Match previews / Union

Match preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Portland Timbers

Photo: Earl Gardner

Who: Philadelphia Union (11th place in the East, 2 points, 0-2-2) vs. Portland Timbers (1st place in the West, 10 points, 3-1-1)
What: 2017 regular season game
Where: Talen Energy Stadium, Chester, PA.
When: Saturday April 8th at 7PM
Watch: TCN, MLS Live, Direct Kick
Whistle: Robert Sibiga; Adam Wienchowski and Kyle Longville; Jorge Gonzalez

While this is only the fifth game of the season, Union fans are already looking at this game as must-win. The “Negadelphia” stereotype is out in full force this week and even the most optimistic fans are finding little hope to build a pipe dream on. The focus of much of this pressure has been Jim Curtin, whose tenure as head coach has never been more threatened than it is right now. Of course, the 1st-place Timbers aren’t about to take it easy on the Union, so it’s fair to expect both teams coming to win on Saturday.

Scouting report: Portland Timbers
Special thanks to @shebainpdx for talking lineups with me.

Projected Portland Lineup

They’re the highest-scoring team in MLS right now with 13 goals, which will certainly be weighing heavily on the minds of Philly’s injury-riddled backline. But there is hope to be had: Five of those goals came against Minnesota United’s hapless defense. Not that they haven’t shown offensive power in other games this season, including four against Houston and two in Columbus. In both those games, however, the opponent scored multiple goals as well; in fact, Crew SC won that game by scoring three of their own. So the Union’s best hope of finding points from this match would appear to be letting the Timbers spread themselves thin. Much of Portland’s midfield likes to play in the offensive half and allowing them to do so would expose a back line that’s nearly as injury-plagued as Philadelphia’s.

  • Injury report: Gbenga Arokoyo (Achilies, out for the season); Liam Ridgewell and Vytas are both questionable.
  • Suspended: None
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

We know where the Union have been so there’s no reason to dwell on it here. This is, after all, supposed to be a preview, not a review, but at this point there’s no clear reason to expect the future will look much different. The only real questions going into this weekend are Sapong or Simpson, and Ilsinho or Herbers. And neither of those are major tactical decisions so much as questions of who is most game-ready in practice this week.

Which brings us to the big challenge facing the team and, specifically, Jim Curtin. The commitment to playing a 4-2-3-1, all the way from the academy through to the first team, is admirable. It allows players to grow in the system and know their role at each level of play. But at the first team, where results actually matter, who benefits from insisting on continuing to play a formation that is failing to yield desirable results? Now it’s absolutely possible that the formation can work against Portland, but if it doesn’t, is the team capable, or even willing, to try something new?

Projected Union lineup (graphic courtesy of Seth Finck)

Key matchup

Union Attack vs. Portland Back Line. The direct path to victory for the Union is to score early and score often. With two (arguably three) of Portland’s back four being backups, all the Union need to do is keep pushing until Jake Gleeson makes a mistake.

Player to watch

Alejandro Bedoya. He’s the highest paid player in Union history and Curtin doesn’t think he should be playing as the 10. And Bedoya agrees. But unless Curtin possesses a previously unnoticed capacity to surprise us, that’s where he’ll be playing. If he is able to get past his own imperfections at the position and have a positive effect on the game, this could be the match where his work rate and hustle finally pay dividends.

Prediction: Philadelphia 2 – 3 Portland

Union lose, but only just. This game will have goals in it, as both teams have leaky defenses at the moment. However, the Timbers have two players in the early-season running for the Golden Boot, while the Union have just two players that have scored a goal. Period. This could be the game where wingers or bench players begin to contribute, the only problem is it’s difficult to imagine them contributing at a higher rate than high-flying Portland.


  1. pragmatist says:

    0-0 snore fest. Because it makes no sense and it will confuse both fanbases.

    • +1 ironic hipster beard smelling of stale IPA and cannabis

      • pragmatist says:

        Any chance they come out in flannel uniforms?

      • Ham Sammich says:

        Funny you should mention that. Take a close look at this seasons iteration of the 2015 championship green and gold kits: they do in fact have a flannel weave pattern, albiet solid green. Just sayin

      • Jim O'Leary says:

        Flannel is a fabric type, and it can come in many colorways including solid, stripes, and plaid. What the Timbers have is a PLAID uniform. Not flannel.

        I’ve been unreasonably bothered by this since they announced that kit.

      • “I’ve been unreasonably bothered by this since they announced that kit.”…This made me chuckle. Nice.

      • pragmatist says:

        Yeah, I read that line last night and I’ve been laughing about it since!

    • Zizouisgod says:

      MLS is great for throwing up nonsensical results during the regular season.

  2. Season Tix 8 yrs says:

    5-1 Portland buries Union, and Jim Curtin. RIP.

  3. The sunrocket is a liability, potius has disappeared and we all agree Bedoya’s not a 10. Time to take a page from USMNT and give the kids a chance.

    Picault, Ilsinho, Bedoya
    Jones, Medujanin
    Wijnaldjim, O2, Elliott, Rosenberry

    While Herbers isn’t a hold up guy, he makes space-opening runs. The combination of him with Picault’s speed, Ilsinho’s creativity and Bedoya’s movement/work ethic coming in from the edge would be fun to watch if nothing else.
    Wijnaldjim can’t be worse than Fabinho was last game.

    • Honestly I never understood why Curtin never gave Herbers a chacne at striker, especially when CJ was so out of form at the end of hte year.

  4. el Pachyderm says:

    Derrick to the bench.
    Preservation mode.

    • scottymac says:

      Alberg or CJ / Simpson

      • pragmatist says:

        Maybe a CJ/Alberg combo up top would work out well. Alberg doesn’t like to track back, and CJ has no problem doing the dirty work. That could be a nice complementary pairing.

      • Yeah, I think we might need to go to a 2 striker formation. Just seems to fit a little better with the players we have. Although I’m not sure where Pontius would fit, but honestly at this point I’m taking Jones over him anyway because he’s been bad.

      • pragmatist says:

        Pontius is very helpful, but he’s not a 90-minute player, and everyone knows it. If you can bring him in to make his smart runs with 20-30 minutes left, he’d be a huge benefit.
        I still believe we have very good depth on this team, I just don’t think they are being deployed correctly. Some starters should be subs, and vice versa.

  5. Union confound everyone by winning 2-1 behind strong performances from the previously-largely-invisible Ilsinho and Rosenberry, along with continued strong performances from several other guys. Why? Because it’s at home, and they will rise to the challenge.

    And THEN they will embarrass us and drive us crazy later. And possibly get Curtin fired. But it would be too straightforward to do it now, when there’s time to rescue the season.

  6. scottymac says:

    Smells like a draw. PTFC hasnt scored here, we get garbage goals. 2-2.

    We go 1-1-1 in the homestand leaving us on 6 points after 7. Curtin canned, Sorber named interim. Surprise Dutch manager announced June 7th.

    • pragmatist says:

      Something occurred to me about a possible Curtin replacement…they could turn to Brendan Burke. Moving up from the Academy to get through to the young kids. (Just a possible justification, not saying it’s the correct decision.)
      It is easier to replace a USL coach midseason, so they can move him up and then find someone else for BSFC without the urgency.
      Just a theory…

      • I would honestly be ok with this. Truly I would prefer them to go outside the organization, but if they choose Burke, I’d be ok. I think he’s a much better choice than Curtin.

      • pragmatist says:

        I worry about the optics. The fan base will see that they hired the next guy in line (whether it’s Burke or Sorber) and will simply have no patience for anything he does. If he doesn’t reel off 5 straight wins, they’ll burn down Talen.
        If they bring in Sorber as an interim and hire the unnamed Dutch manager in June/July (I still think this is the most likely scenario), it will keep the wolves at bay.
        At this point in the club’s history, patience has run thin, and patterns have been established that cause frustration. We need to break those patterns.

    • Earn will assert himself more in game planning but too soon to fires unless a permanent choice is ready.
      Methinks a ex-USMNT moreikely than Euro.

      • pragmatist says:

        If he can pull Tab Ramos away from the U20’s, that would be nice…
        Ex-teammates, and everything. Always possible.

      • Agredd – I floated that in another thread yesterday. Wynalda?

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