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Know the Enemy -Philadelphia Union

The Whitecaps will host the Philadelphia Union on Saturday. We prepare for this East/West matchup by breaking down the club’s recent performances, look at their key players, and speak with Brotherly Game.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Philadelphia Union Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The 1-5-2 (5 points; 10th in the West) Vancouver Whitecaps will host the 4-3-1 (13 points; 3rd in the East) Philadelphia Union on Saturday, at BC Place.

Philadelphia will come into this match in good recent form, with 4 wins, 1 draw, and 1 loss in their last six matches. It has been feast or famine for the Union with five of their eight matches ending with a clean sheet. Unfortunately, they have only been on the winning end of those clean sheets three times. Despite their positive start, they are 1-2-1 on the road. Averaging 2.2 goals at home, they are only scoring 0.8 on the road (and conceded 1.2). Mind you, Vancouver has not exactly been stellar at home, averaging just 0.8 goals per game themselves (and also conceding 1.2). Nevertheless, it is possible that the Caps could win this one.

Meanwhile, the Whitecaps are struggling both on and off the field. On the field, it appears that their fortunes are beginning to turn around. They have looked strong against the West’s best teams in Seattle, LAFC, and Houston. You could even argue they played well against LA Galaxy, even if the score line does not mirror that. Their most recent match was in Orlando City, where they were unlucky to leave Florida with a draw.

Head-to-head, the clubs have played in some high-scoring affairs. In 2014, their match ended 3-3. 2015 saw Vancouver win 3-0. 2016, Vancouver again won, 3-2. 2017 saw their only low-scoring affair, ending in a 0-0 draw. However, 2018 saw the high-scoring return with a 4-0 victory for the Union.

After a poor first season in Philadelphia, David Accam has excelled in 2019 for the Union. He is currently leading the squad with three goals, followed by Cory Burke, Marco Fabian, and Alejandro Bedoya (each with two). Accam’s strong start is even more impressive when you consider that he has been an unused substitute three times already and has started only three matches. It isn’t like he hasn’t performed. In his three starts, he scored three goals and notched two assists. For the Whitecaps sake, it would be great if they elected to sit Accam again.

In comparison, the Whitecaps have struggles to find consistent scoring, and put the ball in the back of the net. Their primary goal scorer, Fredy Montero, has only one goal this season, and that came form a penalty kick. No player has scored two goals for the Caps. Hopefully we will see that change this weekend.

Philadelphia will be without left back Kai Wagner after he picked up a red card last weekend against Montreal Impact. This will be a major blow for the Union as, like the Whitecaps, the left back position has been one of strength of late.

The Vancouver Whitecaps are fully fit with only a couple minor players being out due to injury. There are no players sitting out due to suspension, which actually got me thinking about last season. After eight matches in 2018, the Whitecaps had received three red cards (Waston, Reyna, and Juarez), and I believe Techera had received a suspension. In their ninth match (aka, this year’s Union match), Techera picked up a red card, giving the club four. At least we have one positive from this season!

Three Questions

To prepare for Saturday’s match, we spoke with Brotherly Game’s Phil Moore (@philmoorept). Here are the answers to the three questions we asked him. For our answers to his questions, click here.

1. The Philadelphia Union have come out of the gate strong, one point out of first in the East, third in points per game, and second in goal differential. What has contributed to this fast start?

The Union have had a lot working for them to start the season. The two biggest reasons they are where they are in the standings are:

1. The key new roster additions of Marco Fabián, Jamiro Monteiro, homegrown 18-year-old Brendon Aaronson, and especially left back Kai Wagner (who will be a big loss for the game against Vancouver due to his silly red card last week)

2. New sporting director Ernst Tanner’s philosophical switch in playing style. The team plays a very aggressive, and high pressing 4-4-2. In past years the Union have played some good soccer from a 4-2-3-1, but were very inconsistent and had absolutely zero tactical flexibility. The new formation and high-pressure approach has allowed the team to perform and get results even when their play hasn’t been pretty, which was not the case in years past. Tanner has also given head coach Jim Curtin the power to change things up. They have an incredible amount of tactical flexibility this year, with a more diverse and deep roster, which has allowed them to respond when their initial game plan has been upended. Other key pieces have been stellar defensive play, as well as a resurgent Alejandro Bedoya.

2. In David Accam’s first season with the Union (2018), he scored only one goal and had zero assists, in 1,213 minutes. In only 241 minutes this season he already has three goals and two assists. What has led to his return of form from his days in Chicago?

Last season, Accam did not live up to expectations. I think it’s fair to attribute much of those struggles with lingering health problems from a sports hernia surgery he had in the offseason before he came to the Union. He then had to have another surgery which ended his season early last year to fix lingering problems form the original procedure. This season he came in healthy and looking to have a comeback year. He had his breakout game just days after his father passed away, scoring two and adding an assist in a 3-0 win against Columbus. He followed that game up with another impressive outing. After not scoring the next game he has yet to see the field again, which is confusing to most fans, but it’s hard to argue with coach Curtin as his side has won 4 of their last 5. I’d expect to see him on the field soon, and I fully expect his fine run of form to continue.

3. The Union have played eight matches thus far with five ending in a clean sheet. Three have been victories while two have been losses. What do you attribute to this feast or famine pattern?

The Union have always been streaky, and since they generally play their young players I think it’s inevitable. Both of the game’s where we were shut out were very poor performances all around. The first was a 2-0 loss to SKC on the road that included an own goal and a missed penalty. The second was a 2-0 road loss to the Galaxy which was less than ideal. The Union have struggled on the road for most of their history, and I don’t think anyone would have penciled in a win on the road against either of those teams when looking at the schedule. The games that they’ve feasted have all come against teams missing key players. Columbus was missing Zach Steffen, Zardes, and Will Trapp. Montreal was missing Piatti. The Cincinnati performance came in a downpour and terrible match conditions. It’s really been hard to get a good feel for how good the Union actually are because they’ve been missing several players each game with injuries and suspensions, but I think the best indication of how good this team actually is came in a late comeback win against a good FC Dallas team. In past years, the Union don’t win games when they trail, partly due to their previous tactical inflexibility, but this season we’re seeing something new.

Conclusion

Phil: I think this Vancouver, vs Union game will be very different from any past meeting. Both teams have gone through big tactical and roster changes, and I’m expecting a close game on Saturday.

AtlantisB: I think that it will be a close match as well, with the Whitecaps being victorious simply because it is a home match. While there have been a lot of distractions off the field, I suspect that they are not phasing the players too much and so I expect them to be focused. They have something to prove and I think that as long as VAR doesn’t screw them over again, they should come out with a CLOSE victory.

Fans, what are your expectations for this match?