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Revolution vs. Union: Five questions to consider in week 18

Which backup will break out? That, and all the other talking points you need to know.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at New England Revolution Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The Revolution and Union have their sights set on a run up the Eastern Conference table. But only one of the two teams can start that run tonight, when they meet for the first time this season in Chester, Pa.

Here are five questions to consider ahead of the match:

1. How will a thin Revs lineup fare against a rested Union side?

After the Revolution dressed just 14 field players for Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup match (and won), much of the conversation has focused on the team’s depth. No Xaiver Kouassi. No Juan Agudelo, Kelyn Rowe or Diego Fagundez. Likely no Gershon Koffie. In total, the Revs may miss six starters. That’s a huge hurdle to jump.

Now, the Union did go 120 minutes in its own Open Cup match this week, though the team rotated several of its starters. As a result, Philly will head into tonight’s match on decent rest, especially for having played a midweek match. Can a second-choice Revolution squad keep pace?

2. Can the Revs slow down Fafa Picault?

Picault has leaped onto the MLS scene this year after making pit stops in Germany and the Czech Republic, all after his career began with the Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL). Originally viewed as a depth piece, the outside midfielder has made the most of the minutes given to him. In his past seven matches, Picault has found the net four times, using his pace to continually disrupt opposing back lines.

Tonight, Picault will likely start on the left side of Jim Curtain’s 4-2-3-1. Can Andrew Farrell—who got a rest from the Starting XI on Wednesday—stick with the speedy winger?

3. Which backup will make a name for himself?

Though many of Curtin’s starters received a rest on Wednesday, his team won’t play at full strength tonight. That’s because the Union will miss several key players due to injury. Defender Richie Marquez and midfielder Maurice Edu will not play; the Union will make game-time decisions on goalkeeper Andre Blake and midfielders Ilsinho, Warren Creavalle and Fabian Herbers. To compound the issue, Alejandro Bedoya recently joined the U.S. National Team ahead of the Gold Cup.

With the Revolution piecing its own lineup together, several bench players will have a chance to impress for both sides. Twenty-year-old midfielder Derrick Jones serves as a strong breakout candidate for the Union as he anticipates his seventh start of the season. For the Revolution, that player could be Zachary Herivaux. The homegrown midfielder has never started an MLS match, though that may change tonight with Koffie returning from international play and Daigo Kobayashi still recovering from a hamstring injury.

4. How will each team respond to Wednesday’s Open Cup result?

The Revolution grinded out a 2-1 win over D.C. United with a lineup that had never played together before. Fagundez and rookie forward Brian Wright led the way for the Revs, who looked surprisingly in-sync for the final 70 minutes of action. That cohesive play should give life to a side that has not won a league match since before the international break.

The Union, meanwhile, got a late equalizer from Roland Alberg against the New York Red Bulls, but ultimately lost in penalty kicks, 5-3. In addition to draining the Union physically, the match almost certainly drained the club emotionally. Can Curtin’s team recover without experiencing a lull in league play?

5. Can the Revs stay on track in Chester?

It’s no surprise that Jay Heaps’ side has historically struggled on the road. In both 2015 and 2016, the Revolution lost 10 road matches; this season, the club has yet to record a road win. But if there was ever a time to break free from the rut, tonight is that time.

Dating back to 2014, the Revs have dominated the Union in Chester, winning three of four matches. The lone loss occurred in March 2016, when a Je-Vaughn Watson red card set the tone for a 3-0 drubbing.

Can the Revs return to its winning ways at Talen Energy Stadium, and take home its first road win of 2017?