The Portland Timbers are back on the road and set to face off against the Philadelphia Union tomorrow in a match that looks very, very winnable for the boys in green, even away from the friendly confines of Providence Park. Here to fill us in on the Union and why they might not be the Eastern Conference pushovers that we all assume they are is Eugene Rupinski of our sister-site The Brotherly Game.
Stumptown Footy: In the Eastern Conference, the Union are only ahead of the Chicago Fire and the Montreal Impact in the standings, teams that have respectively played three and four games fewer than the Union. Are the Union upwardly mobile in the season or are they destined to be passed up by the Fire and Impact on their way to bottom of the ladder?
Brotherly Game: The Union have been able to turn around what was an abysmal start to the 2015 campaign. After going 1-7-3. they've gone a respectable 4-3-1 and have been able to claw their way back into the playoff conversation. Chicago is terrible, and Montreal will feel the wrath of playing Saturday-Wednesday almost every week through the end of the season. The Union play all Eastern Conference teams except for one match against San Jose, so they'll control their own destiny. I'm not predicting the Union will make the playoffs, but I think they will stay ahead of Chicago and Montreal.
SF: There has been plenty of discontent in Philadelphia this season as goalkeepers are hoarded then discarded, ownership and management seem to be squabbling all too often, and the fans are left wanting points; what is going on in Philly and why is a franchise that looked so promising in what looks like a Chivas-esque spiral?
BG: I think what you are seeing is the club moving from a system where the CEO makes personnel acquisition decisions to one where the manager has full control. It'll take a while and some work to un-do the damage to the club in the way of bad contracts that were given to bad signings and get guys in who want to play.It's been a messy process, and there have been squabbles, but I think things are finally headed in the right direction. Winning may not cure all ills, but it certainly makes them easier to tolerate.
SF: What are the bright spots on the field for the Union this year? Who do the Timbers need to look out for and why?
BG: In typical Union fashion, even the Union's bright spots aren't without their drawbacks. CJ Sapong has been a huge acquisition, scoring a goal in four of his last five MLS matches. He was also out for a few weeks with broken bones in his face and missed almost a month in league-mandated Drug and Alcohol Rehab for a DUI he received. Fernando Aristeguieta has been dangerous, but has also been injured for almost half of the Union's games. Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira - the creative midfield engine of the Union - have also spent time on the injured list. For the first time all season, the Union should be able to field a healthy starting eleven of first-choice players.
SF: Bonus Questions: What is your predicted lineup?
BG: Brian Sylvestre; Fabinho, Steven Vitoria, Richie Marquez, Sheanon Williams; Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira; Andrew Wenger, Cristian Maidana, Sebastien Le Toux; CJ Sapong