Ilsinho vs. NYCFC goal celebration

Why the next four games will be exciting for the Union and their fans

Going into this weekend, FiveThirtyEight estimates the Union’s chances of making the playoffs at 74%, the highest that number has been all season.

What might be more surprising to the fan taking a casual look at the current MLS standings: DC United is estimated to have a 55% chance of making the playoffs, the only team currently below the Union in the table with a greater than 50% chance of getting into the postseason.

DC, of course, is riding high after signing Wayne Rooney and moving into a brand new, mostly unflooded stadium. Major League Soccer did the club a solid by backloading their schedule with home games so now United can ride out the year with eight of ten matches at Audi Field.

Along with DC United — who the Union face Wednesday, August 29 — Philly will face three more Eastern Conference teams clustered around them in the standings.

That makes this run of games extremely important, and potentially very exciting.

Let’s take a quick glance into the future and see what’s coming down the pipeline for the Union.

New England Revolution: Match at Talen Energy Stadium, August 25

Have the Union played them before?

Yes.

Who won?

The Union. Twice.

What were the games like?

Both matches have been tense, back-and-forth affairs early on, but the Union have secured the opening goal both times and gone on to win. Back in March, Anthony Fontana opened the scoring for the U after CJ Sapong got Antonio Delamea sent off.

You may remember Delamea as the man that threw his arm in front of a cross two weeks ago, resulting in the penalty kick that ended up being the winner for the Union.

In short, both of these games have been tight contests when the teams have had equal numbers.

What’s big about this meeting?

The Union passed the Revs in the standings on August 11, so revenge is on New England’s mind. Furthermore, Brad Friedel’s men can feel they were the better team for portions of the match and nearly clawed their way back before Delamea raised his hand to answer the question, “What’s the worst thing you can do in the box?”

New England will absolutely come out and try to land an early blow, and it will be a huge test of the Union’s maturity to both handle that pressure while still playing their game and moving the ball out of the back or carefully playing long to Sapong and Burke.

Who is favored?

The Union are the better team and in better form, but desperation is a heckuva drug and New England will have plenty of it. The Revs committed nine fouls in each half at DC last weekend, so expect a breathless, physical contest.

DC United: Match at Audi Field, August 29

Have the Union played them before?

Yes.

Who won?

The Union. Once.

What was the game like?

Ugly is probably the appropriate term for this one. DC was on the board in under 10 minutes but the Union responded with a pair of goals from Ilsinho and CJ Sapong. Darren Mattocks knocked in a brilliant one in the 70th, but two minutes later Borek Dockal put Philly in front for good.

It’s worth nothing that Zoltan Stieber, who scored DC’s first, was the team’s primary playmaker back when this match took place and now he can’t even get in the first eleven. With Lucho Acosta in top form, United has an intensely creative player connecting with Rooney now, and it’s lighting a fire under wingers Yamil Asad and Paul Arriola.

What’s big about this game?

DC United has a difficult match this weekend against New York Red Bull on the road. If they don’t pick up points there, they will know that they cannot drop points at home the rest of the way if they want to make up the gap that separates them from the playoffs. A midweek match against the Union followed by a showdown with Eastern Conference leaders Atlanta will make for some tough decisions for Ben Olsen. Do you throw all your firepower against Philly and hope for the best on short rest when facing Atlanta, or do you rest Rooney when the Union come to town? For Philly, this game is about getting points on the road and making a statement at the same time. If they can hold off the Revs, both the Union and DC will have a lot of momentum coming down the home stretch, and they’ll see this matchup as a measuring stick for their postseason bona fides.

Who is favored?

DC has been excellent at home since Rooney arrived. If the English striker plays, DC has the advantage, but if he sits the Union could steal points. It shouldn’t matter either way to the Union. They are on a quest to prove that they can exchange blows with anybody in the east after knocking off NYCFC.

Orlando City SC, Match at Orlando City Stadium on September 1

Have the Union played them before?

Yes.

Who won?

Back at the start of the season, Orlando City walked out 2-0 winners, but that was in the midst of a six match winning streak. Since the streak ended… the Purple Lions have all of one win in the league.

The Union avenged that early loss with a 1-0 win in the US Open Cup, with Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie turning Dom Dwyer into a spectator.

What were the games like?

Orlando had a different head coach in each match, but the big difference in the games was how well the Union executed their game plan. In the US Open Cup match, Philly’s midfield spacing was excellent, and visitors had absolutely no answers. The Union ran the show and if things play out in a similar manner they will certainly have more than one goal in September.

What’s big about this game?

As poor as the Purple Lions have been this season, they still have elite firepower up front. Dom Dwyer is always a moment away from scoring, and Sacha Kljestan’s service means James O’Connor’s team can still scare from set plays. The defense has been so leaky, though, that even pint-sized Luciano Acosta has been scoring on them in the air.

Orlando City will be hoping that new Peruvian central defender Carlos Ascues will provide more stability in the back. His first test could be August 24th against Atlanta United. Ever wanted to make your debut in a game when the opposing striker is aiming to set the single season league goals record? Good times.

Montreal Impact, Match at Talen Energy Stadium on September 15

Have the Union played them before?

Yes.

Who won?

The Union broke a lengthy goalless streak on the road with two goals at Stade Saputo. Cory Burke got things started before receiving a red card, and Haris Medunjanin finished the match off after David Accam knocked the ball loose in the Montreal box.

What was the game like?

At first, the Union looked like the better side, and Burke’s goal was a just reward for controlling play. The Impact were riding the struggle bus at the time, and their vaunted defensive organization had yet form into the fortress it became in later months. Thus, even after the Union went ahead, Montreal only produced a couple dangerous chances.

The Impact went on a run in June, but they haven’t knocked off anyone with any quality in a long while. Recent wins over Chicago, San Jose, and Colorado point to a team that’s above the basement dwellers but far from a sure thing to make the playoffs, and FiveThirtyEight’s model agrees.

What’s big about this game?

After this game, Montreal faces New York City, travels to DC United, and hosts Columbus. That’s a difficult stretch, so they will see the Union match as a huge opportunity to steal points as they look to hang on to a playoff spot with DC surging and New England scrapping. Similarly, the Union will face a tough road after going up against the Impact, with a trip to Seattle and a match against Sporting Kansas City squeezed in before the US Open Cup final.

If the Union take 12 points from these games, they will be in excellent position to hold onto a playoff spot. And given their current form, it’s fair for the Union to consider at least nine points a reasonable goal.

The one certainty about this four game run? It will be exciting. Every team in this group will see their matchup with the Union as a winnable game, and it’s up to Philly to prove them wrong.

The Union did it against New York City FC, and now they can do it four more times.

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