Match previews / Union

Match preview: Philadelphia Union vs. D.C. United

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Who: Philadelphia Union (2nd place in the Eastern Conference, 45 points, 13-8-6) vs. D.C. United (5th place in the Eastern Conference, 39 points, 10-9-9)
What: 2019 regular-season game
Where: Talen Energy Stadium
When: Saturday, August 24th, 7:30 p.m.
Watch: PHL 17, ESPN+
Whistle: Referee: Christopher Penso; Assistant Referees: Philippe Briere, Gianni Facchini; 4th Official: Elijio Arreguin; VAR: Jose Carlos Rivero

Philadelphia Union begin a vital three-match home stand on Saturday night against D.C. United. It’s been just three weeks since the Union triumphed in the nationally-televised statement game between the two sides, but Philly needs this one even more. Atlanta United, which travels to Talen Energy Stadium next week, has overtaken first place in the Eastern Conference and has a game in hand. New York City FC is just a point behind in third place and has two game in hand. It’s go time for Jim Curtin and company, who are craving a home playoff match for the first time since 2011.

Thankfully for them, former England star Wayne Rooney, D.C.’s best player, will miss the match via red-card suspension. It’s a huge break and with Atlanta and LAFC looming, Saturday is virtually a must win.

Scouting report: D.C. United

Rooney’s red card came at a very poor time for D.C. United, which has just one win in its last six Major League Soccer matches. With the exception of a nod over LA Galaxy two weeks ago, D.C. only has victories over FC Cincinnati (12th place) and Orlando City (8th place) over the past two months. There was also the very odd 8-1 bludgeoning by Marseille in a club friendly on July 24. The club is simply not in good form.

Still, they are not yet in danger of falling out of a playoff spot and are just two points behind New York Red Bulls in 4th place. Couple that with the guaranteed revenge factor after the last meeting and the Union better take them seriously.

Unfortunately for coach Ben Olsen, you can’t just up and replace 11 goals. Rooney was tied for 6th place with Kacper Przybylko and others in MLS scoring before he got sent off against the Red Bulls, but he also used to be one of the best players on the planet. He’s one of those guys that means way more than 11 goals and 7 assists — his playmaking and leadership presence is impossible to replicate. He’s played in all but three of D.C.’s matches this season.

With Rooney sidelined, look for recent acquisition Ola Kamara to take over up top. U.S. men’s national team forward Paul Arriola (five goals, two assists) may be next to him, or he may line up in the midfield with Luciano Acosta. Either way, those are the guys the Union defense will be targeting. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid is second in the league in saves with 107, but that didn’t much matter in the meeting a few weeks ago.

According to Rooney this week, D.C. United “needs to refocus” as it begins a three-match road spell. If Saturday’s crowd is anything like the one at the Houston match, that might be tough to do.

Injury report:

OUT: Russell Canouse (M), Oniel Fisher (D), Chris Durkin (M), Chris Odoi-Atsem (D).

Suspension report: Wayne Rooney (red card)

Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

Do we have to play on the road again?

The Union’s loss to Chicago Fire this past Saturday marked the third terrible road loss in four trips. The first two were 4-0 blowouts, but this one might have been this worst of all — up a man the entire second half and still getting shut out by the 10th-place team in the conference. It was an awful taste to put in your mouth before the most important home stand of the season. Now, it’s the response that matters.

The good news for Curtin is that the best result of the season just so happened to be on the road in D.C. earlier this month. The Union know how to dismantle this team. They did it before D.C.’s best player was out and before this bad form. Frankly, Rooney was almost invisible in that match, anyway. No one knows exactly what happened in Chicago, but it’s time to think back to how the 5-1 onslaught at Audi Field was possible.

A big part of it was rock solid defense, which Curtin will be thinking about as he chooses the lineup Saturday night. Aurelien Collin started in three straight matches and appeared to have taken the job from Auston Trusty (prompting thoughts on Trusty’s season), but after Collin’s Chicago performance and the general deflation of the match, we may very well see Trusty back in the XI for this one. Summer import Andrew Wooten has also appeared in three straight fixtures, but has yet to find the back of the net for his new club. Curtin is clearly trying to get him integrated and get the juices flowing, but he may be running out of time. The Union need goals from someone.

At the same time, this match will be less about the starting lineup and more about the will to win. With Rooney out, the Union undoubtedly have a better roster than their opponents — the question is simply how will they play under the circumstances.

Injury report: 

QUESTIONABLE: Olivier Mbaizo (D), Sergio Santos (F)

Suspension report: None

Key matchup: The Union mindset vs. Reality

Forget tactics. Forget Chicago. Forget Rooney. This match will all come down to just how fired up and ready Philly is to play.

On paper, at home, it’s a no-brainer. If the Union are mentally fit and prepared for this one, they should win, plain and simple. If the hangover hasn’t worn off or if they don’t take D.C. seriously enough, they’ll be punished.

It’s Curtin’s job to get everyone prepared for this home stretch. Time to bear down.

Player to watch: Ola Kamara

Kamara has been around MLS. He scored in bundles for Columbus a few years back and despite the loss, he scored a worldie against New York last week. He’s dangerous and without Rooney in the picture, he’s the guy to keep an eye on — especially if he’s running straight at Trusty, who hasn’t started in a while. D.C. is fully capable of scoring goals without their star man.

Prediction: Philadelphia 2-1 D.C. United

They need it and they’ll find a way to get it. Maybe it’ll be Przybylko or maybe Wooten breaks through. Maybe Fabian bags another or Monteiro shows his class. Curtin won’t care.

The Union are 8-2-3 at home this season and have made Talen Energy Stadium a difficult place to play. Combined, Philly and D.C. haven’t drawn in the last 10 matches played. Someone is going to win this one, and it should be the Union.

7 Comments

  1. I have to wonder if Acosta is going to see the starting lineup again this season for DC. He’s back where he started his MLS career – in Olsen’s dog-house.
    .
    DC might move Arriola over to their left side to go up against Ray – otherwise the Kai/Paul match-up is going to be interesting to watch. Which one makes the other run more…

  2. Jim will have a pretty full line-up to choose from for tomorrow.
    .
    I don’t want to see Crevalle in this game – not because of his form, but because there should be no reason to be defensive for this match.
    .
    I’m also done with the Collin era. He shored up the defense when we needed it, but it’s time to get back to Trusty for the push to the playoffs.

  3. GREAT – we have Penso as head ref. He’s as bad as Geiger!

    • In Tanner We Trust says:

      Whoa that’s blasphemy haha. Penso is really bad, but he did give Orlando 2 red cards last month. We don’t usually get those calls in our favor.

  4. In Tanner We Trust says:

    Whoa that’s blasphemy haha. Penso is really bad, but he did give Orlando 2 red cards last month. We don’t usually get those calls in our favor.

  5. Oh captain, my captain crunch is gone. says:

    All about the back 4. If we can’t defend we will not win. This one has me worried. DC will be looking for revenge and they just lost to NY. They’re a wounded animal right now and they’ll be looking to fight. I think it’s gonna be chippy/ rough today. We have to be smart. The cards will be out. We
    Can’t play scared. Season begins today! Not sure which union team is going to show up… I hope they’re ready. GO U!!!!

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