As the mercury rises, the Union are limping into one of their toughest stretches of the season. Tomorrow, they are set to play the second game of a two-week, five-game run, and they'll do it with a severely depleted roster.
Not counting Raïs M'Bolhi, the Union have 26 players on their active roster; however, only 20 players are probable to contend for a matchday roster spot in Los Angeles.
While the impact of injuries to Steven Vitoria and Michael Lahoud has been softened by good performances from Richie Marquez and Brian Carroll, respectively, Union attackers are nearing extinction.
Conor Casey and Fernando Aristeguieta will not play tomorrow, as they have missed the past few weeks with nagging injuries. Casey strained his quad back in late May, and Aristeguieta suffered an ankle contusion in early June. Antoine Hoppenot hasn't appeared since March, and it's starting to seem like his health has no bearing on his playing time.
With all of the club's other center forwards banged up, CJ Sapong has seized hold of his opportunity. In his past four MLS appearances, three of which came off the bench, Sapong has scored three times. He's nearly unbeatable in the air, and his hold-up play is criminally unheralded. He's probably the Union's best striker, but the only problem is that, at the moment, he is the Union's only striker.
With such a scarcity of forwards, moving a winger up top in order to give Sapong some rest is a logical move. Sebastien Le Toux would be the most highly qualified replacement, except he is out for the next two to four weeks with a Grade 2 MCL sprain. Le Toux's injury, coupled with those of the three ailing center forwards, means that Jim Curtin has little room to rotate or tinker with the attack over the next week.
As it stands, Andrew Wenger, CJ Sapong, and Eric Ayuk will likely form the attacking trio against Los Angeles. Come the 70th minute on Saturday, when Curtin looks to the bench to replace one of those three, he'll be severely disappointed. Jimmy McLaughlin is the only true winger on the bench, but he's only seen one minute of MLS playing time so far this season. Zach Pfeffer has also gotten some run on the wing, but it's not his best position
Despite being shorthanded just about everywhere else, the Union are doing pretty well in the full back department. Fabinho and Sheanon Williams have been excellent on both sides of the ball since Ray Gaddis went down a few weeks back, but there is a bit of a dilemma now that the West Virginia alum has returned to full health. Gaddis started against Rochester during the week, but his spot on the depth chart remains unclear as the weekend approaches. If Gaddis starts tomorrow, whichever full back takes a spot on the bench could provide a good makeshift option on the wing. The service from overlapping full backs has been phenomenal as of late, and Curtin may look to push one forward for more crossing opportunities. If Fabinho and Williams start tomorrow, then that scenario would be much less likely given Gaddis' weaknesses going forward.
These lineup possibilities are fairly limited, and they're about as sexy as PPL Park after a high school lacrosse tournamenet, but they do offer less-experienced players the chance to step up and show what they can do. If the Philadelphia Union wish to keep the pace in a tight Eastern Conference, those players must be able to do something.