Don’t look now, but the Philadelphia Union are in midst of another unbeaten run, following a less than alluring 1-1 draw on the road, against Sporting Kansas City. Jim Curtin’s side will look to make it four and inch closer to a playoff position on Wednesday night in Montréal.
Currently, the Union are stuck in eighth place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference. They remain five points below the ever-elusive red playoff line and Columbus Crew SC, who continue to cling to the sixth and final playoff position.
Despite the Union holding two matches in hand over Columbus and Orlando City SC, every match from hereon out can pretty much be considered a “must win” for Curtin’s team, especially on Wednesday night.
Matchday 19 can only be classified as a true six-pointer for the Union, who hold a meager two point advantage over the home side.
Here’s what the Union will be up against at Stade Saputo on Wednesday night:
Montréal ( 5 W, 6 D, 6 L)
Montréal have spent the majority of the current Major League Soccer campaign at the bottom. They’ve also spent much of the season having played less matches than everyone else.
And so, with 21 points and three matches still in hand over the likes of Columbus and Orlando, including one match over the Union and New York Red Bulls, the Canadian club can find comfort in that they are still very much in reach of the final playoff position.
Similar to the Union, Montréal endured a rather poor start to this season, claiming just seven points through the first two months of the current campaign. And, like the Union, Montréal had a surge of their own toward the end of May into June.
Montréal’s form has since petered out, and the Canadian club has been streaky, to say the least. It’s win one, lose one. After every step forward, it’s another step back for Mauro Biello’s side.
Consistency has been rather hard to come by for Montréal this season. However, they have managed to find some consistency at their home, Stade Saputo. In fact, 13 of Montréal’s 21 points this season have come at home. They’ve dropped just eight points, while playing in front of their home fans.
While it might not be an overly impressive statistic, given that home-field advantage in MLS is considerably higher than other top leagues, it is nevertheless worth noting that Montréal haven’t dropped many points at home.
They haven’t bled many goals at home, either.
Nine. That’s how many goals the Montréal backline, anchored by Belgian international, Laurent Ciman, have allowed in seven matches at home this year. It’s impressive to say the least.
But to be fair to both Montréal and Ciman, they have leaked goals this season (29, to be exact). Partly because Ciman, who has been a stalwart for the Blanc-and-Noir over the previous two campaigns, hasn’t been at his very best this year.
It’s been a below average year for the veteran Ciman, after two fantastic seasons in the league. And with his supporting cast unable to step up consistently, Montréal’s backline is capable of being exploited.
Sure, 29 goals conceded in 17 matches isn’t all that bad. But when you factor in matches played, and compare Montréal’s defensive record to other teams in MLS, who have played more matches, it shows that the Canadian side is far from impenetrable.
As for the attack, well, Union fans should already know who Oguchi Onyewu and Jack Elliot need to keep tabs on.
Montréal’s Argentine Designated Player and crafty playmaker is always a threat to opposing defenses.
Piatti can slice, he can dice, and he can score, too. So far, this season Piatti has eight goals to boot, which is one shy of CJ Sapong’s current tally on the year.
Oh, and when he’s not doing any of those things previously aforementioned, he can set someone else up to score. Normally when he doesn’t quite feel like doing it himself.
Simply put, Ignacio Piatti can do it all, and the Union will undoubtedly have their hands full marking him on Wednesday evening.
PHILADELPHIA UNION ( 6 W, 5 D, 7 L)
There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about this current Union team, but for the sake of this preview, I’ll say them anyway. First, the bad.
No Blake, and possibly no Alejandro Bedoya, either.
Jamaica advanced to the Quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament the other night, following a 1-1 draw with El Salvador. Blake and the rest of the Reggae Boyz will return to action on Thursday, when they take on Canada at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Although Bedoya has returned home after an impressive Gold Cup showing, in which he captained Bruce Arena’s United States Mens’ National Team, the Union’s captain is currently listed as questionable for Wednesday night, as he is awaiting the birth of his daughter.
Back to it.
Offensively, Curtin’s side doesn’t possess much of the ball. Instead, the Union look to quick start counter attacks, often booting the ball up field in hopes of springing a winger, such as Fabrice-Jean Picault or Chris Pontius.
On the rare occasion that they do look to keep the ball, the Union are meticulous, and like to pick their chances to go forward. It might not be the most attractive football to fans, but it has noticeably eased some pressure off of Andre Blake and the rest of the Union backline.
Without a true No. 10 (sorry Ilsinho) the Union don’t generate very many chances at goal. In fact, the Union have compiled just 193 shots this campaign, which is good for second least in the league, only behind Colorado.
Keeping that in mind, it makes sense as to why the Union haven’t scored many goals this year.
Thanks to a standout first-half of the season from CJ Sapong, who currently leads the team with nine goals, the Union attack has managed to stay afloat and put some goals past opposing defenses.
While other guys have chipped in –– Picault (4) and Haris Medunjanin (4) –– getting on the scoresheet next to Sapong, it’s mostly been the Union target-man, whose been called upon by Curtin to spur the attack.
January signing and fellow target forward, Jay Simpson, hasn’t quite panned out for Union Sporting Director, Earnie Stewart. Thus, it’s been up to Sapong to shoulder the majority of goals scored for the club, a role he’s taken graciously.
Sapong is currently tied for his career high in goals scored in a single season (9).
Though Sapong’s nine goals are good enough for fifth in the league, it might not be enough to sustain the Union attack in the long run. Summer reinforcement(s) might just be needed to propel the Union into the playoffs.
Perhaps the Union’s greatest strength lies in their backline.
As aforementioned, Elliot and Onyewu are a terrific pairing. I’d go as far to say one of the best in MLS, and the numbers would almost certainly agree with me (21 goals conceded through 18 matches is phenomenal stuff).
Jack Elliot was a gem unearthed by Stewart and his technical staff in the Fourth Round of MLS’s SuperDraft. Currently, the Union own a 6-4-3 record and concede an average of 0.92 goals per game when Morgantown Mertesacker, Crouchie (or, whatever fans want to call him) starts matches.
It’s impressive. It’s Rookie of the Year impressive. If it weren’t for Julian Gressel of Atlanta United, I’d like to think Commissioner, Don Garber, and MLS would hand the Englishman the award today.
Elliot and Co. are a big reason the Union have managed to keep pace in the Eastern Conference, and have plenty to play for this second half of the season, starting on Wednesday evening, away to Montréal.
Look for the Union to pick their chances to go forward (as they always do) and go for it. Although most sides in MLS would undoubtedly settle for an away point, the Union will not and cannot, this time around.
If the Union are to keep pace with Columbus, Orlando and Co., make any sort of headway in the race for the sixth and final playoff position, and keep Montréal off their backs, they’ll need to take maximum points from at least one of their two upcoming away matches.
I think the Union’s best shot at grabbing three points will come against a streaky Montréal side.
Goals have certainly been hard to come by this season, but given past encounters at Stade Saputo, including a goal frenzy earlier in this current campaign, I think the goals will come on Wednesday night.
CJ Sapong gets a brace (including another PK goal) to smash his career high, while Fabrice-Jean Picault adds another to his name this season. Look for Montréal to respond to at least two of the Union’s goals on the night.
God, I sure hope I am right.
Kickoff for Wednesday night’s match is slated for 7:30 ET on The Comcast Network, as well as MLS Live. Make sure to head over to our Story Stream during the match, for live updates, commentary and more: