Preview: First place Union host New England

Last August, Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution squared off two times and Philly came out on top twice.

At the time, both clubs were on the edge of the playoff picture and, along with Montreal, they were fighting to put space between themselves and the rest of the postseason hopefuls.

The Union did it; the Revs? Well…

New England never recovered from losing two games in 14 days to Philly, and this season has seen the collapse continue. Brad Friedel’s team has backed off their heavy pressing and is leaning on big striker Juan Caicedo to jumpstart an attack that now runs through Carles Gil and Diego Fagundez. Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo are still feeling their way into the new system, and the back line – built around English import Michael Mancienne – remains discombobulated.

Adding to New England’s defensive woes? Center backs Michael Mancienne and Antonio Delamea are both questionable for Saturday’s matchup. Mancienne is carrying a plantar fasciitis knock and Delamea may not get through concussion protocol.

Without those two central defenders, Friedel is left with Andrew Farrell as the only healthy player with experience in the middle of defense. Additionally, Gabriel Somi and Edgar Castillo are both left backs, so even the bodies that are available don’t fit where they need to.

This leaves Union head coach Jim Curtin with some intriguing questions. Given the Revs lack of defensive depth, will he opt for an attacking lineup that uses some of his returning big guns, including Sergio Santos and Marco Fabián? Or do you stick with the team that has turned in consistent performances over the past few weeks? Ale Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin have a lot of miles on their legs, but Curtin has continuously said he will rely on his sports performance department to indicate when players can stick in the lineup and when they need rest.

If he does rest players in midfield, Curtin has Warren Creavalle, Derrick Jones, Ilsinho, and potentially Anthony Fontana in reserve. In back, only Jack Elliott and Ray Gaddis have been used heavily in recent weeks, so Kai Wagner’s return likely means that the Union’s top choice back four will take the field on Saturday.

Strategy

And when the Union take the field, how will they attack a struggling Revs side?

The key is, of course, is the press. Who do the Union attack and when do they do it? New England does not have strong ball playing defenders, and they only have select central mids with the ability to progress the ball. If Philly can keep Fagundez and Gil off the ball in buildup, they can prevent the visitors from finding their dangerous attackers behind the lines.

And, honestly, that should make defending fairly straightforward though not without risk. The Revs have a lot of speed on the wings and if they can get Philly backpedaling then Caicedo becomes a real threat in the box.  

Going forward

In attack, the Union will rely on Haris Medunjanin to break down the Revs if the vet plays in the back of midfield. Jamiro Monteiro may continue to drift inside and provide a second line-breaker to help penetrate the lines and break down what should be a fragile defense.

The Union welcome the Revs at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 4 in a Star Wars Night match, presented by ACME.

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