Match previews

Match preview: Club America v. Philadelphia Union

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Who: Philadelphia Union vs. Club America

What: 2021 Concacaf Champions League Semifinal, first leg

Where: Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, Mexico

When: Thursday, 10:00 p.m.

Watch: FS1, Univision, TUDN

Whistle: Walter Lopez Castellanos; AR: Caleb Wales & Henry Pupiro; 4O: Bryan Lopez; VAR: Drew Fischer

“I’ve asked them . . . to dream.”

That’s what manager Jim Curtin told his Philadelphia Union side in the leadup to tonight’s match, maybe the biggest in club history: a Concacaf Champions League semifinal against powerhouse Liga MX side Club America.

It will be an uphill climb for the Union, a club in wobbling form traveling to play in one of the most inhospitable environments that exists anywhere in the world.

But a result would give Philadelphia a reason to dream in advance of the second leg of the semifinal, scheduled for next month in Chester.

Scouting Report: Club America

They’re very good.

Okay, you probably want more analysis than that. Club America is one of the most successful sides in Mexican football, and holds the record for most continental titles in North America — although their last CCL triumph came in 2016.

Unlike the deep-into-MLS Union, Las Aguilas — not to be confused with a football side in Philadelphia — are just three games into their Liga MX season, with Santiago Solari’s men sitting undefeated with two wins and a draw.

A bit like the Union, Club America are a strong counterattacking side based off of a tight defense. Curtin specifically identified 21-year-old Uruguayan defender Sebastian Caceres as a player who could play in any league in the world. Up top, the hosts will look to score through striker Roger Martinez, among a bevy of attacking options.

Club America will be the best team the Union play this year.

(Unless they face Chelsea in the Club World Cup… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)

Scouting Report: Philadelphia Union

It’s tough to know what Union side we’ll get tonight.

On the one hand, Philadelphia has shown up — big-time — in their previous CCL matches, thrashing Deportivo Saprissa and toppling Atlanta United en route to this showdown.

On the other, the Union have just two wins in their last nine league matches, a desultory stretch that has left fans listless and the players searching for answers.

On the third hand, the last time the full-strength starting XI played, they walloped Toronto FC 3-0. Maybe that’s the only form worth discussing.

Where there is little doubt is in the starting lineup. After an experimental side took on New England over the weekend, expect a return to the familiar 4-4-2. The only real spot up for grabs is likely the second striker role next to Kacper Przybylko. Will Curtin opt to start with Cory Burke or Sergio Santos? The answer might depend on who he thinks is more likely to pressure Club America in the second half of the match.

As for who will make the gameday 18, Anthony Fontana is still absent from the club’s tournament roster.  So is Jamiro Monteiro, the star midfielder who is likely on his way out of Philadelphia. But we may see a Union debut for Matheus Davo, the young Brazilian striker the club just acquired on loan this week.

Key Matchup: Union vs. the environment

Any match is first-and-foremost about your eleven against their eleven.

But in a continental semifinal, every little thing matters. And the environment where this match will take place is no little thing. At full froth, the Azteca is one of the most intimidating places to play in the world.  That’s not just because of the fans, but because of the punishing altitude — 7,200 feet above sea level — and Mexico City’s poor air quality.

These will be mitigated somewhat tonight by capacity restrictions on the venue and relatively cool temperatures, expected to be in the 60s. The Union will need to shake off any jitters in the early moments of the match and settle in quickly — or they could get quickly overrun.

Player to Watch: Alejandro Bedoya

Bedoya is the club captain and the heart of the team, the kind of leader who could inspire the Union to an unlikely result far away from home. He’s also — unfortunately — begun to show signs of physical slippage this season, and there are questions about how stable a midfield partnership of Leon Flach and Bedoya can be. It will take a vintage outing from the captain if the Union are to outperform expectations tonight.

Prediction: Club America 3-1 Union

Maybe I’m not a dreamer, but it’s tough to see Philadelphia taking a result from this one given the club’s recent struggles. A late consolation goal by Kacper Przybylko will give the Boys in Blue some hope ahead of the second leg.

14 Comments

  1. is it truly a kickoff at 10 pm or is that just when the FOX bloviation begins?

  2. el Pachyderm says:

    I’m on the record through Twitter… I see 3-1 defeat …. as a marginal victory tonight.
    .
    I am unsure which version of The Azteca we will see… but it still remains 5,000 ft above sea level and is arguably one of the most difficult stadiums in the world to win in. Physical conditioning or not, the mitochondria function as they are conditioned to function… and that is at general sealevel—alongside the Delaware.
    .
    come home with a chance and that is a victory unto itself.

    • Isn’t Azteca 7,000 ft? Agree, just keep it close and it’s a win. They will be dragging ass thirty minutes into this one…

    • 7,200 feet but who’s counting? at least the team has been at altitude for a few days and that should be good for a couple points on the old pulse ox amirite?

      • No , your not Osager……Lolz. Sorry dude, three days at altitude really doesn’t do squat……you need a week or two to build up that endurance. And then you lose it after three weeks…….

    • With all acknowledgement that your scenario is more likely…They go down 1-0. Then come back to tie from a set piece. Jim goes all in and we see some combination of the kids in the second half. Magic happens.
      .
      At least that’s what I’m hoping happens.

  3. Is anyone else here a big ball of nerves right now too?

  4. I worry about this one because of our fixture list leading up to this match and no time to get any altitude training in for the Azteca……yikes! But go get em boys!

  5. carlos1009 says:

    We went to Azteca
    -Union

  6. In Tanner We Trust says:

    Aight I got 2 predictions, 1 from my head and 1 from my heart:
    1. 0-2. We show up, but we’re pretty overmatched. Subs make an impact but we lament missed chances, all while acknowledging that they did pretty well and gave themselves an outside chance to bring it back in leg 2.
    2. 1-1. We manage to spring a perfect counter attack and defend nearly perfect throughout the game, with some Blake heroics sprinkled in. We come back to Philly knowing that holding them scoreless in leg 2 is enough to seal the deal. Still a lot of work to do in this scenario, but I could see it happening. Realistically though, my prediction is 0-2.

  7. Just as a reminder, even if Monteiro wasn’t on the trade block, he wouldn’t be eligible tonight due to yellow card accumulation.

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