Match previews

Preview: Union at Revolution

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

What: Philadelphia Union at New England Revolution

When: 7:30pm EST

Where: Gillette Stadium, New England, USA

Referee: Baldomero Toledo

  • After the Revs, the Union host Seattle, travel to Chicago, host LA, then get the Fire at home.
  • New England needs three points, with Portland, RSL, New York and Houston in their headlights.
  • The Revs have scored two goals. One was an own goal. That adds up to a goal per 270 minutes. That is bad.
  • The Union have given up 8 goals in the second half and only 2 in the first half.
  • New England has given up 2/3 of their goals in the final 15 minutes of games.

Pop quiz: What do all the teams the Philadelphia Union have beaten this season have in common?

  • a) Below the playoff cutoff
  • b) Single digits in points
  • c) Both a and b

Yes, riding the Good Ship McInerney and a stout and improving defense, the Philadelphia Union have put the ghosts of 2012 to rest. And while the club can thank MLS for a scheduling assist, earning points on the road is no easy task. Only two teams had negative goal differentials at home last season, and one of them was the mess called Toronto FC.

The Union have already earned seven road points in 2013, and their last win was surely their best.

A strong start backed by a solid second half earned three points at DC United’s home stadium, which was apparently hidden in a secret location where their fans couldn’t find it. But scoring on Jakovic and McDonald is a bit simpler than getting by New England, which has given up one goal in 180 home minutes thus far.

And those 180 minutes haven’t been against the bargain basement MLS offenses. Sporting Kansas City left without a tally, and FC Dallas needed 87 minutes to break through.

But New England will likely be without center back AJ Soares, who limped off 18 minutes into last week’s 4-1 lost to New York. Soares’ replacement should be last year’s starter, Stephen McCarthy. Michael Farfan’s college teammate made his return from injury against the Red Bulls, and his height should be a boon for a Revolution team that will be looking to exploit the Union on set pieces.

When these teams met earlier this season, the Union controlled possession, made more passes, and limited the Revolution offense. But they were only able to take three points when Jack McInerney outhustled everyone to dink home a corner kick rebound. If the Union are to get full points out of this road trip, they have to create more direct chances and keep the dormant New England offense from waking up.

Generating chances

As PSP has noted, the Union have been an out-and-out counterattacking team on the road in 2013. They sit deep, use Conor the Barbarian to win the long ball out of the back, and let Danny Cruz and Jack McInerney push the transition with their speed. It’s not rocket science and certainly not pretty, but against most MLS teams it will get the job done.

The Revolution are ideally suited to defend against the counterattack (though Soares’ injury changes things quite a bit). With offensively solid and defensively dependable outside backs, the Revs can afford to push their wide midfielders high, essentially creating a 2-4-4 on the attack.

Soares and Goncalves—with support from Clyde Simms or Andy Dorman—have the athleticism to cover the whole back line. Goncalves’ ability to handle Conor Casey on aerial balls will determine whether the Union can find success via Route One, or if they will need some creativity out of their rather direct midfield.

Containing Jack

Revolution manager Jay Heaps said that the less you see McInerney, the more dangerous he is. Heaps means Mac’s movement is top notch, but his words speak to another aspect of the Union’s game that must improve if they are to keep winning.

McInerney will not hesitate to come deep to get involved, but this puts him in less dangerous positions on the field. Being able to move the ball through the center without McInerney’s support is still something the Union midfield cannot do. If the midfield can play through the first wave of pressure without needing to bring strikers deep, they can spread out the New England defense and create the gaps that allow Michael Farfan to prosper as a creator.

Controlling the ground

Last time these teams met, Jeff Parke was a dominant force in his own box.

Since that game, New England has seen that the best way through the Union defense is not the aerial balls that worked last season, but capitalizing on the turnovers that Philly commits with regularity. Sloppiness in their own third has been a hallmark of the visiting team’s early matches, but thus far nobody has brought the chickens home to roost.

With two offensive-minded wingers and Kalifa Cisse roaming the channels, the Revolution will do best if they play to trap and force Brian Carroll and Raymon Gaddis into quick decisions. Both players still seem a beat off their best, and they have been susceptible to early pressure many times this year.

Key matchup

Raymon Gaddis has steadily improved on the left, but New England has the weapons to pressure the young fullback. Kelyn Rowe, for one, can break down defenders but has yet to show the ability to take over a game or exert real influence.

New England has vacillated between single and dual striker sets, and how they tactically prepare will determine the pressure on Gaddis.

In a two-striker lineup, Gaddis will have a clear goal: Contain the winger. In a one-striker set things become a bit more complex, with an attacking midfielder roaming for gaps between the midfield and defense. Gaddis has not looked comfortable adjusting to offensive movement (see: Kansas City), and while that hasn’t been a forte of the puny Revolution offense thus far, they are more than capable.

Looking to improve

Three elements make up a good counterattacking team: A strong defense, good finishing, and a link player who can quickly take the ball from the back and put it in the right places. The Union have relied heavily on Conor Casey’s hold up play in lieu of a true link player.

New York got on the board early against New England by holding in a corner kick and exploiting Andrew Farrell’s naivete on the break. The Union can emulate the Red Bulls’ high pressure on set pieces and make it tough for the Revs to clear the ball, but they also need to ape the movement New York used to flood the right side of the New England defense on the counterattack.

Juninho picked up a clearance and moved across the pitch, drawing a defender in so he could spring Johnny Steele into space. This left Steele to drive at one side of the defense, close enough to Farrell to distract him while Thierry Henry—showing that Jack McInerney isn’t the only striker with great movement—timed his run to slip in behind the rookie defender.


Philadelphia Union are eating up points against weaker opponents, and they need to continue the trend before they hit the real meat of their schedule in mid-June and July. The difference between the Union and a host of other teams looking to slot in behind Kansas City, Montreal and Houston will be road points. The Union have earned seven in down and dirty fashion so far.

Ten road points before May? That’s a good start to the season.

Expected lineups
  • GK: MacMath
  • DEF: Williams, Okugo, Parke, Gaddis
  • MID: Cruz, Carroll, Daniel, Marfan
  • FWD: McInerney, Casey
  • GK: Bobby Shuttleworth
  • DEF: Andrew Farrell, Stephen McCarthy, Jose Goncalves, Chris Tierney
  • MID: Kelyn Rowe, Kalifa Cisse, Andy Dorman, Lee Nguyen
  • FWD: Juan Toja, Jerry Bengston
  • Kevin Alston


  1. Jeremy Lane says:

    All I want for Christmas (or April 27th Day) is to see Kléberson start. Is that too much to ask? Pull Daniel, put in Kléb. Pull Cruz and put in Garfan, while we’re at it, and this team starts looking pretty good, both going forward and defensively.

    • I like the sound of that lineup. A lot.

    • Philly Cheese says:

      Can Hack really stretch himself to give Kleberson or Torres a midfield start? Carroll is a lock until he gets a knock, but either Cruz or Daniel needs to take a seat.

    • Yes I love it. Put more skill on the field. Either of the farfans over Cruz is def more dangerous attack. Don’t understand why we get a DP just to leave on the bench.

  2. Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

    Stephen McCarthy stinks. This is huge for the Union if Soares is indeed out. McCarthy is a big, clumsy, hothead. Casey should look to isolate on Goncalves and force McCarthy to chase Jack. He can’t do it and will get frustrated. McCarthy is a poor man’s Dejan Jakovic who himself is a poor man’s average MLS centerback.

  3. I guarantee a Union win.
    If we’re up 2 goals, we may see Torres around 65-70 mins. And then everybody will see just why he aint playing.

    • Kenso Josh says:

      Seeing as how you called for a Mac brace last week, this heartens me.

      However I hope you are wrong on the Torres hatorade.

    • JediLos117 says:

      That’s what u get fir guaranteeing a win…I can guarantee it won’t be last time I’m wrong.
      Union were flat from 1st whistle.
      A few player rankings:
      Macmath: 7
      Carroll: -10
      Gaddis: -9
      Everybody else: 4 or less
      Worse game of year.

      • frankswild says:

        Daniel Cruz and Carrol were all made out of dog shit.

      • The Black Hand says:

        The entire back line was garbage…even without Carroll letting them waltz right in. Not one player played well. Compared to our manager, they were fantastic. Miserable effort put in by the Union.

  4. Sene made his return last week. Remember that goal last year?

  5. sieve!!!!!! says:

    Well that was less than inspiring.

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