Union Must Take Advantage of Weak Opponent

After picking-up key points against Colorado, New York, Chicago and Kansas City, the Philadelphia Union finds themselves back at friendly PPL Park on Saturday night (August 9, 7 p.m., CSN) in the sort of match-up that teams serious about post-season play need to find a way to win. The opponent is the Montreal Impact, last year’s regular season darling that roared out of the gate, made the play-offs in only their second year of existence—and has promptly crashed-landed in season three.

Montreal hasn’t won or tied a regular MLS match since the last week of June. They’re on an almost unheard of six-game skid and while most of those losses have come against quality sides, clubs like underachieving Portland and perennial cellar-dweller Chivas USA have also brought the pain; in fact, Montreal didn’t even manage a goal against Chivas back in early July. The Impact was also shut-out in their last match against Toronto.

It’s interesting to note that the Union have fared much better over the same time span, while facing some of the same clubs.

FAMILIAR FACES

Montreal is still an interesting team for Union fans to consider. Its leading scorer is former Philadelphia striker Jack McInerney who put together one of the best half-seasons the Union franchise may ever see, before crumbling beneath the triple weights of missed chances, bad luck and damaged confidence. The youngster was shipped-out early in the season for local guy Andrew Wenger, ostensibly because the Union didn’t feel they could keep him under contract beyond this season. But it was obvious that the kid also simply needed a change of scenery.

So how has it gone? McInerney leads the Impact with 6 goals, some of them reminiscent of those creative moments that often left fans in Philadelphia drooling. But he’s had zero assists and in an offense struggling to find itself from day one, Montreal has not been the sort of environment in which an opportunistic guy like McInerney can thrive. In fact, even last year’s Montreal heavyweight, Marco Di Vaio, has wilted this season, partly because he hasn’t been as healthy this time around, but also because his team just isn’t clicking. Also suffering: former Union fan favorite Justin Mapp who has started 16 matches during Montreal’s Season Three and has assisted on more than a third of the club’s goals—but he’s netted nil.

“U” ARE SO BEAUTIFUL…

The Union, meanwhile, have much to celebrate. After taking their foot off the gas two MLS matches ago and escaping Chicago with a 1-1 draw, Philadelphia was all-in last week in Kansas City, playing an excellent tactical game of defense-first and very nearly besting the defending champs for the third straight time at Sporting Park. A new late-inning fire plug is emerging: recently-signed Jamaican striker Brian Brown, who set-up and then notched the equalizer in the 1-1 draw. Defender Carlos Valdez is back, signing a multi-year deal with the club after a year-and-a-half of international play, and Saturday could mark the debut of Philadelphia’s new world-class, World Cup goaltender, Algerian Rais Mbolhi, assuming all the transfer paperwork is signed and sealed.

The club is 4-1-4 in its last 9 league matches (along with a tidy 3-0 record in U.S. Open Cup play). Philadelphia’s offense has been looking far better over the past two months. The team is just three points out of the final post-season position held by Columbus in the MLS Eastern Conference; Philadelphia’s 5-8-9 record currently seeds them 7th.

LOOK NOT AT THE PAST

About the only discouraging aspect to Saturday for Union fans is history. Montreal’s record is an abysmal 3-13-5, but the Union has gifted them 3 of their 14 points with a 1-1 draw at PPL in March and a 1-0 loss in Montreal the following month. An argument can be made that the Union was a different team then with a roster that was still trying to figure things out. The cylinders are clicking much better now and a number of new parts have been added, from the coaching staff on down, all of which have made the club better. One hopes so, at least. If the Union is to make a true play-off push over the season’s final two-and-a-half months, it probably needs to start now, against one of the weakest opponents on the schedule.

AS IF THINGS COULDN’T GET LES WORSE…

Montreal will be without defender Hassoun Camara, who is on the disciplinary list this week. They also have two other defenders and two midfielders listed as “out”. Of course, anyone who pays attention to the weekly MLS Injury Report is aware that “out” can actually mean anything from “extremely healthy” to “dead”. Conversely, the Union’s valuable play-maker, Cristian Maidana, is once again listed as questionable, which for the last several weeks has actually meant “out”. Hey, listen, I’m just passing along what I’ve read.

TECHNICAL ALL-STAR

The Union will not be without representation at this season’s MLS All-Star Game after all. Midfielder-turned-defender Maurice Edu is one of several late-adds thanks to a series of injuries and scheduling difficulties. It doesn’t mean he plays. But he gets introduced. I think. Hopefully, by the end of the season, the general snub of Philadelphia players will look as foolish to the rest of the league as it does to Philadelphia fans (translation: The U has a nice run to the play-offs and, as they used to sing on TV, “…everybody knows their name.”).

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