The Philadelphia Union open their 2017 Major League Soccer season on the road to the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place in what promises to be an exciting cross-conference affair.
The Union had rather mixed fortunes in their preseason preparations. Having used the matches in Florida to discover the depths of their squad, Jim Curtin's core group of players didn't get a tremendous amount of game time together, an issue in particular, given the questions surrounding the Union's central defense and central midfield. The Chester-based side played a total of seven matches in preseason, including victories against the United States U-17 Men's National Team and United Soccer League side, Tampa Bay Rowdies. The U-17 side is coached by former Union manager, John Hackworth. The other matches, however, include defeats against MLS sides DC United and Chicago Fire a well as draws against Orlando City, DC United, and Montreal Impact.
In stark contrast, the Whitecaps were one of several Major League Soccer sides who had to begin their season preparations earlier due to a set of meaningful CONCACAF Champions League matches. The Whitecaps played three matches in Wales, thrashing English sides Oxford United and Bristol City 4-0 each, while also falling to Cardiff City. They also played a trio of matches in Portland against fellow Western Conference teams, Minnesota United, Real Salt Lake, and Portland Timbers in which they drew their first two matches before losing to Portland 2-1.
However, their most notable action prior to the start of the 2017 MLS Season was a two-legged CONCACAF Champions League Quarter Final against fellow MLS side, New York Red Bulls. They emerged 3-1 victors, on aggregate following a 1-1 draw at Red Bull Arena and a 2-0 victory in Canada, courtesy of goals from wonder kid, Alphonso Davies, and former Seattle Sounders' forward, Fredy Montero.
Vancouver will be without a number of key players due to injury including new signing, Yordy Reyna as well as David Edgar, Brett Levis, Christian Bolanos, and Nicolas Mezquida. Finally, Vancouver will be without defender Kendall Waston, as he's set to serve a one-match suspension, having been found guilty of violent conduct against the Portland Timbers in the final game of the 2016 season.
Philadelphia meanwhile will be without center back, Joshua Yaro who is slated to miss up to four months while recovering from shoulder surgery. Maurice Edu is also a doubt as he recovers from a broken left fibula suffered back in October. Defensive midfielder, Warren Creavalle also missed a chunk of preseason with an injury, it remains to be seen whether or not he'll be fit for the match.
The Union and Whitecaps have faced off just six times in Major League Soccer history, with honors all-time at 2-2-2. The most recent meeting between the two sides took place in June of last season, with Vancouver emerging 3-2 victors at Talen Energy Stadium following goals by former Union midfielder, Andrew Jacobson, Kekuta Manneh, and Christian Bolaños, as well as Roland Alberg and Chris Pontius.
Philadelphia: Andre Blake, Keegan Rosenberry, Oguchi Onyewu, Richie Marquez, Fabinho, Derrick Jones, Haris Medunjanin, Ilsinho, Alejandro Bedoya, Chris Pontius, and Jay Simpson.
The Union's expected line-up has been quite well publicized and despite Alejandro Bedoya's recent remarks that he feels the number eight or box to box role expect him to start at the number ten spot on Sunday. Meanwhile, Oguchi "Gooch" Onyewu appears to have beat out Ken Tribbett, Auston Trusty, and Jack Elliot to deputize for the injured Joshua Yaro based on preseason form while Derrick Jones looks set for his Union debut in the absence of Creavalle, Edu, and the anticipated reduced role for Brian Carroll. Finally, new signing Jay Simpson seems to have won the starting forward role over C.J. Sapong for the time being, and holding midfielder, Haris Medunjanin was described as, "the best passer of the ball I've ever coached" by Jim Curtin earlier in the week.
As for Vancouver, fans got a taste of a potential starting line-up in their Champions League matches against the Red Bulls and not a lot may in fact change.
Vancouver: David Ousted, Sheanon Williams, Christian Dean, Tim Parker, Jordan Harvey, Russel Teibert, Matias Laba, Alphonso Davies, Kekutah Manneh, Brek Shea, Fredy Montero.
Despite starts for Jake Nerwinski in the Champions League, the Caps traded for Sheanon Williams so expect him to start at right back. Christian Dean will have to fight it out with Cole Seiler to fill in for the suspended Waston while other options like Edgar remain injured. Meanwhile, wonder kid Alphonso Davies scored an impressive goal last week against New York, expect him to surprise a few folks with a start. Finally, Montero is likely to assume the mantle at center forward despite a brief run out for new acquisition Brek Shea, who's likely to slot in at his more natural left midfield position.
Vancouver Whitecaps 3 Philadelphia Union 1
The Union historically struggle against Western Conference opposition and with the Whitecaps having had several more meaningful games under their belt prior to kick off, they're likely to prove too much for Philadelphia to handle away from home.