Know Your Enemy: Philadelphia Union
Hey, hey, ho ho, OTF’s Stephen Mangat is on the go…
After a brief hiatus for the World Cup and the boozing that went along with it, Fire opponent previews are back. And the timing is great because it’s time to take a look at the team supporter by yours truly, the Philadelphia Union.
PLAY OUR MUSIC!!
Fire legend (?) Jim Curtain is running the show for the Union for now. Philly fans like his lineup selections (as opposed to hating the ones by the previous coach) and the team’s results and play have improved since he took over. Expect a 4-2-3-1 with Conor Casey up top though Curtain may go with a 4-4-2 if Casey is rested.
Zac MacMath is playing pretty well. While it’s taken the better part of two and a half seasons, MacMath is no longer a huge liability. He’s still questionable on crosses and his distribution is inconsistent at best, but MacMath isn’t crap by any means.
Last season’s Union had one of the league’s best defenses. This season’s is a mess. Usual left back Fabinho inspires little confidence and right back Sheanon Williams has regressed this season (perhaps due to injuries). Ray Gaddis has been excellent in Williams’ place and Williams has recently become a member of the rotating cast tried at center back. That said, on Wednesday Williams was on the right and Gaddis on the left. So it’s anyone’s guess who will start in the middle and Gaddis has been the only bright spot.
This is a talented and diverse group of players whose quality was squandered on a weekly basis by now fired coach John Hackworth. Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Cruz have speed and will run forever and while both have limitations, they are dangerous when playing well. Vincent Noguiera is a great box-to-boxer who can control entire games and add Amobi Okugo’s athleticism and intelligence and there’s a very good cast. Cristian Maidana is injured which is a shame as he’s played well as of recent, so the main question is who will add the flair in his absence. On Wednesday against NYRB it was Fred (ex-DC United, Melbourne Victory). Also, Maurice Edu shouldn’t be forgotten though many Union fans wish they could since he’s been very underwhelming this season.
The center of the midfield will tell how attacking the Union intend to be. It’ll be defensive if it’s Noguiera plus two defensive players (Brian Carroll, Edu and/or Okugo), and it’ll be attack-minded if Noguiera is joined by only one of the aforementioned defenders.
Expect Conor Casey up top. The veteran is slow (not that he was ever fast) but is still strong, skillful and very effective. Anyone else up top for Philly would be a good sign for the Fire.
How can the Fire win?
Center defense softness
Austin Berry, Ethan White, Amobi Okugo, Maurice Edu, Sheanon Williams and Aaron Wheeler (that’s two center backs, two midfielders and one forward) have all been played in various combinations throughout the season and the mistake-prone, haphazard Union defending reflects the lack of consistency of personnel. Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa should have plenty of chances.
Beware of counterattacks
Conor Casey can still battle for the ball up top with the best of them and that allows Philly to effectively counterattack against anyone. Defenders and midfielders pushed back deep in their own half can find Casey who will hold the ball until Philly’s midfielders come charging along in support.
Run, run, run
This will be Philly’s fifth game in 15 days. The Fire have only had three, so Yallop should make sure his men are all over the Union from the opening whistle.
I hate to say it, Fire fans, but it’s time to throw the American unity of the World Cup out the window and start doing what we do best, fighting amongst ourselves. While I’m normally friendly toward the Chicago and its residents, I support the Union, so go to hell, people of Chicagoland. I wish nothing but bad things upon you!
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Stephen Mangat is a Philadelphia Union season ticket holder and former resident of both Arkham Asylum and Romania. You can follow him @smangat12.