It’s been nearly 6 months since Charlotte FC’s first encounter with the Philadelphia Union. Both teams have gone through changes since then but what hasn't changed is that the Crown will have to be at their very best to the Eastern Conference leaders.
Here are the three ingredients of the match:
False Sense of Security
As of late, the Union have been putting up ludicrous scoring numbers but it’s not necessarily reflective of the way they like to play. They aren’t the flashy, offensive team that looks to dominate the ball you'd think they'd be with their recent run of form.
Rather, they prefer to lull teams into a false sense of security by conceding possession and then pounce when the moment is right. The Union have only averaged 44% possession this season, but they couldn’t care less. Chances are Charlotte are going to have the majority of the ball in this matchup.
While in one way a positive because the team will be able to play their preferred game, it can also be a double-edged sword. It’s easy to get comfortable in a match and lose sharpness if you have the majority of the possession but that’s exactly how the Union wants you to feel. The match will require the team to remain laser-focused for all 90 minutes because Philadelphia are counting on their opponents to get complacent and make mistakes.
Winning the Long Balls
The team is going to have to stay especially sharp specifically in order to handle the Union’s threat in transition. Philadelphia are one of the quickest teams in transitioning defense to attack and their favorite method to do so is by long passes in the air.
Philadelphia are ranked 2nd in most high balls attempted this season but are ranked 2nd to last in ground passes. The statistics paint a clear picture of Union’s methodology that they have perfected this season. CLTFC know firsthand the threat of Philadelphia’s long balls as that’s how they conceded the first goal in their previous confrontation. Staying aware of runs in behind that can be potential passing options and always being ready to drop in order to be positioned to win the long balls will help be key to stifling Philadelphia's prolific attack.
Build on Belief
Charlotte won consecutive matches for the time since early July when they beat New York City FC and followed it up by eliminating the Chicago Fire form playoff contention in dramatic fashion. They were wins that showed the continued progression of the team and can serve as building blocks for belief in the remainder of the season.
Against NYCFC they held on to a 1 – 0 lead with 10 men for over 40 minutes and against the Fire they mounted an astounding comeback away from home. All scenarios that required an incredible amount of self-belief to overcome. Getting a win against a Philadelphia team that is on pace to break MLS records is another daunting challenge ahead but if these past few matches have proved anything, it’s that if the belief is there, the team is capable of anything.
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