Saturday night marks the New England Revolution's return to MLS action as they welcome the Philadelphia Union to Gillette Stadium for their third and final regular-season meeting with the I-95 rivals. Both teams are coming off of successful U.S. Open Cup matches over the World Cup break, and will actually face each other again in the quarter-finals of that competition on July 8th.
We caught up with Eugene Rupinski of Brotherly Game, SB Nation's Philadelphia Union Blog, to learn what we could about the opponents. Check it here for our last Q&A with the BG guys, and see the reverse feature on their website.
TBM: Losing to the Revs at home looked like it as going to start a bit of a slide for the Union, but they seem to have turned it around recently. 1-1-1 in the league since then, plus two Open Cup victories. Although the Union are still mired below the playoff spots, do you see Philadelphia making a push above the thin red line in the next month, especially with several clubs facing exceedingly busy July schedules?
ER: If there was ever a club that needed the World Cup break to happen when it did, it was the Union. The first half of the season was rather disastrous and in my opinion it could have kept going into a downward spiral if there had been matches still wing played. But during the break, the club was allowed to rest and hopefully regain their focus. John Hackworth was fired and Jim Curtin was named interim manager, which is hopefully the first step in the process of turning things around here in Philadelphia. The club had two US Open Cup matches against increasingly more difficult opponents (USL PRO affiliate Harrisburg City Islanders and NASL Champions New York Cosmos) as well as against USL PDL affiliate Reading United to get their legs back under them. That being said, it will be a hard fight to get back into the playoff mix and the Union will need to fight for every point available. The club isn't too far below the red line, however they have played the second-most amount of matches of any club in MLS so there won't be as many opportunities for the Union to make up points on clubs with games in hand. Impossible? No. Improbable? Unfortunately for Union fans, yes.
TBM: I'll go there: do you think the Union will be looking for serious revenge against the Revs after that 5-3 beatdown? And do you think that, because it was so comprehensive and it happened at PPL, the "rivalry" that sort of started between the fans is going to start to spill onto the pitch?
ER: I think revenge will be used for motivation, but I think the primary motivation will be for the club to get points and make up ground on other clubs. I do think that as the Union grow and mature as a franchise you will see that rivalry between them and the Revolution grow and mature as well. There have been some slugfests on the pitch - the 5-3 beat down earlier this year, the 4-4 draw in 2012 when the Union came from down 4-1 at the half - so the history is starting to accumulate. At some point, because the clubs are close in proximity and play each other often, it will reach a critical mass and become a truly intense rivalry, and that's when the real fun begins.
TBM: Austin Berry is questionable according to the most recent injury report. He was so good for Chicago, has he been having the same success for Philly, and how will the Union handle his absence if he can't go?
ER: Austin hasn't been as good this season as he was in Chicago. I think a good part of that has to do with him being injured on and off this season, as well as not having a veteran center back to pair with like he did in Chicago. The Union's defense has been a merry-go-round of strange pairings of players, most of whom have been converted from other positions, and nothing cohesive has come of it. I think if Austin gets healthy and the back line is stabilized, he'll return to the form he showed in 2012 and 2013.
TBM: Free-form here: tell us anything else you think Revs fans should know going into this match.
ER: The most dangerous opponent a team can face is an unknown, and I think that there are a lot of unknowns about the Philadelphia Union right now. Is Jim Curtin managing for a job or is he just a caretaker until a more suitable person is found? How will the players react to the new boss - especially one who may not be their boss in a couple of weeks or months? What will Curtin bring tactically that Hackworth didn't? There are so many unknown quantities here that I think Jay Heaps will have a very difficult time planning for the Union, and I think that makes them a very dangerous club.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
ER: Starting XI: MacMath; Fabinho, Okugo, Williams, Gaddis; Edu, Maidana, Nogueira, Cruz; Le Toux, Casey
Prediction: I think the Union will look much more dangerous against New England than they have looked all season. I think New England will be up to the challenge, and that this will be one of those games that helps define a rivalry. 2-2 draw with at least one red card shown.