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Philadelphia Union: Taking on the West and League Leaders LAFC

Philadelphia Union midfielder Brenden Aaronson after scoring the equalizer against Atlanta United | Photo by Philadelphia Union | August 31, 2019
Philadelphia Union: Taking on the West and League Leaders LAFC

On Saturday night the Philadelphia Union take on LAFC at Talen Energy Stadium in what many are calling a season-defining game. The Union are coming off an impressive 3-1 win against Atlanta United FC, and are looking to make it three wins on the trot against league opponents. While LAFC is looking to do the same after only getting two points from their last three matches.

JIM CURTIN: Press Conference (September 11th)

While the Union have certainly been solid as of late Jim Curtin accepts that his side is facing a team that is playing “perhaps the best soccer the league has ever seen.” Later in the press conference, however, he casually states that the Union have “passed every test we have seen this year,” and that is largely due to the Union’s depth.

In covering his sides depth, he mentions that he will have nearly all of his players available for what he believes could be the toughest selection of his entire career. Saying specifically, “right now the competition to get into the eleven is really hard, the competition to get into the eighteen is just as contentious”. His comments echo loudly with the Union faithful after watching several good performances by both Sergio Santos and Fafa Picault, which include the scrimmage against PUMAS (MX) last Saturday. As both are two of the many players finding it difficult to get into the starting eleven in recent games.

Curtin finishes the press conference by speaking on the influence of the Union leaders. Specifically taking a moment to point out how paramount they are off the field, as well as on it. Hopefully we see both sides of these guys Saturday night, as the Union will certainly need it to get a result. 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

LAFC have been playing the past few matches without Carlos Vela. A player which Curtin himself referred to as the “runaway league MVP”. Unfortunately for the Union he was sighted in the team’s East Coast training earlier this week, and is now expected to play per Kevin Baxter of the L.A. Times. 

Before tonight’s match LAFC had suffered a few poor results without Vela. On September 1, they played in a home fixture at Banc of California Stadium where they lost 2-0 to Minnesota United FC, they then followed that up with a draw in an away fixture at Orlando City SC last week. Their slip in form didn’t start there however. As Vela and LAFC drew against Los Angeles Galaxy nearly a week before the MNUFC match. This meant that LAFC only took two points from their last three league matches. Meaning that the fixture against the Union offers them a chance to right the ship.

LAFC Carlos Vela

Carlos Vela (LAFC) scoring a goal against the LA Galaxy | Photo by Juan Contreras for LA Soccer Nation | August 25, 2019

They will likely try to do this by dominating possession, as they have throughout the season. But if their past few matches prove anything it is that dominating possession only goes so far. LAFC over these matches had averaged nearly 68 percent possession and 21 shots. Which makes for great reading when considering what their opponents were averaging during these same fixtures (which was just over 31 percent possession and 7.3 shots). However, LAFC were only scoring 1.67 goals per match on these 21 shots as compared to before their slip in-form where they were averaging 2.73 goals per game through their 26 matches.

The reasoning for this change appears to be a more defensive approach by the sides playing LAFC. Dismissing how the Galaxy had lined up in El Trafico, a 4-2-3-1, the two other sides lined up in much more defensive formations: 5-3-2, MNUFC, and a 4-4-2, Orlando City. In both these formations the sides deployed their central midfielders slightly deeper allowing them to protect their back-lines and goalies. Doing this prevented LAFC clear chances, and when they did shoot it was from much poorer quality positions than they would have liked. When combining this with good goal – tending each side was much more likely to get a result in their matches – which each side eventually did.

WHAT TO DO: A “Not-Not” Blueprint to beat LAFC

Jim Curtin said in his press conference that he doesn’t believe the MNUFC and Orlando City results provide a blueprint on how to beat LAFC. But it is my belief that these games definitely provide some insight on how to get a result against them.

Below are five ways I believe the Union can do exactly that:

  1. Play a reserved 4-2-3-1, with deeper lying central midfielders, protecting the back-line and goal from quality opportunities.
  2. Allow the wingers to counter fast, playing more direct down the line.
  3. Deploy a more mobile striker than Kacper Pryzbylko – for example, Sergio Santos or Fafa Picault as both can run the channels quite faster than than Pryzbylko. This way Curtin can bring Pryzbylko on for a change of pace late in the match.
  4. When in possession, outside of countering, be patient (lull LAFC into a casual defense) – allowing for the decisive final ball to be easily spotted by the Union attackers.
  5. Andre Blake… ANDRE BLAKE! – keep him involved in the match, and allow him to make easy stops early, so he can get hot.

If each of these five things happens I do believe that the Union will come out with a point, if not three. 

PREDICTION: 2-2 Union Draw – The Union will score two goals early, LAFC to score a late equalizer. 

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As you probably already know my name's Kyle. What you likely don't know is that for the past few years I have supported two special sides. And while one's misery will likely never end, Newcastle United, the other's entering what can only be described as a period of greatness. I am lucky enough to be the one following the Union during this period for this incredible sight, The Stoppage Time.

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