The Union sport a 4-1 record at home but are going to be without legendary UConn Husky alum and noted Revs killer Andre Blake as well as a host of other injuries and absences. How big of a deal is the Andre Blake injury?
Yeah, Andre Blake is good at soccer and as always, this is what happens when the rest of New England dumps on my state. You all deserve another Blake shutout today, but alas.
Anyway, we check in with our good friend Matt Ralph of Brotherly Game on the current state of the Union roster, how Philly got to the top of the East, and what they need to do to stay there. As always, head on over to Matt’s site for my answers to his questions.
TBM: Who hurt favorite son of (The University of) Connecticut, Andre Blake? I want names...also, there’s a few other Union injuries and now the strange tale of Cory Burke - sum up the current state of the Philly roster.
MR: The crummy field at Talen Energy Stadium may have played a role in hurting the former UConn man because he appeared to injure himself when taking a goal kick on the shoddy surface. Andre Blake, Matt Freese and Mark McKenzie are out for the game. Sergio Santos should be good to go and could possibly start, Marco Fabian is back training fully but still a question mark and Cory Burke is as you alluded to going to be unavailable for three months maybe longer because of work-visa issues. The absences from injuries, red card suspensions and work-visa issues (first for Jamiro Monteiro becoming eligible after arriving on loan from FC Metz and now for Burke) have not stopped the Union from putting together a string of positive results. Credit for that goes to the coaching job Jim Curtin is doing and the depth of the squad. To give you an idea of the depth, Curtin was able to bring Ilsinho and David Accam off the bench on Wednesday to kill off the FC Cincinnati game (Ilsinho had an assist on the all-important second goal) even while missing Santos, Burke and Fabian from the attack.
TBM: Despite all of those issues, you’re at the top of the standings thanks to a 4-1 home record, what has been the difference for the Union in 2019, particularly at home.
MR: I’m not the top of anything (lol) but I think the defense, the depth and the second half performances in the Union attack have all been keys. After a rocky start losing their first two games by a combined score of 5-2, it’s been mostly all uphill for the Union since with a small blip losing 2-0 to LA Galaxy away. They’ve conceded only three goals to players not named Zlatan in the eight games since and pitched four shutouts (it is worth noting two were against goal-challenged FC Cincinnati). The defense to me has been so key because teams have tried to break the Union press by sitting back and waiting for counter attacking chances that Jack Elliott and Auston Trusty have done well on a number of occasions to cut down. The offense meanwhile has been afforded the opportunity to wear teams down and force them to into mistakes on the other end before calling on reinforcements off the bench to put the fist down late. Of their 15 goals scored this season, 11 have come in the second half and six have come after the hour mark. I would also say that the Union have been the benefactor in some pretty poor play by their opponents, but that’s really by design. Ernst Tanner wants the team to be uncomfortable and unpredictable to play against and so far that has been the case for the most part.
TBM: Philly has scored 15 goals this year, including 5 players with two or more goals. David Accam leads the team with three goals, but is this kind of balance sustainable or will the Union need one of their big scorers to go off to stay at the top?
MR: I think in order to get over the hump and finally win a playoff game, the Union is going to need a clinical finisher in front of goal. Sergio Santos may be that guy, but we don’t know yet because he’s been limited to two sub appearances and a rehab stint at Bethlehem Steel FC. Cory Burke and Fafa Picault combined for 20 goals last season but Burke is now out for several months and Fafa only got his first goal of the season on Wednesday. Accam has shown improvement over last season but there are still questions about how he best fits into the formation. Generally speaking, there’s nothing wrong with spreading the goals around, particularly when you’ve had to shuffle the deck as much as Curtin this season, but when the goals dry up as they tend to do in stretches even for top teams, they’ll need someone to emerge as the player they can count on to get goals.
Out: Andre Blake
Out: Matthew Freese
Out: Mark McKenzie
Questionable: Marco Fabian
Questionable: Anthony Fontana
Carlos Miguel Coronel, Kai Wagner, Auston Trusty, Jack Elliott, Ray Gaddis, Haris Medunjanin, Brenden Aaronson, Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro, Fafa Picault, Kacper Przbylko
The Union formation is (usually) a 4-4-2 diamond midfield but they have also switched back into the 4-2-3-1 at times this season putting Alejandro Bedoya at right back late, which is one of the weird quirks of Curtin’s new found tinkering with the lineup and the formation.
Score prediction: Just like 2018, I’m going to predict a 2-0 win for the Union but maybe no red cards this time around.