On Saturday, Philadelphia Union head to Saputo Stadium to face off against Montreal Impact; kickoff is scheduled for 5 PM EST. Heading into Saturday’s match, Montreal has a one-point lead over Philadelphia for first place in the MLS Eastern Conference. However, Philadelphia is ahead on points per game and has a game in hand as the Union have only played nine games while Montreal have played ten.
With first place on the line on Saturday, We look at the three keys for the Blue and Gold.
Stop Didier Drogba and Ignacio Piatti
While easier said than done, the Union will need to limit Drogba as much as they can. In six games (four starts) this season, the Ivory Coast International has three goals as well as three assists. He can be a nuisance in the air for opposing defenses on set pieces because his world-class ability to flick on the ball to teammates or head the ball on net. Not only can he score set pieces with his head, the Ivorian can still take excellent set-pieces and put them in the back of the net. Philadelphia centerback Richie Marquez will likely be tasked with guarding the Chelsea legend on set pieces and helping limit his chances on net.
Further, Drogba can hold up play excellently with his big frame, which allows his Impact teammates to join him in the attack. The former Chelsea FC stalwart’s ability to hold up play and find his teammates has manifested in the emergence of Dominic Oduro this season. Oduro has four goals and four assists so far this season, which has helped alleviate the bulk of the attack being levied upon Drogba’s shoulders.
Ignacio Piatti is no slouch either. The Argentine has six goals and two assists in ten games. His six goals are good for a second place tie with Sebastian Giovinco in MLS. As on display last game, Piatti can turn and fire shots on net dangerously without much space at all in addition to using his beautiful foot skills against helpless defenses. Considering Brian Carroll was used in the midweek game against Los Angeles Galaxy, Warren Creavalle will likely get the start in the number six role with the goal of slowing down Piatti and helping his young backline organize against a potent Montreal attack.
Play through the flanks and follow through on shots
Philadelphia plays its best soccer when it plays through its wings. This season, Philadelphia has gotten excellent play out of its flank players such as Fabinho, Chris Pontius, Keegan Rosenberry and Sebastien Le Toux. This core group of four players has tallied four of the nine-recorded Union assists this season. While this number may seem low, it does not take into account the ability for any of these four players to serve the ball into a dangerous area in the box. Further, Rosenberry’s and Fabinho’s ability to get forward plus send in a good final ball frees Le Toux as well as Pontius to get into the box to receive the pass.
For the Union to get a good result, Rosenberry and Fabinho will need to continue to exploit the space they are given and join in the attack, while delivering great service to CJ Sapong and company.
In their last game versus Columbus, the Montreal backline had a rough time guarding former Columbus striker Kei Kamara on crosses. If the Union can exploit the wings and use the width of the field to deliver crosses to Sapong, who is not Kamara, but still a good player in his own right, Philadelphia could be coming home with a crucial three points.
Also, in their last game against Columbus, the Impact allowed Kamara and the Crew second and third chances on goal after the initial shot. Philadelphia needs to continue to be aggressive in the box and follow through with shots in order to put goals on the board.
Practice what you preach. Continue “to be brave and to be fearless” on the road
After Wednesday’s match against the Galaxy, Philadelphia Head Coach Jim Curtin told the press “I think we’ve shown that home and away we try to play the same way. We are not a team to sit back and absorb pressure, we will be aggressive….We try to make it 90 minutes of hell for the other team. To be brave and to be fearless is what we are about, and it’s part of what we want to instill in our players. We were pushing for goals from minute 1 to minute 90.”
Facing players like Drogba, Piatti and even Oduro, Philadelphia still has to continue to play its game. This Philadelphia squad has made Talen Energy Stadium a fortress to play in as the squad boasts an impressive 3-0-2 record. On the road, the picture is more murky as the Blue and Gold are 1-3-0.
The statistics show how different Philadelphia is on the road versus at home in offense. On the road, the Union average just 3.25 shots on goal with three goals scored in four games. At home, the Zolos average 5.6 shots on goal with ten goals scored in five games.
Not including possible MLS Cup contender FC Dallas, Philadelphia has not faced the toughest slate of teams on the road as they have played basement-dwellers Chicago Fire and Columbus plus a solid team in the Seattle Sounders. For a team that has playoff aspirations and beyond, Philadelphia needs to play with the same intensity against poor sides like Chicago on the road as they did last Wednesday against Los Angeles Galaxy. Road points are certainly a luxury in Major League Soccer, but Philadelphia cannot sustain its place in the standings without playing well on the road.
This game against Montreal will give Curtin and his team a tough test to play as fearless and brave on the road as they do at home.