U in Preview –– Matchday 17: New England Versus Union

Match Preview, U in Preview

After bowing out of the Open Cup earlier in the week, the Philadelphia Union are set to resume league play on Sunday, when they welcome visiting New England to Talen Energy Stadium.

Another year, another exit from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on penalties. It’s more Unfinished Business for the Philadelphia Union and manager Jim Curtin.

Fortunately for the Union, not all is lost, as there is still a trophy to play for.

While Wednesday’s exit from the Open Cup was a gut punch for everyone around the club, it could very well be for the better.

Sunday’s match versus visiting New England offers Curtin’s side the opportunity to not only bounce back, but also the chance to re-focus their energy on making a run at Major League Soccer’s playoffs, or maybe even (just maybe) the pinnacle of the league: MLS Cup.

With the Union currently sitting below the ever elusive red playoff line, it’s up to Curtin and his team to turn things around, and quickly.

Here’s a closer look at what the Union will be up against on Sunday, including some particular thoughts on the current MLS playoff picture:  

New England (5 W, 5 D, 7 L)

New England are a fairly similar outfit to the Union this season.

They hold a similar record, sit a point ahead of the Union in the Eastern Conference table, and they currently average around the same number of points per game –– 1.19 PPG to the Union’s 1.18 PPG.

New England are only slightly worse than the Union on the road, too.

Although they’ve yet to actually win a match away from their home in Foxborough, MA during this current campaign, this Sunday still promises to be an evenly contested match.

While they haven’t won away from Gillette Stadium, the Revolution have made teams work for a result. Moreover, New England have had no issues, with the offensive firepower they possess, in bagging goals on the road.

Herein lies the trouble for New England when they travel to Talen Energy Stadium on Sunday.

New England is a depleted side, at the moment.

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No Kelyn Rowe, no Juan Agudelo.

They’re the faces of New England’s potent attack, and they’re currently away with the U.S. Mens’ National Team, as they prepare for both their tune-up friendly versus Ghana and club teammate, Gershon Koffie, as well as the upcoming Gold Cup tournament.

As of yesterday, the Revolution will also be without instrumental midfielder Diego Fagundez. He’s been suspended by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for what they deemed “violent conduct” in New England’s match versus Toronto last weekend.

Je-Vaughan Watson is also away with the Jamaican National Team.

Apart from international call-ups, the Revs have also been hit with the midseason injury bug that plagued the Union last season.

New England have had a rash of injuries lately, including one of their key midfielders, Scott Caldwell. He was unavailable earlier in the week for New England’s Open Cup victory against DC United.

New England had 17 healthy, available players for Wednesday night’s Open Cup match versus United. 

Revolution gaffer Jay Heaps said in a press conference held earlier in the week that Caldwell and the rest of New England’s walking dead are “day-to-day” and questionable for their match on Sunday.

Good news, for the Union.

Philadelphia Union (5 W, 4 D, 7 L)

Curtin chose to rotate most of the backline in Harrison on Wednesday night. Only Jack Elliot remained in the XI, while Oguchi Oneywu, Giliano Wijnaldum, and Ray Gaddis were rested.

Andre Blake was primed to start Wednesday’s Cup tie, but missed out due to a rib injury. Per Curtin yesterday in his weekly presser, Blake is “available for the weekend.” Whether the Jamaican starts on Sunday remains to be seen, but nevertheless, this is good news.

One player who will miss the match and will be missed on Sunday is captain Alejandro Bedoya, who is currently away with Rowe, Agudelo and the rest of Bruce Arena’s US Mens’ National Team.

Final Thoughts

At this point in the year, every home match is a must win for the Philadelphia Union, with matches against Eastern Conference sides further elevated in importance.

And, as I have pointed out in past articles, these matches are six-pointers in nature. There is an opportunity to not only pick up three points, but also deny your compeers three as well.

I believe the Union –– when healthy and fit –– are an above average MLS side.

Given Seattle’s midseason turnaround last year, including our ability to crawl into the playoffs, despite not winning in months, I wholeheartedly believe the Union can still make the playoffs this season.

Currently, the Union sit just 5 points back from Atlanta United (7 W, 3 D, 7 L), who currently occupy the sixth and final playoff spot in the East with 24 points accrued.

It is important to note that the Union have played just 16 matches, while Atlanta has been a part of 17 contests. Columbus (8 W, 1 D, 9 L) currently sit in fifth with 25 points. They’ve played in 18 matches already this season.

Simply put, the Union have games in hand on many of the teams in the East.

Nevertheless, for the Union to make any sort of movement in the table, they first need a strong, bounce-back performance at home on Sunday, against a depleted New England outfit that currently sits one point ahead of them in the Conference.

If the Union are to claim any success this season, then they are going to have to start (and finish) the second half of this season strong. They must show their fans, including the rest of Major League Soccer, that they take the league as seriously as they do the Open Cup.

Look for Curtin’s side to respond to their recent Open Cup exit this Sunday. Or not. We shall soon see.

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