Tonight at PPL Park, the New England Revolution will play the Philadelphia Union in their first of three October matches. The Revs have never beaten the Union in the club's entire existence; that kind of pride will be all there is left to play for as both teams are out of the playoff picture.
To get a little better acquainted with the Union ahead of tonight's match, we spoke with Scott Kessler of The Brotherly Game, SB Nation's Philadelphia Union blog. To get an idea of where these two teams were the last time they met, check out our last Q&A with Earl Reed.
TBM: Obviously this season has been full of negatives, but I don't want to make you dwell on that. Let's talk positives. What are some of the things that excite you most about what you've seen in this team this year, and how will that benefit the Union going forward?
SK: The emergence of Michael Farfan as an all-around talent has been extremely exciting, to me. He's been forced around in the lineup tactically and, after Peter Nowak was fired from his head coaching role, managed to roll with it all. His rookie season had plenty of ups in it as he tore up the right side of the midfield, and it earned Farfan with a nomination for Rookie of the Year. Farfan ended up as a finalist and looked ahead to this season to continue on his progression in game. Though the Nowak era of 2012 was a rough patch for him, Farfan broke through a bit under Hackworth. I'm hoping to see more of him next year, perhaps because he'll be more comfortable playing away from the wing starting in 2013.
Amobi Okugo is the other name I'll mention. I'm still waiting for him to get a real chance in the midfield as a box-to-box midfielder or something tactically like Yaya Toure with Manchester City in the English Premier League. Okugo has immense potential in the midfield and seems to be able to find some room to grow as well at center back. However, it's obvious that Okugo's future lies forward of the back four. Not only do the Union currently have an expensive center back (Bakary Soumare) other than captain Carlos Valdes, but Okugo's best attributes translate to the midfield. He loves to roam forward, dribbling against opposing players. Okugo uses his athleticism to not only cover a ton of space, but also to provide himself with room to find passing lanes. In addition to that, Okugo has shown off some spot on passing ability, which is sorely needed in a central midfield mostly devoid of creativity. Next year will be the make or break season for the soon-to-be fourth year player.
TBM: Do you think John Hackworth is going to be the head coach next year? Do you think he deserves it?
SK: He has the interim tag no longer and the promise of CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz to retain him for a while, so I figure he'll at least start the season as head coach. It's apparent that neither Sakiewicz nor the Union can afford another major failure at head coach after the debacle that was the end of Nowak's time with the team. I don't think he deserves anything at the moment. While Hackworth has been a godsend for a media group that was almost imprisoned under the somewhat bipolar - in press conferences and otherwise - Nowak, he hasn't produced on the field since the Union got off to a fast start when he was named interim head coach. Tactically, he's just not there. It's almost like Nowak all over again when it comes to substitutions, which is to say that he's got a specific system he employs and it's predictable, starting with the almost automatic addition of Antoine Hoppenot every game. I think we might see something different next season, but I'd personally have a short leash on him.
TBM: Freddy Adu's been an unused sub in the Union's last two matches. Is Freddy essential to Philly's future success, or has he shown himself to be more of a luxury item? Do you think he'll still be playing at PPL next year?
SK: He is both essential and a luxury item. Since he's yet to establish whether or not he can consistently perform as the most active, creative and threatening offensive player on the Union, Adu will probably remain in Philadelphia. I don't think there are many teams looking to acquire him at the moment. I've been one of his most vocal critics, but I'm willing to give him the chance to transition back to the midfield (central attacking midfield positioning, hopefully) next year. I never thought he'd succeed on the wing. As for the unused sub comment, he's been hurt with a quadricep strain.
TBM: Which New England player do you think the Union fear most on the pitch?
SK: After what he did earlier this season, I really want to say Saer Sene. The problem is that he's gone for the season with the ACL tear he suffered in late August. I honestly don't have answer without Sene on the field. I don't think the Revolution have someone else who can so easily spread the field and threaten the backline as easily.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
(r-l) Raymon Gaddis - Okugo - Valdes - Gabriel Farfan
Brian Carroll, Michael Lahoud
M. Farfan - Freddy Adu - Jimmy McLaughlin (wildcard!)
Scoreline: 2-1 Union. Philadelphia keeps its undefeated streak alive versus New England.