The Fire head into Saturday afternoon’s game against the Union (12:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network) on the back of a much-needed bye week after the tough loss in Montreal the week prior.
Philly tied 2-2 against lowly Seattle last time out and are set to be missing a few defenders due to injury and suspension. Both teams play each other twice over the next seven days. Here are some things to look for from a tactical perspective.
Philly’s makeshift back line – Fire must take advantage - part 1
The Union come into this game missing starting right back Sheanon Williams and it appears former Fire player Bakary Soumare will get the start at center back for the first time all season.
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This major reshuffle combined with the Fire being the home team should mean Frank Klopas’ side will be set up to attack Philly whenever possible. Williams is a loss on the right, not only for his defensive play but also his long throw ability which can be used as an offensive threat.
Filling in for Williams should be usual left back Raymon Gaddis. Gaddis looked particularly uncomfortable against New England in the Union’s last away match in April, with the youngster getting caught out by balls in behind on a few occasions.
He was also exposed when put under pressure. The Revs wingers had luck getting the ball in the box from Gaddis’ side and with this in mind, I expect to see Joel Lindpere and Gonzalo Segares getting forward and attacking Gaddis whenever possible.
Philly’s makeshift back line – Fire must take advantage - part 2
Ironically, last season’s match against the Union saw Bakary Soumare play his first and only game of the 2012 season for the Union. In that match, the Fire looked to get in 1v1 situations with the rusty defender and it paid off, with MacDonald beating Soumare before crossing for a Chris Rolfe tap in goal. This weekend’s game plan should be no different with Soumare not playing in a match since the game last August.
The Men in Red will also look to force Soumare out of the middle to cover on the outside, something no centerback likes to do. Presumed starting wingers Patrick Nyarko and Joel Lindpere will be relishing 1v1 opportunities with the big defender.
Another area to test Soumare will be in the air. New England was able to win the ball in the aerial battle on numerous crosses into the Philly box, partially because of the hesitancy of goalkeeper Zac MacMath to come and challenge them.
A new center back pairing combined with a sometimes hesitant goalkeeper can lead to defensive errors and one such error could be decisive on Saturday afternoon.
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Stopping the Philly attack - be ready for different combinations
When one looks at the Philly attack this season, it is easy to get distracted by the exploits of 20-year-old Jack McInerney who has notched six goals already for the Union this season.
He picked up April’s Player of the Month award and is playing the best soccer of his young career. Beyond McInerney, the Union have three excellent strikers who bring different playing styles to the table.
Veteran Conor Casey has played up front with McInerney in recent matches and has combined well with the man 11 years his junior. Both strikers are very fluid, dropping deep, moving out to the wing or playing in the advanced striker role and switching at a moment's notice.
It is much easier to prepare for what you presume to be the starting strikers will be. The challenge in Saturday's game will be the adjustments the coaching staff make if and when the Union decide to bring on some attacking substitutions.
Antoine Hoppenot and Sebastian Le Toux have started from the bench in recent matches but both have a tendency to make a big impact once brought on. Le Toux is very good with the ball at his feet and he can easily play in the second striker role, allowing McInerney to permanently move higher up the pitch.
Hoppenot scored four goals off the bench last season and has come off the bench in all but one game this season. If Le Toux does come on, dropping presumed center-mid starter Daniel Paladini a bit deeper to reduce the space Le Toux has to operate in is an option.
In-game adjustments are not often talked about but can often be the difference between three points and one.
Prediction: 2-1 Fire with goals from Nyarko and Lindpere