It will be three whole weeks between MLS regular season matches when the Philadelphia Union visit the New England Revolution. In the meantime, Union won two rounds of the U.S. Open Cup to advance to that tournament's quarterfinal round. They haven't had that kind of success in their regular season, however. Languishing at 8th in the Eastern Conference, they are facing a New England side that demonstrated the gap in skill between these two teams when they raced out to a 5-1 lead. Union will hope to take some momentum from their USOC wins against Harrisburg and NY Cosmos and build their confidence as they embark upon the second half of their season.
What to Expect From the Union
Though they got two wins since the start of the World Cup, Union didn't come about them easily in spite of playing two lower division teams. 16 matches into the season, they have just 15 points, 8 points behind their Saturday night opponent. They need wins, and they need them now. This will be the first regular season match for interim manager Jim Curtin. He experimented with the lineup, switching Maurice Edu to central defense, putting Amobi Okugo in the holding midfield role. We may find out if Curtin was merely taking advantage of the USOC to experiment with his lineup, or if that's the way he feels this team can best win matches. The one lineup shuffle we've seen before that I expect to stick is Sheanon Williams at centerback. He's paired with several members of the back line now, and his quickness is very good at cutting passes out. He hasn't been as confident going forward and getting into the offense, which is not something that would be asked of him in central defense. It also gets them out of having to deal with the lesser athletic Austin Berry or Aaron Wheeler. It also allows them to keep Fabinho in the left fullback position, and Ray Gaddis out on the right.
If this is going to be the way of Curtin's Union, then Okugo in the center allows the team to proceed without Brian Carroll. This allows them to keep Cristian Maidana or Vincent Nogueira to play an advanced central role, while the other plays wide, to compliment either Danny Cruz or Sebastien Le Toux on the right side. Andrew Wenger has been a bit of a disappointment at the striker position, but he can play a complimentary role to Conor Casey, who has netted a couple of braces in recent matches and deserves to start here after some rest.
What to Expect From New England
New England's success against Philadelphia has been driven by the advantage they've had in the midfield. Former U.S. international Lee Nguyen has been particularly influential the past couple of seasons, and now that young homegrown player Diego Fagundez has grown a bit into his role, that midfield will be even more problematic. The success in winning the midfield battle has also been helped by Union playing Carroll, who is slower of foot and not a great possessor of the ball. Though Union have transitioned their captain out of their regular lineup, their new midfield still is not likely to be able to deal with the Revs. Their fluidity allowed them to get 2 goals from a defender, Chris Tierney, when last these two played. Expect that to happen again because of how strong their central defense has been confident with Andrew Farrell and AJ Soares.
Projected Union Starting XI
Ray Gaddis - Sheanon Williams - Amobi Okugo - Fabinho
Sebastien Le Toux - Vincent Nogueira
Andrew Wenger - Conor Casey
I expect that Union will stick with a diamond midfield, with Le Toux getting the start as a reward for his solid play in the U.S. Open Cup. And, while I have Wenger and Casey as a strike pair, I expect one or the other to sink to the midfield and allow the other to play target/point forward. The midfield will need the extra body to maintain possession against a tough opponent.
New England 2 - 1 Philadelphia