon-10.8 (21st);Phi-16.8 (4th)
Both Montreal and Philadelphia love to play the long pass. It’s not the prettiest style of play, but it can be effective. For both of these teams, however, offensive desperation is equally responsible. Philadelphia should have the advantage when those passes are fought for in the air. The Union have excelled in this facet of the game.
Player to watch: Ignacio Piatti
It’s not often an MVP candidate on a conference finalist is underrated. It’s even more surprising when the player is scoring goals. Piatti demonstrates both flair and clinical technique with the ball at his feet. He is a joy to watch. Your friends may enjoy watching David Villa and Sebastian Giovinco, but you know Nacho Piatti is can’t miss TV.
Union draw 1-1. It’s tempting to hand the Union their fifth consecutive loss. They haven’t shown they have the ability to score. Montreal, however, is surrendering 14 shots per game. Philadelphia is going to get their chances. With Gaddis in the lineup, the Union back line may play a safer game. Unfortunately, the best it can do is limit Montreal to one goal.