Commentary

A midsummer gauntlet: life on the road

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Life is about to get a lot more interesting for the Philadelphia Union.

Starting Saturday, the team plays five of its next six games on the road. From Chicago to Nashville, New York to Orlando and then Miami, the team will only play one home game in the month of July. It’s as crucial a stretch as any this season.

Game by game

The Union’s two losses this season both came at home, to Inter Miami and New York City FC, in the midst of the team’s first two rounds of the Concacaf Champion’s League. That means the Boys remain unbeaten on the road a year after going unbeaten at home.

In order to maintain that high bar, here’s who stands in the way.

Saturday, June 26, @ Chicago Fire – The Union took their BY/U kits to Solider Field earlier in the year and took all three points on their way out of town. Since that match, the recently re-rebranded Fire have scored a total of one goal and taken a total of three points from four matches.

Speaking of matches, one might use one to start a dumpster fire. The 2021 Chicago edition is still mostly that, new coach, new color scheme, new stadium, or not.

Saturday, July 3, @ Nashville FC – COVID adjusted the Eastern Conference schedule in such a way in 2020 that these teams have yet to meet. Such are the quirks of Major League Soccer (which, for Supporter’s Shield deniers, is substantially more balanced than say ACC football, where two teams in the same conference that are just 80 miles from one another haven’t played a conference game in seven years).

Two of last year’s surprise teams, the Union for their Shield-winning campaign and Nashville for their “We made the playoffs without scoring a single goal” strategy, will square off in the Music City with both teams on their way to close-to-repeat seasons thus far.

Wednesday, July 8, @ New York Red Bulls – Both teams employ a gegenpressing, chaotic style that prioritizes turnovers over possession, pressure over poise. Only the Red Bulls have forgotten that pragmatic points can be valuable in a long season, as their all or nothing approach has literally provided the team all (four wins) or nothing (four losses, and no draws).

The Union beat the Baby Bulls earlier in the season thanks to an opportunistic Cory Burke goal. The good guys haven’t been great in the swamp over the years, but this match could change that and put a bit of standing distance between the derby rivals.

Thursday, July 22, @ Orlando City – Daryl Dike is back from England, Nani hasn’t hit his typical late season slide yet, and so far Orlando look like real contenders. Earlier in the week they pummeled a declining San Jose team 5-0 and currently stand above the Union the conference standings.

The Lions have taken each of the past two matches between these sides, and it will be a sweaty, ugly, mess of a match in Orlando in late July.

Sunday, July 25, @ Inter Miami – Fresh off some of harshest sanctions in league history, Inter Miami have the league’s third-worst goal differential and only one win since nipping the Union in April (a 3-2 win at FC Cincinnati where the Ohioans decided not to play the ball out when their own Geoff Cameron was cramping, quickly turned the ball over, and gave up a game-winning transition goal while their center back hobbled in recovery and lost his man, the goal-scorer).

The Baby Beckhams will look to bounce back from their early season woes, MLS 1.0 roster, and recent revelations that their star player thought he could come to the league and play smoking a cigarette by beating the Boys (who will likely stay in South Florida between matches because they deserve a few nights on South Beach).

Summary

Nothing about this season has been normal for the Union, with COVID compressing the schedule and the CCL stretching the team’s focus, not to mention the cavernous international breaks along the way. If the team can capture eight or more points from fifteen, they’ll be in a great position to keep climbing the league standings ahead of their trip to The Azteca.

11 Comments

  1. Andy Muenz says:

    My biggest worry here is that they will likely be without Blake, Burke, and possibly Flach for several of these matches due to Gold Cup activity. I’m hoping that they won’t need to leave until after the Nashville game. Also, depending on what happens Sunday, Martinez (who will miss Chicago) could miss Nashville and possibly New Jersey if Venezuela advance to the knockout round in the Copa. So the Union’s depth will likely be tested during the month of July.

    • Venezuela’s match is Sunday at 5 PM on FS2, if you get it, in English. otherwise check the Spanish channels.
      .
      They play Peru, who currently lie third in the group with a win and draw. Venezuela lie fifth of five on goal difference below Ecuador. Both have two points on two draws and a loss, but Venezuela’s loss was to Brazil. Ecuador play Brazil at the same time Venezuela play Peru. on Sunday.
      .
      If Brazil win and score lots of goals, then Venezuela could advance if they keep the score down while losing to Peru. If Venezuela draw against Peru, they would advance unless Ecuador produces a serious miracle. If Venezuela win, the same applies, except the Ecuadorian miracle would have to be gargantuan.
      .
      I’m selfish. I hope EL Brujo plays very well, but Venezuela does not advance. We need him to return to our overstretched, injured midfield.
      .
      Watch for the announcements of the Gold Cup rosters for Jamaica (Burke and Blake) and the USA (Flach). Here is a Concacaf quote about when the 23-man rosters will be finalized. “The final 23-player rosters for all participating teams will be confirmed prior to the start of the Preliminary Round (Prelims).” The prelims start Saturday, July 2 at 4:30 pm.

  2. silverrey says:

    Matty Ice should fill in decently for Blake while he’s out.
    There will be some overlap between Copa America and Gold Cup, so we may see someone new at the 6 for a game or two. Hopefully Santos/Kacper can stay healthy long enough until we get Burke back.

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    I’m not too worried regarding the moving pieces of the roster and cavernous breaks. It will factor in… and potentially have this team finishing lower then their actual quality.
    .
    At this point, we won the Supporter’s Shield and that really did nothing for them (save the CL and a sense of belief) considering the bone-hollow loss as the number 1 seed.
    .
    .. I figure if they finish 3rd or 4th even… and have the pieces assembled and use the back half of season to get flowing with the new ACM particularly, maybe pressure will be off a bit —-and they can make an appropriate run towards MLS Cup.
    .
    From my perspective, mid table is no longer the Business Plan as has been the case over the years—for this organization. They have the chops to win the whole thing and this is the first time I have actually felt this as a genuine possibility.
    .
    Let’s do that then.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      That’s a good point, especially how the Union have done so far on the road. Even if they lose some of the 5 upcoming road games when they are short on manpower, they seem to have the confidence that they can win a playoff game or two on the road (and that will help save some money to try to make the trip to Seattle for MLS Cup).

  4. SoccerDad says:

    Do we see another center back playing, with Jack pushed up to the 6 ? (should Brujo and and Leon be missing).

    • I honestly am not a fan of Elliot at the 6. I think his speed gets exposed there too easily.

      But of course that will probably happen because no one seems to trust Turner or Oravec at the 6 at all.

      The only other option would be a double pivot of Montiero and Beodya

      • The upside is that the center backs understand how to cover for each other better than other players, so I think that they’d probably cover his speed better than expected.

        More than anything else I find it amusing that we have such depth at center back that we can shift them into the midfield without substantially losing defensive quality on the back line.

    • Might be fun to see Montiero as #6 in a Kante roll with Gazdag, Bedoya and McGlynn above.

    • Tim Jones says:

      An alternative to these ideas would be Kacper Przybylko at the 10.
      .
      I doubt any of these emergency plans will be deployed at the start. Bedoya is listed as questionable, not out. Curtin said Gazdag trained fully on Thursday, so it will be a matter of how his knee reacts to that effort. But Curtin expects him to contribute Saturday. He is not even listed as questionable. I doubt he has 90 minutes in the tank. But he might have 30 as an attacking spark off the bench.
      .
      Oravec is not available to play, as far as I have understood their roster maneuverings.
      .
      When Turner has played for Union 2 he has usually begun in a 4-2-2-2, not a 4-1-2-1-2. He was on the bench for Columbus. He won’t start as a single defensive center midfielder for the first team, yet. Who’s to say in a year or two?
      .
      My guess is that Bedoya starts with Monteiro, McGlynn and Flach. That TReal and Sullivan are the first two subs, and Turner comes on as the emergency third one. Gazdag will come on late and positions will shift. All this is barring further injury.

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