Three points on Saturday locks up the Eastern Conference for Philadelphia Union, but Charlotte FC needs every single point to claw their way into the postseason. With so much riding on this game, expect both teams to pour everything into an intense ninety minutes.
Charlotte has the second-most wins at home of any Eastern Conference team (behind Philly), but a recent win over NYCFC broke a three-match losing streak in front of the home fans that included defeats to Toronto and Chicago. With key man Karol Swiderski returning from an impressive international run, Charlotte will be full of confidence, and the Union will need to be compact defensively to keep the shutout they will covet.
Jim Curtin will lean heavily on the professionalism of his team to bring the organization and intensity that has taken them to the top of the east. With players dispersed on international duty and a midweek matchup against Pachuca bringing a unique set of challenges, putting the team in the right mindset must be done on a very tight timeline.
Ale Bedoya and Cory Burke were rested against Pachuca as they recover from minor knocks, and the rest of the squad emerged from that match unscathed. Richard Odada’s energetic display at the base of midfield also gives Curtin a late option if he needs to close out a tight match on Saturday; the Kenyan midfielder brings far more physicality than the Homegrown options or Jesus Bueno.
The big keys for the Union, though, will be at the point of the midfield diamond and in goal. If Daniel Gazdag and Andre Blake return from their international trips rested and in good form, the Union should be able to use their superior defensive organization to control the match in Charlotte. Then, it’s simply a question of finishing chances and finding the rhythm up front that has fed the team’s offensive explosion in the back half of the season.
Swiderski is the danger man for Charlotte with 10 goals and five assists this season. He can score from set plays, from distance, and with his head, and the Polish international is at the center of everything the expansion side does going forward. Winger Kamil Jozwiak is still trying to find his footing in MLS, but remains a dangerous player around the box.
Long-time Union fans will note that Derrick Jones has emerged in Charlotte’s midfield as a big part of their better defensive performances. Jones’ mobility and ability to cover multiple positions provides a bigger attacking platform for the rest of the men in the middle. If he plays, Jones will have eyes on Daniel Gazdag while aiming to cut off service to Julian Carranza when the creative attacker drops back to facilitate counterattacks.
Closing out the Eastern Conference will be a priority for Jim Curtin’s men since waiting until the final day leaves too much to chance as a mercurial but uber-talented Toronto FC side comes to Philadelphia. Look for a strong lineup against Charlotte and for the Union to do everything they can to keep their unbeaten run alive on the road.
Kickoff from Bank of America Stadium is set for 5:30 p.m. ET on PHL17 and PhiladelphiaUnion.com.