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Preview and tactics: Union vs Revolution

What: Union vs New England Revolution

Where: PPL Park

When: 7:oo PM EST

TV: NBC Sports Network

Referee: Edvin Jurisevic; SAR (bench): Steven Taylor; JAR (opposite): Craig Lowry; 4th: Kevin Terry Jr.

MLS Game Day (PDF)

A fairly comprehensive two-goal loss to the rival Red Bulls could have been the deflating match that ended the Union’s difficult march to a playoff position. Nothing lightens the mood like an All-Star event, though, particularly when the festivities are in your own back yard.

Big questions in Philly

The Union are certainly hoping there is some leftover energy at PPL Park from the midweek MLS All-Star Game. The lineup and tactical changes instituted since interim head coach John Hackworth took over seem to have plateaued, with opponents adjusting to the tactics and the new faces turning into stalwarts (with both the good and bad that comes with that designation).

Jack McInerney has made the Union attack much more dynamic, but does he have enough diversity in his game to make a long-term run up top? It’s a question that has been magnified by the aggressive roster moves coming from the Union’s Eastern Conference opponents.

Options up top for the Revs

New England, for one, has not been shy about improving their attack. Saer Sene arrived in the offseason, and Honduran Jerry Bengston will join the team after the Olympics (he netted two in Honduras’ opening match win). The Revs latest move was adding Congolese striker/middie Dimitry Imbongo after he impressed in a trial.

But how will all these strikers get their chances? Benny Feilhaber arrived with a playmaking pedigree, but it has been Lee Nguyen who has provided the creative edge to an otherwise blunt team.

Changes in New England

That said, predicting New England’s approach against the Union remains a difficult task. The Revs earned a scoreless draw at Kansas City last weekend playing with a mishmash of a lineup in their third match in seven days. Head coach Jay Heaps’ most intriguing decision was pushing jack-of-all-trades Ryan Guy into a striker role and tasking him with harassing the Kansas City back line. Heaps later explained that Guy had experience up top from his time in Ireland.

Heaps also tried to add width by nudging left back Chris Tierney into midfield and matching up the athletic Darrius Barnes with KC’s Kei Kamara. As dangerous as it is for New England to move Tierney out of the back, a dearth of  Revs players who can put a quality ball into the box made it something of a necessary experiment. Unfortunately, Barnes hobbled off with an injury last weekend so Tierney may return to the back against the Union. Though with Philadelphia’s wingers in such poor form of late, the Revs may take a chance and introduce rookie Tyler Polak at left back and leave Tierney in the midfield.

Oh those Philly wingers

Lionard Pajoy’s effectiveness as a winger has been both surprising and positive. That said, he set a fairly low bar as a central striker.

Along with Freddy Adu, Pajoy has been more mercurial than consistent, and this has become an issue as opposing defenses learn to respect Jack McInerney’s runs into space. McInerney’s movement should be the catalyst that fires the wingers off their touchlines and into newly opened spaces. Too often this has not been the case.

A troubling consequence of poor wing play is how it restricts the involvement of the team’s attack-minded fullbacks. Both Sheanon Williams and Gabriel Farfan have been distressingly quiet in recent matches, unable to gallop forward as the team searches for links between the backs and midfield.

Tutored by the top

Both of these teams have learned much about themselves from Sporting Kansas City. The Union learned that they have the tools to push around a strong team if they can find space in midfield and play in anything above first gear. Philly also learned that they can only lean so heavily on Jack McInerney; KC adapted well when they returned to PPL Park for the US Open Cup.

New England found out last weekend that they can stop a strong attacking side and still generate a respectable number of offensive opportunities on the road. Without doubt, this is the lesson Jay Heaps will pound into his players before they take the field in Philadelphia tomorrow.

What to look for

  • Wandering wingers – If the New England backs drop off, Pajoy and Adu must fill gaps so Michael Farfan can drop deeper and start attacks.
  • BC playing fast – The Union are a much, much, much better team when Brian Carroll isn’t forced into a playmaking role. Opposing teams have figured this out and are doing more to push the play away from Marfan and toward the Union’s defensive midfielder.
  • Lee Nguyen running at the defense – Nguyen is always willing to take people on, and if he doesn’t bring the ball with him, he usually brings a whistle. This brings us to the next point…
  • Set piece defense – New England has a fair number of tall, lanky players who excel at heading the ball with an impressive lack of direction. This does not, however, mean that Stephen McCarthy and Saer Sene can be left alone. That said, the first player to be marked in any dead ball situation has to be Shalrie Joseph. The Revs captain attacks the ball and, unlike his teammates, knows the dark art of good aim.

Lineups

Union

  • GK: MacMath
  • DEF: Williams, Okugo, Valdes, Garfan
  • MID: Gomez, Carroll, Marfan
  • FWD: Pajoy, McInerney, Adu

Revolution

  • GK: Matt “Reis’s Pieces”
  • DEF: Kevin “Home Alone” Alston, Stephen McCarthy “ism”, AJ “Like an eagle” Soares, Tyler “Third String” Polak
  • MID: Kelyn “Almost Kevin” Rowe, Shalrie “Curtis” Joseph, Benny “Red Card” Feilhaber, Chris “The Boring” Tierney
  • FWD: Saer “Worse Finishing Than A Batman Trilogy” Sene, Ryan “That” Guy

Injuries

Union

  • OUT: FW Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms)
  • QUESTIONABLE: DF Bakary Soumare (R knee menisectomy recovery)
  • PROBABLE: FW Chandler Hoffman (L big toe fracture)

Revolution

  • OUT: DF Darrius Barnes (L adductor strain); FW Alec Purdie (L ankle sprain)
  • QUESTIONABLE: MF Benny Feilhaber (R ankle sprain)
  • PROBABLE: MF Clyde Simms (R gastroc tightness); MF Chris Tierney (R knee contusion)

8 Comments

  1. Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

    The midfield and wingers must play faster. Pass and move. That improvement alone should be more than New England can handle. The Revs defense cannot hang with the Union when they’re clicking.

  2. In my opinion, this is a home game that the Union should win, easily, if in fact they are as good as they keep saying they are.

  3. We should win, and i agree about the lack of attack from the wings. I would like to see some fresh blood added there. But don’t hate on Dark Knight!

  4. Philly Cheese says:

    Adu must learn one touch passes, looking for teammates, moving without the ball to find open spaces, and be willing to challenge for the ball and get banged into without falling to the ground. If he cannot or will not do ALL of these things, let’s start Hoffman who is willing to do all of the above and has a proven history of scoring goals. It may be time for Adu to sit or move to Europe….even if Union don’t get anything for him in fees.

    • u bitch

    • Adu ignores the overlapping runner too much as well. He does not play a team game.

    • DarthSarkozy says:

      Agreed on Adu. He either needs to perform consistently or be pulled off the books.

      I’m also starting to think that we ought to try him out at more of a regista role than our on the wing where he’s been up and down at best. Everyone is going to be a lot happier once we abandon the notion, aside from the rare moment of skill, that he can and ought to run at defenses. His lack of physicality means he’s a turnover factory up top. Deep lying, he can do what he has been doing best — spraying timely balls to spark the attack. Of course, he is going to need to learn how to play defense.

      That said, I’d prefer we sell him.

  5. Adu is clearly over paid. A quality striker or two are needed. Provence goal scorners. The union keeps getting cheap duds instead of studs. Time yo spend some cash or let the fans know what’s going on in the treasury.

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