Season Previews

Five games to watch in 2018

Photo: Ryan Griffith

Philadelphia Union kick off their ninth season tomorrow, taking on New England Revolution at home.

Yet instead of focusing on that one game, it seems like as good a time as any to look at the 2018 schedule in its entirety. It might come as a surprise to hear the Union will be playing 34 games this season, and [insert gasp] 17 will be played on the road and 17 take place at Talen Energy Stadium.

There are little clues in the schedule, though, offering hints of both success and failure. A poor start can doom a team (see 2017 Union) while a great beginning inspires hope (see 2016 Union).

This year, Philadelphia should have every opportunity to come out of the gates hot. Five of the Union’s first seven games come against sides that missed the playoffs in 2017. The matches against two teams that did earn a spot in the postseason, Columbus Crew and San Jose Earthquakes, are both winnable home games. Speaking of home games, five of those first seven matches take place in the friendly confines on the shore of the Delaware. Sprinkled in are two bye weeks and no midweek games.

It’s a portion of the schedule upon which the Union will need to capitalize. From May 26 to Aug. 4, Philadelphia play a brutal stretch of 11 contests, nine of which are against playoff sides. The two that aren’t are a home game against an improved LA Galaxy and an inaugural trip to play LAFC.

There is one thing that stands out when looking at the list of 34 games. No one will see them all in person, unless of course you’re a member of the Union.

But maybe you can make a few. Here’s our recommendation on the five games to watch for during the 2018 Philadelphia Union season.

Mar. 17 vs. Columbus Crew

The season opener might get all the attention, but the second game of the season is where it’s at. Why? For one thing, hopefully the weather will be better than the projected 30 degree lows with biting wind gusts. More importantly, though, the game against the Crew will likely feature the debut of the man of the hour, Bořek Dočkal. Oh, and if it is still cold, participating in the St. Patrick’s Day traditions should help keep you warm.

Jun. 8 vs. Toronto FC

If you want to attend a game where the home side has a really good chance to win, this might not be the game for you. If you want to see the best team in MLS history, this is definitely the match to attend. Toronto already featured Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Victor Vazquez. This year they’re even better. Dutch international Gregory van der Wiel and Brazilian Auro were added to the backline. Ager Aketxe, a Spanish midfielder acquired from Athletic Bilbao, would likely start on every other MLS team. For Toronto, he’s a nice depth piece. For the Union, there is no greater measuring stick than the first treble-winning club in MLS history.

Jun. 30 @ LAFC

There’s always something exciting about an expansion side (in this instance, it certainly isn’t the kits). Usually, though, the one thing a new team is missing is a stadium of their own. While LAFC’s home field won’t be open to start the year,  Banc of California Stadium will be ready by the time the Union hit Hollywood. Besides the attraction of an early summer getaway to Los Angeles, MLS’ new boys boast wonderful front-end talent in Mexican international Carlos Vela, attacker Diego Rossi, and the familiar Benny Feilhaber.

Aug. 4 @ Portland Timbers

Great team? Check. Amazing stadium? Check. Cool city? Check. A trip to LA might make for better Instagram pics, but a trip to Portland offers the best soccer-specific vacation for fans of the Union. The Timbers have been near the pinnacle of the league for the past few years, fueled by passionate fans, great talent, and coaching. That remains the same, except it will be Giovanni Savarese at the helm instead of Caleb Porter.

Aug. 29 @ D.C. United

Need an excuse to duck out of work a bit early? How about a trip down down I-95 to watch the Union play their truest rival, D.C. United. This season, it’s even more enticing now that the club from the capital will be playing in an actual stadium. Brand-new Audi Field will be open for the Union game. Philly fans have one less thing to hold over the heads of United supporters, but a win over D.C. on their flashy new pitch would be even sweeter. Good riddance to RFK.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *