2019 Schedule Analysis: May


Welcome to May, Union fans. This will be a huge month for Philadelphia's 2019 season. Five home matches -- and six matches total -- mean the Union can start in one place and end up in quite another by the time June arrives. This is also the second straight month that Philly will face off with three Western Conference opponents, meaning they can pick up some critical points before the big rivalry games start hitting in summer. 

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vs FC Cincinnati - May 1

Who Were They Last Year?

  • Champs of the USL Eastern Conference (lost in first round to Nashville SC)
  • Expected to be the only Ohio team in MLS in 2019
  • 23-3-8 overall (73 GF, 36 GA)

What Has Changed This Offseason?
The league they're in, for starters. Also, they have acquired players in a sort of weird and wild fashion that could make cohesion difficult early. The Union should look to exploit a club that currently features a frankly odd collection of young, old, and unproven central defenders behind a midfield that only looks complete if you squint at it from the right angle. 
What Cincy does have is a proven MLS goalscorer up front, and that's a good place to start. The only problem? That guy is Fanendo Adi, and keeping him happy has proven a notoriously difficult proposition. It's also not clear where the playmaking comes from on this team. Alvas Powell and Greg Garza can fly up the wings, but can they be the primary playmakers on a team that looks more like it wants to defend the middle than attack through it? 

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vs New England Revolution - May 4

Who Were They Last Year?

  • 8th in the Eastern Conference after looking strong early; mystique fully broken by the Union in two August showdowns
  • The answer to the question, "Who did Jack Elliott drop a brace on?"
  • 10-11-13 overall (49 GF, 55 GA), 2-6-9 on road (21 GF, 35 GA)

What Has Changed This Offseason?
Not a ton, at least not yet. Kelyn Rowe was underutilized in 2018 and shipped out, with 32-year old left back Edgar Castillo coming the other way. After two years at Syracuse, Tajon Buchanon arrives as another potential option up front on a team that never quite decided what they wanted to do there last year. Juan Agudelo? Teal Bunbury? Diego Fagundez? Brad Friedel tried it all. Cristian Penilla, a direct left winger was the club's most potent threat going forward but Fagundez was asked to carry a heavy creative burden. 
Creating synergy amongst teammates when high pressing can take a while -- there's a lot of space to cover and movements need to be coordinated -- so New England could take a step forward in 2019 without changing much in terms of personnel. 
The biggest question mark for the Revs is the back line. High-priced defender Michael Mancienne was... unconvincing last year, but he should find his feet and grow into an improvement over the Claude Dielna/Antonio Delamea/Jalil Anibaba crew that manned the center of defense much of last season. Another potential issue: After garnering a lot of early season acclaim (particularly from his coach), Matt Turner was largely mediocre the rest of the year. So do the Revs have a world beater in net or not? 
A lot of answers still to come for New England before anyone can get a bead on them. 

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@ Toronto FC - May 11

Who Were They Last Year?

  • 9th in the Eastern Conference with their focus firmly on the Concacaf Champions League for the early portion of the season. Still waiting for a good explanation of their full season collapse.
  • Still managed to win Canadian Championship
  • 10-6-18 overall (59 GF, 64 GA), 8-2-7 at home (39 GF, 29 GA)

What Has Changed This Offseason?
Up front? Just one big move. Giovinco, Altidore, Vazquez are no more, with the latter
departing for Qatar
early this week. Now Toronto will have to search the transfer market for another creator or find out if an older Gio+Jozy can still provide the attacking impetus. The good thing is that they'll have support from a solid, intelligent, and workmanlike midfield of Jonathan Osorio, Marky Delgado, and Michael Bradley. The big changes are in back where Laurent Ciman and Nick DeLeon were brought in to provide more competition (and depth to guard against injuries) for a team that will look to once again make a run in the Concacaf Champions League. 
Toronto FC had a stunningly poor season in 2018, but the talent remains to make a run up the Eastern Conference. On paper, the ages of their superstars could make it difficult to compete for the Supporters' Shield against Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls, but Greg Vanney is a good coach and if he can press the right buttons this could be a very dangerous team. 

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vs Seattle Sounders - May 18

Who Were They Last Year?

  • 2nd in the Western Conference
  • 18-5-11 overall (52 GF, 37 GA), 8-3-6 on road (9 GF, 22 GA)
  • Text

What Has Changed This Offseason?
Hopefully the status of Jordan Morris' ankle. The Sounders lost Clint Dempsey midseason but acquired uber-poacher Raul Ruidiaz to lead the line. Figuring out the relationship between Morris and Ruidiaz will be one of the more difficult puzzles for Brian Schmetzer to solve in the early stages of the season, but there should be a clear division of responsibilities up top by the time Seattle makes the trip to Talen Energy Stadium. 
In midfield, the Sounders let Ozzie Alonso walk to Minnesota and that could lead to a less table center. The Roldan brothers will be asked to continue their growth to help provide protection for a back line that could become a strength if it can stay healthy in the middle and develop on the outside. 
Chad Marshall, of course, is the heartbeat of the defense in front of Stefan Frei. With another year on his tires, though, Seattle will need help from Kim Kee-Hee and Roman Torres to support their young (but high upside!) fullbacks. If this back line stays healthy, it will provide a huge home test for the Union as they roll toward the summer months.  

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vs Portland Timbers - May 25

Who Were They Last Year?

  • Bad then good, but always, always a scary opponent. 
  • Sebastian Blanco turned a corner, the two Diegos remained weirdly imperious for old guys
  • 15-9-10 overall (54 GF, 48 GA), 4-5-8 on road (24 GF, 35 GA)

What Has Changed This Offseason?
Why would you change when you made it to the MLS Cup final? In Portland's first year under Gio Savarese, they acquired then replaced Samuel Armenteros up top and hardly missed a beat. A team that came out looking to play expansive soccer finished the year as Western Conference champs after adopting a disciplined, impressive, and deep shape that sprung traps in the middle and countered through its studs. You could beat them, but you had to open up to do it, and that meant Blanco and Valeri always had a few chances to knock you back. Those guys didn't need a second invitation in 2018. 
Now the question is whether Portland will continue to ride this magic carpet of a system or try once again to open things up. With Jeremy Ebobisse looking like he will get first stab at the starting striker role, expect more of the deep shape. Ebobisse isn't particularly fast or strong, but he can hold play up and works his tail off in the final third. The Timbers won't be the prettiest team to watch... most of the time. But when those breakout moments come, they'll likely be fabulous once again. Valeri has a way of doing that. 
The fun part of this matchup should be the transition-focused Union defense, which will look to attack the Timbers before they can set up that low block that's so difficult to break down. 

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vs Colorado Rapids - May 29

Who Were They Last Year?

  • 2018 was bad. Like, one-too-many-slices-of-pizza-but-every-night bad.
  • A brief renaissance when Kellyn Acosta arrived was a bit of a false dawn, and Colorado has been active remaking its roster this offseason
  • 8-19-7 overall (36 GF, 63 GA), 2-11-4 on road (12 GF, 31 GA)

What Has Changed This Offseason?
Here come Benny Feilhaber and Kei Kamara, and Colorado is hoping they brought a time machine with them. The Rapids also acquired Diego Rubio from Sporting KC and Keegan Rosenberry from Philadelphia Union. The idea is to be able to possess the ball just a bit more than in the past, but explode forward when the opportunity arises. Rosenberry gives Colorado a strong passer in back to help break lines, and Rubio will provide the energetic movement around Kei Kamara's box presence. Feilhaber played deep in midfield for LAFC last year but he's likely to move back into an attacking role in 2019. Colorado has a strength in central midfield, where Jack Price and Acosta are mobile and strong enough on the ball to get it up to the playmakers. 
Big questions remain in back, where only Rosenberry is an above-average passer, and in the creativity department, with Feilhaber carrying that burden alone. On the surface, this is a better squad than a year ago, but it still looks like one that will need to really master a system to become more than the sum of its parts and compete.