Thursday, October 20, 2011

Three Questions With Scott Kessler of The Brotherly Game

Angel's Goal Sealed the Deal the Last Time Philly Played a League Game at RBA
I exchanged three questions with Scott Kessler, editor of Philadelphia Union SBNation blog The Brotherly Game, in advance of tonight's big game at Red Bull Arena. You can find my responses to his queries by clicking here

We talk DeRo, the Henry red card in Kansas City and the Red Bulls' playoff chances, which improved enormously on Wednesday night, thanks to the crazy 1-1 draw in Washington between D.C. United and Portland Timbers.

Given the fact that Portland and Chicago's respective opponents this weekend, Real Salt Lake and Columbus Crew, will still have a lot to play for, tonight's result may end up being academic. Regardless, with a large number of away fans traveling up to New Jersey for the game and rumors of a sell out, it should be one of the best atmospheres ever in Harrison. If you have tickets and are not either attending or giving them away, you're dead to me.

With no further ado, here's my Q&A with Scott:

1) How badly does the Union want to win this game? Obviously the teams that are already in the playoffs are still jockeying for position and trying to avoid going in as a wildcard. How will that impact Nowak's decisions on Thursday?

The Union know how much it means for the fans to win this game, and they'll be playing at their highest levels possible just to make the hundreds of traveling fans (up to 1200 will attend, according to a Sons of Ben source) as happy as possible. While the fans in New York may not see this as a big rivalry yet, with many on Twitter going so far as to laugh it off, but the Philly-NYC rivalry is always strong in Philadelphia, no matter the sport.

Nowak and the Union have said multiple times this week that they're trying to win the Eastern Conference. Whether or not that in the end will help or hurt the Union in the playoffs is something completely different. I've discussed finishing second to avoid playing the top Wild Card contender, but if the team finds itself playing better because of the added confidence of winning the conference, no one is going to criticize them for taking the harder road.

A win would also ensure the Union of at least a top two finish, thus avoiding the wild card round.

2) Just a few weeks ago the Union were struggling and still within touching distance of the Red Bulls in the standings. What has made the difference in the past few weeks as they've pulled away?

Finding their early season defensive fortitude, a resurgence of Sebastien Le Toux, finally playing Roger Torres consistently and putting Michael Farfan in the position to succeed. The back four was incredibly prone to making a misstep here and there that would lead to a goal, which the Union were unable to come back from for what seemed like the longest time. During the down turn in form, Le Toux was unable to find the net or assist teammates, despite returning to his more favored position as a forward after the departure of Carlos Ruiz to Mexico. Le Toux's goal scoring splurge, which has resulted in 11 goals in his last 10 games, has come on the back of more starts for Torres and Farfan, who both have brought much needed flair, speed and attacking ability to the offense. Though in recent games Torres has not seen the field much, his play out of the center of the field helped to spur the Union out of their awful midseason slump. Farfan (or Marfan, as he is affectionately called by the supporters) shored up the right side of the midfield, something that hadn't happened since Shea Salinas was injured halfway through the 2010 season. He has scored important goals and impressed with his passing and movement since being given the chance to start in his natural position, and not in the defense.

Everything sort of came together at the right time.

3) How far do you see Philadelphia going in the postseason? The defense and goalkeeping have been solid all season, but is there enough scoring punch to make a run all the way to L.A.?

Their starting line up could use a tweak here and there to enable the team to make it deep in a playoff run. Justin Mapp and Freddy Adu aren't consistent enough to help a team in the playoffs, especially in a potential elimination game. Torres would be the best central attacking midfield option that the Union can use, and the hope is that he gets playing time versus the Red Bulls, since he loves to play against them. As for the left side of the midfield, with Keon Daniel's visa problems keeping him out of the country, there's no one to really replace Mapp fully on the left side of the field. I'm not too worried about scoring, because the Union have been able to score on Columbus, Seattle and other very good teams down the stretch. Consistent play out of whoever gets slotted into the CAM spot, and from Marfan, will aid Le Toux and the Union in scoring goals.

Likely Philadelphia Lineup:

Faryd Mondragon
(l-r) Gabriel Farfan - Danny Califf - Carlos Valdes - Sheanon Williams
CDM: Brian Carroll; Justin Mapp, Freddy Adu, Michael Farfan
Danny Mwanga, Sebastien Le Toux

Prediction: 2-0 win for the Union, with Mwanga and Le Toux scoring.

Thanks again to Scott for the knowledge, and Come on You Red Bulls!

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