Philadelphia Union: Analyzing The Club's MLS Is Back Tournament Group

When the Philadelphia Union hit the field in Orlando for the first of three group games at the MLS is Back tournament, they will have gone four months without playing a competitive game.

To put that in perspective, that's a larger gap than the time between their postseason elimination in 2019 and the start of the 2020 preseason.

The club has been training for a few weeks at the Sixers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware, but it has not been cleared for full team training yet, like other MLS clubs have.

The tournament, which kicks off July 8 with a match between Inter Miami CF and Orlando City, is unique to everyone across the league.

Games will be played on fields at ESPN's Wide World of Sports with no fans, and some sides will play at 9 a.m. ET in order to avoid the Florida heat.

Although this event is different from the U.S. Open Cup because it has group-stage games, the Union have established themselves as one of the better squads in knockout-style tournaments.....well at least until they get to the championship match.

Jim Curtin's side has to finish in the top two of Group A to automatically advance to the knockout round, or it can move on as one of the four-best third-place sides from the six groups.

Where The Union Stand

All the way back in March, the Union played one of the most exciting matches in club history, a 3-3 draw with Los Angeles FC.

Unfortunately, the club's momentum was halted when the league suspended play March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Philadelphia earned a single point from its first two regular-season contests, and it can move up the Eastern Conference standings with group-stage victories.

Each of the first three group-stage games will count toward every team's regular-season record. So essentially they will count as regular-season games No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5.

Curtin told reporters a few weeks back that each player improved on his fitness in comparison to preseason, which is remarkable given the constraints put on players in certain locations during quarantine.

Additionally, each member of the squad is fit for Orlando, which was not the case back in February when the season began.

Left back Kai Wagner is back to full fitness after dealing with a calf injury that cost him most of preseason and forced him to sit out clashes with FC Dallas and LAFC.

The Union have constantly bragged about their depth at each position, and that could be one of the top factors that helps them go far in the tournament.

Kacper Przybylko, Alejandro Bedoya, Andre Blake and others should start most games, but with five substitutes now allowed, we could see more of super sub Ilsinho, as well as Homegrown Players, like Anthony Fontana and Matt Real, who struggled to find consistent playing time due to the depth.

Philadelphia was drawn a favorable schedule, as it faces expansion sides Nashville SC and Inter Miami, as well as New York City FC.

Matchups

Nashville SC

The Union were originally scheduled to play Nashville SC for the first time in May, but instead they will do so in their Florida opener.

The expansion side features a few familiar faces in David Accam and Derrick Jones and former New York Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty.

Nashville lost its first two matches against Atlanta United and Portland Timbers, but it could pose a challenge to the Union, especially on set pieces.

Walker Zimmerman and Dave Romney are a solid defensive pair, and their experience could give Kacper Przybylko and others some trouble in individual duels.

While Nashville has some MLS veterans strewn across its roster, it does not have the depth the Union have.

This should be a fairly easy opener for the Union as they prepare for tougher foes.

Inter Miami

Inter Miami is the more dangerous of the two expansion sides, with Mexico international Rodolfo Pizarro leading the line at forward.

The first-year club will also have Julian Carranza, a 20-year-old Argentinian forward, back after he suffered an injury at the start of preseason.

If you add Matias Pellegrini to the mix, Inter Miami's pace could be hard for the Union's back line to contain,

The matchup between Alejandro Bedoya and Martinez against Wil Trapp and Victor Ulloa could decide the match, as both sets of central midfielders are strong with the ball and could dictate possession for the majority of the match.

This contest feels like more of a toss-up than the opener with Nashville, but the Union should come away with a win or draw.

New York City FC

The Union finally get to play New York City FC in a meaningful game away from Yankee Stadium.

In 2018, NYCFC upended the Union at home to end the regular season and in the Eastern Conference knockout round.

This time around, the two sides will play on an actual soccer field, albeit one that resembles a high school junior varsity pitch.

This match should decide the winner of Group A given the four lackluster squads that also populate the group.

Some combination of Mark McKenzie, Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes will have to deal with Heber, who is one of the best true forwards MLS has to offer.

If the Union limit the threats posed by Heber and Maxi Moralez, they should be able to take the game to NYCFC.

If not, Philadelphia may have its fate decided by others in the group, as it could drop to second place, or placed in the running to be one of the four-best third-place teams.

Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Union.

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