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Two-striker formation presents challenge for young Philadelphia Union back line

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Colorado Rapids first Union opponent this year that employ two players up top

MLS: Sporting KC at Colorado Rapids
Joe Mason scored in his MLS debut on March 24
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After shutting down Gyasi Zardes and Juan Agudelo, the Philadelphia Union’s young back line will have two strikers to deal with when they face the Colorado Rapids on the road Saturday.

“It’s the first team we’ll face with a real true two-forward system, which is different for the center backs to deal with because you have to be communicating, you have to be talking and a lot of times now you’re gonna be one-v-one for seconds at a time; you might not have help that you usually would have when just it’s the one-striker system,” head coach Jim Curtin said during his weekly news conference on Wednesday. “A lot of little adjustments we’ve talked about this week.”

The Rapids are winless after their first two games, a 2-1 loss to New England Revolution on the road and a 2-2 draw at home against Sporting Kansas City last week. The Rapids also had a scoreless draw and a 2-0 loss to Toronto FC in Champions League in late February.

Dominique Badji and former LA Galaxy homegrown Jack McBean were employed up top in their first three matches of 2018, but last week Wolverhampton Wanderers loanee Joe Mason partnered with Badji in his MLS debut.

Both strikers scored three minutes apart inside 10 minutes to put the Rapids up 2-0 but Sporting Kansas City battled back with a pair of second half goals to steal a point.

The only other goal-scorer for the Rapids through four games was rookie Niki Jackson, who picked up the lone goal in the 2-1 loss to New England Revolution (Jack Price should have a goal but somehow missed a penalty and the wide open net on a friendly rebound in that game).

First-year manager Anthony Hudson has also picked up an additional reinforcement in his 3-5-2 attack since then in Ivorian forward Yannick Boli. Like Union midfielder Borek Dockal, Boli came over from the Chinese Super League on a one-year deal.

The altitude will also be a factor in Saturday’s game — Curtin mentioned Wednesday that a 30-yard ball becomes a 45-yard ball playing in the thin air a mile above sea level — but the team left Wednesday to give themselves two days of training to prepare. The Union were 1-10-6 on the road last year.

“Most importantly though it’s about us and being brave on the road and having the ball,” Curtin said. “That’s the best defense when you go on the road is to actually have the confidence to play and possess the ball and create chances.”

Saturday’s game kicks off at 9 p.m. eastern and will be broadcast on the Live Well Network and streamed on PhiladelphiaUnion.com.