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Match Preview: Union v Rapids

Although Colorado and Philadelphia experienced much different outcomes in their week one match-ups, the teams had quite similar tactical approaches. Under new coach Oscar Pareja, Colorado used a 4-5-1 (or 4-1-4-1 for those of you who like to play in the numbers sandbox) with Jeff Larentowicz at the base of a midfield triangle. Pablo Mastroeni and Jaime Castrillon provide the creative spark in the middle of the pitch, controlling play and allowing Kisuke Kimura and Luis Zapata to get up from their defensive positions and overload the flanks.

Without Conor Casey, Omar Cummings is asked to lead the line. Often seen as a prototypical speed merchant, Cummings will be asked to play a more cerebral role alone up top, bringing the ball down and letting Castrillon and Mastroeni become involved in the final third. This is a Colorado team that pressed forward relentlessly against Columbus, and whether they maintain the same drive or sit back more in the tough PPL Park environment will be an interesting decision for rookie manager Pareja.

Danger zones

Freddy Adu is with the U-23s and Josue Martinez was maddeningly ineffective on Monday, so Peter Nowak might think about moving Michael Farfan to a wing and bringing Keon Daniel into the side. Those changes would allow the Union to add a second striker (Mwanga) to the front line while giving Porfirio Lopez and Sheanon Williams more defensive support. Like everyone else, Colorado saw Porfirio Lopez’s horror show second half against Portland and will go at him hard and fast. Controlling the wings is even more necessary against the Rapids, who will send Castrillon and Mastroeni into the box with regularity. If Brian Carroll is pulled wide to help, the middle of the park will start to look naked rather quickly.

The Union also have to string passes together in the final third. If the players who make runs (Marfan, Martinez, Mwanga) don’t have confidence that the team can maintain possession, they won’t make the initial runs that create holes in a defense. Those runs open space, but in order to use that space the team has to keep the ball while the back opens up. This did not happen often against Portland (Freddy Adu’s early shot from the top of the box being a rare exception).

A hot start

A post-St. Paddy’s Day home game? Saturday is going to be a runway that extends into Sunday for the Philly faithful. In other words, PPL Park is going to be rocking. Fans who have paid attention to the team’s offseason know that the 12th man is going to be even more important than it was in 2011. Jeff Larentowicz said the Rapids need to come out of the gate fast to keep the crowd down, and by the same token the Union need to take their shots early and make sure everyone knows the team is as happy to be back as the fans are.

Key matchups

Pinning the Rapids’ outside backs in their own half will open up the game for the Union. Look for a 4-4-2 out of Philly, with Carroll and Gomez looking to get the ball wide early. And not wide to Sheanon and Fro, wide to the midfielders so they can isolate the wing backs and draw fouls or beat them up the wing. The Colorado defense was not tested by the Crew, so the back four probably think they are better than they are. Making Kimura and Zapata question their freedom to get up the pitch will create space in the midfield to develop a coherent offense, the likes of which haven’t been seen in Philadelphia in years (unless Claude Giroux is involved).



  • Questionable: Chris Albright (groin)


  • Out: Conor Casey (achilles), Jaime Smith (ACL), Anthony Wallace (achillies)
  • Probable: Hunter Freeman (ankle), Pablo Mastroeni (head)

International duty


  • Freddy Adu (Olympics), Amobi Okugo (Olympics


Union (bowl 4-4-2)

  • GK: MacMath
  • DEF: Williams, Valdes, Califf, Lopez
  • MID: Marfan, Carroll, Gomez, Daniel
  • FWD: Mwanga, McInerney


  • GK: Matt “Easy” Pickens
  • DEF: Kosuke “エンジン” Kimura, Drew “I want” Moor,  Marvell “The Shin” Wynne, Luis “Can’t stop ya” Zapata
  • MID: Brian “I’m Not Carroll” Mullen, Pablo “I’ll dive for a penny” Mastroeni, Jeff “The Ginger Giant” Larentowicz, Tony “The Keyboard” Cascio
  • FWD: Omar “Oh Indeed” Cummings



  1. The big questions coming off Monday night’s loss aren’t going to be answered tomorrow.
    If Lopez continues to struggle, who replaces him?

    Pajoy looked pretty classy Monday night. Farfan looks like he’s picking where he left off last year. Even Mwanga had some sparkle. But there was no real cohesion from the back four to the midfield to the top. And that opened up Portland and made their defense seem better than it was. So who’s going to make those links for Philly?
    Willams has to get open on the wing for the Union to win tomorrow, and if Gomez can’t get on the same page with Farfan and Pajoy it’s going to be a long day. Daniel really needs to keep an eye on Lopez early, if Lopez can’t make the adjustments Daniel is going to have to take up some defensive slack.

  2. Pajoy Mwanga
    Daniel Torres Marfan
    Lopez Califf Valdes Williams

    If we were interested in winning.

    • What’s the gameplan with that line up?

      • The gameplan with that lineup is to possess and finally take the game to the opponent. Pajoy is the hold-up guy the Union have missed since Moreno, letting Danny focus on getting it in space and running at defenders (what he does best).

    • I like this lineup. Aggressive and strong. And Daniel will give some cover to Lopez, who looked like he need some help on Monday to say the least. Put the ball over the top to Pajoy who can knock it down to Mwanga. Let Gomez do work in the middle .

  3. Yea, I don’t want to be overly critical.
    Portland is small field, the surface was bad, it was raining, the fans were loud, it was frustrating to watch. So who knows really what Monday night means.

    I’m lost on Nowak’s plan. His offseason moves and statements made it seem like this was going to be a posession offense. Things didn’t look good in the first half and they got worse in the second half. So Nowak brings in two more strikers and a midfielder. I just don’t see how that helps when your getting killed on time of possession.

    Which is the problem I see with the Union this year. They’re built to posses the ball in the midfield. If they don’t have the class or quality to do that they’re not going to score and they’re going to be exposed on defense.
    They just don’t have the people to be a successful counter attack team.

    So my lineup would be-
    Williams CalIff Valdes Lopez
    Caroll Gomez Daniel
    Farfan Torres
    Pajoy 4 3 2 1

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