Match previews

Preview: Union at New England Revolution

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Who: Philadelphia Union at New England Revolution
What: 2015 regular season game
Where: Gillette Stadium
When: Saturday, September 26 at 7:30 pm
Watch: TCN, MLS Live, MLS Direct Kick
Whistle: Allan Kelly; Linesmen: Claudiu Badea, Richard Gamache; Fourth Official: Robert Sibiga

In their last match before the 2015 US Open Cup final, Philadelphia Union face off against New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium. The Revs are coming off a loss to the streaking Montreal Impact, but they have won six of their last nine MLS matchups. Additionally, New England hasn’t lost at home since July and has outscored opponents 10-2 during that time.

The Revs form aside, Philadelphia will need to take a unique approach to this contest. With the cup final looming midweek and the playoffs little more than a dream, Jim Curtin will have to decide who needs rest and who needs minutes.

New England's first half vs MTL - stuck on the right, with nothing successful in the danger zone near the D.

New England’s first half vs MTL – stuck on the right, with nothing successful in the danger zone near the D.

New England news

A big reason the Revolution have been able to go on a sustained climb up the Eastern Conference standings is the team’s health. Darrius Barnes is the only member of the injury list, meaning Jay Heaps has depth at almost every position. Charlie Davies and Juan Agudelo are fighting for the striker’s role in front of the irreplaceable Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Teal Bunbury, and a scalding-hot Diego Fagundez. Jermaine Jones, Daigo Kobayashi, Steve Neumann, Andy Dorman, and the emerging Scott Caldwell can all sit in the center in front of Jose Goncalves and Andrew Farrell. Kevin Alston, Chris Tierney, and London Woodbury can all fill the fullback roles. Now that is a roster.

How they set up

Davies has been the nominal No. 1 up top all season, but Agudelo is streaking right now. His sublime touch to send Fagundez in on goal against New York on September 16 showed a player in confident form. Although his finishing still lacks the cutthroat nature of Davies, Agudelo is pushing for minutes. Davies should get the start up top, but Agudelo will certainly see the last 25-30 minutes of action.

On the wings, expect Fagundez and Rowe to flank Nguyen. Both players prefer to cut inside regardless of the wing they play on. Rowe has a predilection for long range strikes against Philadelphia while Fagundez is going to play off of Nguyen, running through the holes created when his playmaker is able to get into the left channel.

The Union have traditionally struggled against the Revs wingers because Heaps very carefully attacks the soft spots in Philly’s defense. Aggressive fullbacks separate from the back line, but when the wingers cut inside, Gaddis and Fabinho are loathe to follow. This means either a central defender or holding midfielder has to pick up the runner. Confusion about how to handle this movement has dogged the Union. When the defenders back off, Rowe can fire missiles. When they step, the back line becomes a jagged mess as the striker posts up the other center back and Nguyen streaks into the box. If the Union’s holding midfielder steps over, they leave the center of the pitch open and allow Jermaine Jones to dictate play with space.

An alternative strategy is to prevent Rowe and Fagundez from cutting through the center. This means funneling play to the fullbacks or straight up the middle. However, such a plan grants space on the wing to Chris Tierney, who hits a cross as well as any defender in MLS.

The Union’s best plan may be to forget the America’s Saddest Home Video that was the Houston Dynamo last week and return to their deep-sitting counterattack. New England will not be nearly as easy to unlock as the messy Houston midfield, but the important lesson — both for this weekend and next Wednesday — is how to pass around pressure when starting counters.

Against NYRB, New England was very successful trapping the fullbacks.

Against NYRB, New England was very successful trapping the fullbacks.

How the Union will set up

Umm… this is a tough one. It certainly seems like the right time to rest players like CJ Sapong, Sebastien Le Toux, and Tranquillo Barnetta. All three have logged endless minutes as they jell into the face of the Union offense. Additionally, risking Vincent Nogueira’s ever-shaky health in a match that, if everyone is being honest, means very little to the Union seems absurd. Although Curtin would likely prefer to rest Ray Gaddis and Fabinho, the truth is that he only has one Warren Creavalle. Philly’s lack of depth at the fullback position means at least one of the two fullbacks will see ninety minutes on Saturday. In the center, Maurice Edu will likely play again as he recovers full fitness. But Steven Vitoria could slot in for Richie Marquez if the young defender needs a break.

The midweek cup final simply has to sit at the top of Curtin’s mind as he sets his lineup. Fernando Aristeguieta and Eric Ayuk should see extended minutes, and Andrew Wenger will get a chance to make a case that he can make an impact off the bench in the final. The more interesting questions are further back. Resting Nogueira could mean pairing Michael Lahoud and Brian Carroll together, providing a fine defensive cover but making a transition out of the back a more difficult prospect. Alternatively, Creavalle could slot into midfield. This is a bad idea because it really is time for at least one fullback to rest before potentially playing 120 minutes on Wednesday. The stakes are fairly low for the Union on Saturday and losing either Gaddis or Fabinho to even a minor injury would be devastating.

Jermaine Jones without Scott Caldwell vs MTL - pulled wide to the right.

Jermaine Jones without Scott Caldwell vs MTL – pulled wide to the right.

In the middle of defense, Maurice Edu needs minutes, but also needs to stay healthy. If he starts, he may not go the full ninety minutes. The bigger question is whether Richie Marquez should be rested. The benefits of rest are obvious, but the benefits of logging additional minutes next to likely cup final partner Edu are enticing. In all likelihood, Curtin leaves Marquez in back so he can work with Edu before Wednesday’s match.

If you are sensing a theme developing here, it is the balance between rest and continuity. Injuries and poorly aimed chewing gum expectorations have prevented the Union’s best lineup from seeing the field together. They looked impressive against the Dynamo last week, but the Philadelphia Eagles offense would have looked good against that Houston side. If Curtin opts for continuity, the pope may receive more than a few prayers that revolve around Union player health while he’s in town.

Philly’s focus
With Caldwell in support, Jones moved forward to support Lee Nguyen.

With Caldwell in support, Jones moved forward to support Lee Nguyen.

As noted above, the Union need to use this game to work on very specific aspects of their tactics. First and most importantly, they need to navigate the Revolution’s press after turnovers. When New England loses the ball, they can trap extremely well on the wings. In their recent win over New York, the Revolution trapped the fullbacks repeatedly, knocking the ball loose and goading Connor Lade into an early card. The Union are particularly susceptible to this type of press, with Ray Gaddis noticeably uncomfortable under pressure and Sebastien Le Toux reticent to check deep enough to help his defender.

Key to this press has been the continuing growth of Scott Caldwell. From a Brian Carroll-style defensive midfielder to a more expansive passer, Caldwell has tweaked his game to fit the unpredictability of Jermaine Jones. Though the analogy is far from perfect, Caldwell maps onto Sporting KC’s Paulo Nagamura, a positionally disciplined player who forms the backbone around which the rest of the team moves. The goal for opposing teams, then, is to get that backbone out of alignment.

Philadelphia, then, needs to focus on finding ways to move the ball without allowing the fullbacks to get isolated. Options include moving the ball quickly to Edu and letting him step forward and look for passes into midfield or spreading the central defenders and dropping Lahoud deep. Although the latter strategy is currently en vogue, the Union would do better to stick with the former. Simply put, dropping Lahoud deep is unlikely to work against Sporting Kansas City because the Union are not a good passing team and KC can execute one heckuva midfield press. As far as Michael Lahoud has come as a passer — and his growth has been substantial and impressive — leaving him without cover against Dom Dwyer and Benny Feilhaber is introducing a level of risk that is simply unnecessary.

Instead, the Union need to focus on the difficult task of playing through Edu even though everybody and their mother knows the plan. To make Edu the catalyst of attacks, Philly needs to plan accordingly. This means a runner on the far wing needs to be pushing at the back line to keep the Revs from making the midfield too compact because Edu may be able to hit those long crossfield balls that Michael Parkhurst and KC’s own Matt Besler have used to bypass the Union’s own pressure in the past.

Possible lineup

Possible lineup

It also means being able to play from Edu into midfield and out again to Maidana with speed. Philly struggled with this early in the year when Edu was actually in the midfield, and they have only sporadically (with the Portland match as the best example) been able to capture that lightning in a bottle this season.

Prediction: New England 2-1 Union

The Revs will be motivated and have a full squad to work with. Four points separate the top four teams in the east, and New England knows that the Union will be distracted by next week’s big match. Philly, with Aristeguieta or Casey up top, will be capable of scoring, but preventing the home side’s offense from running rampant will be a more difficult task.


  1. Just get us a trophy.

  2. Adam, what is the thought process to resting Gaddis over Fabinho?
    Gaddis is younger so likely would recover faster then Fabi. He also seems to have his form coming back so staying on the field might be a good idea. Is it just since Creavalle is likely more comfortable on the right?

    • @CPfeif – To be honest, I don’t think it matters a ton who sits. The Creavalle-comfort argument is a good one, so is the argument that Mo Edu can probably cover up his fullback’s shortcomings better than Richie Marquez. The final – and far less important – argument is that if Andrew Wenger is going to see some time as a fullback, it might as well be on his good foot.

    • Of our three fullbacks, Gaddis is the only one who can play on both sides so I view him as the most valuable of the three and the one who should sit on Sat.

  3. This game means nothing. All starters should be rested. Great game to give the regular non-starters a game and see how they do.


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