The first home tilt of 2014 features the Philadelphia Union, coming off of a heart-breaking last-minute-goal to share the points, versus conference foe New England Revolution, who were pummeled at Houston four goals to nil. Union fans will get to feast their eyes upon their revamped midfield for the first time in person.
What to Expect From the Philadelphia Union
Philadelphia showed in their matchup last week with the Portland Timbers that they have the ability to control tempo in the midfield. The new players are still learning their teammates and the system, but all in all, it was a performance that created confidence. They showed the ability to muzzle Portland's attacks and transition into their own offensive forays.
The new center back pairing played well, save for a certain last-minute-of-stoppage-time incident... With Berry using his tall frame to clear aerial danger, Union defense was nearly clean on the night. The further development of Berry's chemistry with Amobi Okugo will be something to watch throughout the season. Fabinho was overmatched individually on on-the-ball defense, but he and his teammates scrambled well to avoid danger. The offense may get a boost this week, as Conor Casey is expected to be available. Jack McInerney scored the lone Union goal, but the play really was made by Maurice Edu, who drove a header towards the net off of a corner kick. Based on what we saw last week, I would expect that Union will look to have Maidana and Nogueira work their inter-play through the middle and look to push the ball out to the wing. Fabinho and Sebastien Le Toux will then be depended on to make the right pass into the center for shots. Casey will be a better target for aerial crosses than what was available last week.
What to Expect From New England
The Revs were trounced last week at Houston, 4-0, and they are winless all-time at PPL Park. That's a recipe for a good showing from Union. Scott Caldwell had a disastrous match as the lone central defensive midfielder against Dynamo, so a personnel change or a formation change could be in the offing. New England won two of three matches last year against Philly, both at Gillette Field, with Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe working the center of the pitch. Nguyen did not play last week, and wasn't even in the match day 18. Even if he were to be absent again this week, Revolution still have some firepower. Diego Fagundez, Saer Sene, and the newly acquired Teal Bunbury will keep the Union rear guard plenty busy.
The four goals allowed last week was an aberration. Revolution had one of the best defenses in Major League Soccer last season, anchored by 2013 MLS Defender of the Year, Jose Goncalves. He played every minute of every match last season, and went 90 again last week. He's as durable as he is skilled. I do not expect a repeat of their performance from last week.
Projected Union Starting XI:
Ray Gaddis - Amobi Okugo - Austin Berry - Fabinho
Maurice Edu - Brian Carroll
Sebastien Le Toux - Jack McInerney - Cristian Maidana
I'm leaning toward Hackworth sending out the same starting eleven for this match as last. The only change I can see happening is inserting Conor Casey as the center forward. The only issue is that makes the lineup more conducive to a 4-4-2, which I don't believe Hackworth wants to do. If Casey starts, it's likely that Le Toux sits, even though Casey and McInerney play the same position. Jack scored the goal, so I can't see him being the one to start the match on the bench. I expect Conor will make his season debut Saturday, but as a substitute.
Philadelphia Union 2-0 New England Revolution
Goals by: Maidana and Casey