Tonight the New England Revolution will get set to take on the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania. The Revs are coming off a 17-day break following the postponement of this fixture due to Hurricane Irene two weekends past, while the Union are coming off back-to-back league losses to Salt Lake and Columbus. The last time these two teams met, Philadelphia manhandled New England to the tune of 3-0. Since then, both sides have changed up the rosters a bit, with the addition of Milton Caraglio and Monsef Zerka to the Revs and the loss of Jordan Harvey and Carlos Ruiz for Philly.
New England needs to get after it if they're going to win this one. Philadelphia isn't a renowned offensive team, so there's a chance of victory if the Revs grab a lead. Of course, getting the lead hasn't been New England's problem lately, so if they do end up ahead, the Revs need to do a far better job of holding the advantage. The spotlight will be on Caraglio and Rajko Lekic to produce quickly. Newcomer Zerka is expected to lock down a spot on the right wing, becoming perhaps the wing catalyst the Revs have been looking for all season.
Today's Q&A is with Scott Kessler of The Brotherly Game, SB Nation's Philadelphia Union blog. You can find my own answers in a preview of tonight's game over there.
TBM: Last time Philly met the Revs, they annihilated them at Gillette Stadium in what has gone down as one of the more embarrassing defeats in Revolution history. What do you think the secret was to that dismantling, and do you believe the Union have the ability to enact such carnage again? For that matter, do you believe New England to be susceptible to such a shellacking again?
SK: Unfortunately I do believe it's going to happen again. The Union are just that hurting for a win at this point, having gone six straight games without one. This game could be a trap to some people, but in reality the Union locker room has to be filled with pressure, or thoughts about it, because of the team's current playoff predicament. If the Union don't win at home against the worst team in the Eastern Conference, then count them out of the playoffs. As for the secret, it really was New England catching the Union at the wrong time. Carlos Ruiz was in pretty good form, Sheanon Williams had found a nice rhythm offensively and the team overall was jelling throughout the match. Not much more to be said there. Benny Feilhaber's lackluster performance didn't help the Revolution, as well.
TBM: Philadelphia topped the Eastern Conference for a significant chunk of time earlier this season. Now they find themselves in fourth place, six points back of Columbus with a game in hand, and the team's recent form hasn't been encouraging at all. What's changed? Do you think Carlos Ruiz's acrimonious departure has a lot to do with it, especially with only 30 goals scored in 24 matches?
SK: Statistically, no it's not just Ruiz's departure. The team scored 1.14 goals per game while he was in the line up, and through 22 games they had scored 1.11 goals in games played without the Guatemalan striker. It can be said that trading veteran left back Jordan Harvey caused problems as well, but statistically his loss is no greater than Ruiz's loss. Overall it can be chalked up to two things: scheduling and actual quality. The teams the Union have played against of late have been high in quality and in the table. That, plus the fact that the team may only be as good as its record indicates, leads me to believe that maybe people had their expectations falsely increased because of the Union's early season form. The fact is that the Union's current day form may be their true form.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revolution fans should watch out for in this match. (Your last answer was Keon Daniel).
SK: I wish I could say Keon Daniel again, but he's set to miss the game because he played 90 minutes yesterday against Barbados with the Trinidad and Tobago national team (he scored the country's first goal of the match). Instead I'll go with Amobi Okugo. After missing much of the season with an injury, and failing to break back into the line up, Okugo started last week's game against Real Salt Lake and created many problems for the Salt Lake attack in the second half. Rookie goalkeeper Zac MacMath's first 45 minutes in MLS were made easier because of Okugo's great second half. His athleticism and attacking ability are something not seen much around MLS.
TBM: Who do you think the Union fear most on the pitch for New England? (Your last answer was Rajko Lekic, considering Shalrie Joseph was out for suspension).
SK: Guess what? This time it's Sharlie Joseph! Without a doubt Joseph is one of the most respected and feared players in MLS by opposing teams and fans. The Grenadian's technical skill and ability is of high enough quality to have questioned for years why he was stuck in MLS, prior to the league drastically improving over the past few seasons. Nowadays Joseph only leads his team in goals (seven) and is quietly having an MVP year. Only.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
GK: Zac MacMath (first career start)
LB: Gabriel Farfan; CB: Carlos Valdes (returns from yellow card accumulation suspension), Danny Califf, RB: Sheanon Williams
LCAM: Justin Mapp, CAM: Freddy Adu, RCAM: Veljko Paunovic
ST: Danny Mwanga, Sebastien Le Toux.