Match previews / Union

Match preview: Philadelphia Union at D.C. United

Photo by Mikey Reeves

Who: Philadelphia Union (11th place, 7 points, 1-4-4) at D.C. United (8th place, 11 points, 3-2-4)
What: 2017 regular season game
Where: RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.
When: Saturday, May 13th, 7 pm
Watch: TCN, MLS Live
Whistle: REF Chris Penso, AR1 Peter Manikowski, AR2 Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho, 4th Younes Marrakchi

The unbalanced schedule of Major League Soccer has the Philadelphia Union again making the trip down I-95, just six weeks after their last unlucky visit, to the crumbling and wobbly edifice that is home to both possums and soccer: the soon-to-be-vacated, one and only relic of the District’s sporting past, Robert Francis Kennedy Stadium.

Scouting report: D.C. United

D.C. United coach Ben Olsen said of his team’s lackluster and losing performance last week against Montreal, “I thought the whole first half we were full of $**t.” That’s an odorous metaphor few players would have a coach use about their performance, and it was a surprising one given that just the week before, the Black and Red flew to Atlanta and beat those plucky, top-half-of-the-table southern upstarts (also called United and also wearing Black and Red, er, Red and Black as it were). This match sits in the middle of an important three game home stand for D.C. and one in which they’ve already dropped points. Union fans can understand the urgency creeping into the United camp after having a similarly underwhelming trio of matches at home several weeks ago. Thus, expect a bit of fire on the field (and hopefully none in the stands).

The Union and D.C. have already done this dance once in 2017. A bad pass from Andre Blake, a bad header from Fabinho, an unlucky deflection off of Oguchi Onyewu, and the unfortunate and subtle bend of Richie Marquez’s arm all conspired to give D.C. their first goals of the season and create a 2-0 hole out of which the Union could not dig themselves. Despite a late C.J. Sapong goal off a rebounded Alejandro Bedoya blast, those earlier miscues were enough to stand in the way of points. It’s unlikely that much will change about the Union’s familiar opponents, and United will line up in either the 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 that has suited them thus far (it’s semantics whether there’s a difference for the team in practice, as their inverted triangle midfield could be the “3” or the “1” and the middle two of the “4.” For more on United’s game plan against the Union earlier this season, click here).

United are dangerous from the center of the pitch, with Luciano Acosta always game for several chances created; dangerous from the wing, with Lloyd Sam who is speedy enough to trouble any MLS fullback. With former Union legend Sebastian Le Toux beginning to endear himself to yet another American soccer fanbase, D.C. can be threatening up top as well. D.C. aren’t a great team, but they punish their opponent’s defensive lapses as well as anyone in the league. Case in point: the Union’s loss earlier in the season or D.C.’s win against NYC FC.

  • Injury report: OUT- M Rob Vincent (knee), GK Eric Klenofsky (knee), M Patrick Nyarko (hamstring), M Nick DeLeon (abdominal), QUESTIONABLE – D Steve Birnbaum (concussion), GK Bill Hamid (groin)
  • Suspended: None.
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

The Philadelphia Union picked up their first victory of the 2017 season in a 3-0 defeat of rivals, New York Red Bulls. The team played well for long stretches of the match, weathered another early second half storm, saw Andre Blake: Shot Save-ior be reborn, and provided C.J. Sapong a sturdy midfield platform upon which to score his first career hat trick. It wasn’t a perfect match, but it was as complete and frankly as lucky as the Union have been all year.

In looking to extend their three game unbeaten streak, expect the Boys in Blue to come out in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Illness, injury, and favor forced regular starters Richie Marquez, Josh Yaro, and Keegan Rosenberry out of the lineup against New York and all Jack Elliot, Oguchi Onyewu, and Ray Gaddis did was come in and post a clean sheet. Squad rotation, whether forced or not, is happening in Chester for the first real time in the team’s history, and quite a few players are showing glimpses of their merits. Now knowing that Derrick Jones will be joining the United States’ Under 20 World Cup squad for the next month and that Richie Marquez has not recovered from his illness, the team should look like this from back to front and left to right:

Blake – Fabinho, Onyewu, Elliot, Rosenberry – Creavalle, Medunjanin – Ilsinho, Bedoya, Pontius – Sapong.

As he continues to find his footing and place in the squad, expect Fafa Picault to keep getting minutes. As well, Fabian Herbers continues to put in work on the training ground and serve brilliant crosses, so he will likely see the field along with either Roland Alberg or Jay Simpson.

  • Injury report: OUT- D Josh Yaro (shoulder), M Maurice Edu (leg), QUESTIONABLE – D Richie Marquez (illness), D Ken Tribbett (ankle)
  • Suspended: None.
Key matchup

Triangles. In the most anticipated battle of geometric shapes since the 1979 Atari release of the arcade cabinet game, Asteroids, the Union’s triangle midfield will shoot metaphorical 8-bit lasers at United’s also-triangle-shaped midfield for 90 minutes plus stoppage time on Saturday. Whether it’s Roland Alberg at the tip of the polygon looking for a new high score during his twenty to thirty productive first half minutes, or Warren Creavalle returning to the starting XI to protect his backline like a bunker in Space Invaders, this game will be won through the middle third of the field. The Union’s mid-game inversion of their triangle in the season’s first contest nearly turned the tide in the team’s favor, and the Union’s win over Red Bulls can be traced to a similar strategy later in the match and Alejandro Bedoya occasionally man-marking and all but eliminating Sasha Kljestan from the bovine barrage. If a similar strategy eliminates playmaker Luciano Acosta from the match, good things should happen.

Player to watch

C.J. Sapong. In conversation this week, Union fan Ken Halk described the striker as “a grind it out humble underdog.” That’s a nearly perfect assessment of Sapong’s place in the Union narrative right now. For several seasons, he has started hot and then faded as the summer wore on, continuing to work hard and keep his head down without any results to show for his efforts. In 2017, the hottest of those starts has come via goals in five of the team’s nine games and his first career hat trick. However, as he approaches career high season numbers in just his tenth match in this campaign (and as he stands tied for MLS’s Golden Boot race), keep an eye out to see if he can keep his momentum going. If he can, the Union might have no trouble with this match and also might not be in as deep a hole in the standings as they are perceived to be right now.

Prediction: Philadelphia Union 2 -1 D.C. United

The Union have everything they need to beat D.C. in this early season rematch: a hot striker, a bit of burgeoning cohesion, and the knowledge that, even during their early season struggles, they were almost the better team the first time around anyway.


  1. John Harris says:

    Robert not Ronald Kennedy, right?

  2. Could be a good match to try the Simpson at 10/Sapong at 9 lineup, with them rotating between the spots. Although Creavalle makes sense too if we are going defensive.

  3. pragmatist says:

    First…love the Asteroids reference. Digging deep on that one.
    Second…who is this “Creavalle” person you list in the lineup?
    While Warren is logical, this team rarely operates under the auspices of logic.
    Fafa – Ilsinho – Pontius
    Medunjanin – Bedoya
    DEF (as listed)
    That’s a lineup that can take advantage of DC. However, since we (JC) tend to play for road draws, I fear your lineup is correct. But it would be so nice to have Bedoya in his 6/8 role where he thrives, instead of the 10 role where he disappears.

  4. Putting Bedoya back in the 10 is mind boggling to me. The dude is playing at a DP level at the 8, has been a massive force there both defensively and offensively, and you want to put him back at the 10?

    WC is NO WHERE AT ALLLLLLL good enough to make up for all the net negatives you gain when putting Bedoya back at the 10.

    • i guess the problem is that they are down two central midfielders between alberg’s injury and jones being on international duty

      • Would much rather try Najem or hell Ilsinho at the 10 then take BEdoya out of a position he plays like a DP in and put him in a spot he is a net negative in.

      • i think thats fair, but also consider that when the hat trick was scored the 3 central midfielders were bedoya, jones, and medunjanin. i dont know if he was playing a 10 or if we were playing with two 8s, but if he wasnt the 10 then no one was

      • I hate to say this, but I’m almost glad Alberg is injured, as I would much rather give Ilsinho a try at the 10 spot, and I have been saying this for many weeks now. I think he’s likely to do a much better job than Alberg (who consistently disappears for most of every match), especially if you give him a few matches to work on the positioning with CJ and Ale and Haris.

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