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New England Revolution vs Philadelphia Union: MLS Cup Playoffs Preview

After their exciting victory over the Montreal Impact at Gillette Stadium on Friday, the New England Revolution face off against the Philadelphia Union tonight in Round One. According to most sources, the Revolution’s season will come to an end tonight. 538’s data-driven model gives Philadelphia a 71% chance to win. This leaves New England with just a 29% chance of advancing. However, there is a reason these games are not decided on paper. New England is finally getting healthy at the right time, and they should be full of belief after their victory last time out.

 

Philadelphia may be the clear favorites, but they certainly won’t have the element of surprise. Tonight’s game will be the sixth meeting between the two teams in 2020. The Revs played the Union more times in the regular season than any other team. The two teams know each other extremely well. Here’s a look back at what past meetings between the pair have looked like. 

 

Past Meetings in 2020

 

Philadelphia 1-0 New England, July 25th

The first meeting of the year between New England and Philadelphia took place in the round of 16 in the MLS is Back Tournament. Sergio Santos scored the only goal of the game in the 63rd minute. One goal was all the Union needed. A few nice saves from goalkeeper Andre Blake helped Philadelphia stifle the New England offense. Philadelphia ultimately reached the Semi-finals before falling to Portland. 

 

New England 0-0 Philadelphia, August 20th

This meeting at the end of August ended up being the lone draw between the two teams this year. It was a pretty even game without too much to write home about. The Revs had more shots and chances created but couldn’t find the breakthrough. Andre Blake was once again a vital part of the Union’s league-leading defense. The Jamaican international’s finest stop of the game was a great save in the 9th minute on Gustavo Bou.

 

Philadelphia 2-1 New England, September 12th

September brought another fairly close battle with Philadelphia having the edge. New England played with ten men for most of the second half after Matt Polster got sent off in the 57th minute. The Revs defended well, but Philadelphia took the lead in the 73rd minute. Tajon Buchanan equalized in the 81st minute after taking a nice feed from Gustavo Bou. Anthony Fontana won the game in the 95th minute with a great strike from outside the box, having scored both of Philadelphia’s goals.

 

New England 1-2 Philadelphia, October 19th

October saw the second straight 2-1 game featuring a goal from Tajon Buchanan. Anthony Fontana again scored the winner for Philadelphia, with the other Union tally coming on an Andrew Farrell own goal. The Revs had the majority of possession and created far more chances, but Andre Blake played well, making a few big saves. This game was particularly frustrating from the perspective of the Revolution. New England felt their consistent pressure warranted more than a defeat.

 

Philadelphia 2-0 New England, November 8th

The final meeting between the two teams came in the very last game of the regular season. Philadelphia clinched the Supporters’ Shield with the win. The Revs had more possession, but couldn’t get much going offensively, even without Blake in the lineup. The Union got a goal from Sergio Santos in the first half and another from Cory Burke in the second. This was Philadelphia’s most comfortable victory against New England on the year.

 

Takeaways

The fact that Philadelphia won four of the five meetings cannot be ignored. However, Three of the four Revolution defeats were one goal games. I’d even say the Revs outplayed the Union at least twice. I thought the Revolution were the better team in the games in August and October. 

Philadelphia was often content to give the Revolution the majority of possession. Their confidence in their stellar defense allowed them to patiently wait for opportunities on the counterattack. It was a strategy that worked extremely well. To counter this, the Revolution will need to be more methodical when on the attack. Against Philadelphia, sending too many men forward can leave you extremely vulnerable.

Philadelphia’s Key Players

Philadelphia’s attack often revolves around a front three of Sergio Santos, Kacper Przybylko and Brenden Aaronson. Santos has been the Union’s top scorer with 11 goals on the year. His strike partner Przybylko leads Philadelphia in assists. Aaronson typically sits behind the two of them in the role of a number ten. The 20 year old has been extremely impressive this year. His play has earned him a big move to RB Salzburg in January.

Philadelphia’s most important player might just be Andre Blake. The 30-year-old earned his second MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award this season. Blake fractured his hand at the end of October, and has not played since. However, he’s off the injury list and should be available.

 

Blake’s return is a huge morale boost for the Union ahead of the playoffs. He is undoubtedly among the best keepers in the MLS, and he adds a whole extra layer to an already great defense. 

 

New England’s Keys to Success

We have established that the Union are the favorites. They have a dangerous attack and the best defense in the league. Despite this, the Revolution played them extremely close multiple times during the regular season. So, what can New England do to finally get the upper hand?

For starters, the Revs need to focus on being solid defensively. Philadelphia presents a more significant offensive threat than Montreal did. I would expect the Revs’ back line and midfield to focus on defense first. Philadelphia have demonstrated that they can be deadly with space on the counterattack. New England must stay patient to avoid presenting room to run to Philadelphia’s front three.

If New England set up defensively, they will have to capitalize on any chances they create. The Union earned a great goal difference during the regular season, when they scored 44 and conceded only 20. The Revolution will ask their front four of Bou, Gil, Bunbury and Buksa to provide a creative spark. The big three of Bou, Gil and Buksa were great against Montreal. They will need to rise to the occasion again tonight for the Revs to have success.

My X factor for the game tonight is none other than Matt Turner. Turner finished as runner up to Blake in the Goalkeeper of the Year competition. Based on how potent the offense of the Union has been, New England may need him to stand on his head to keep them in the game. Turner is certainly capable of that if need be. The 26-year-old has proven himself to be one of the best shot stoppers in the league over the past few seasons. Tonight would be a perfect opportunity for him to put an exclamation mark on that point.

Predictions

 

Philadelphia are certainly the favorites for this one. They’ve been a great team all season long, and a win from them would surprise nobody. However, a route to victory for New England does seem to be there. It would take a monumental effort, but we have already seen one significant upset in the MLS Cup Playoffs so far.

I’m fairly confident that this is going to be an extremely close game. I think that it will be decided by one goal, as the majority of the regular season meetings between the two teams were.

My head says that the task of breaking down Philadelphia’s defense while maintaining defensive integrity may just be a bridge too far for New England.

On the other hand, my heart says that a fully healthy attack featuring Bou, Gil and Buksa will be able to create the spark needed to do so. 

Either way, it is going to be a phenomenal game. If the playoffs so far have been any indication, we are in store for some can’t miss entertainment.

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– Andrew Fasciano (@afasc573)

 

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