The post-Earnie era is about to begin.
Former Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart officially left the Philadelphia Union organization on Tuesday, after 2 1/2 years of guiding the front office. His legacy is yet to be written in full, but as Bill Parcells once famously said, “you are what your record says you are,” and the Union have remained a team that struggles to get above the playoff red line. It will be interesting to see how his successor does, and hopefully we’ll be finding out who that is soon, as the Union has said that they have identified him and are in the process of working out the contract details. And it will be interesting to see how Stewart does in his new job as US Men’s National Team General Manager.
But in the meantime, the season carries on, and the first post-Earnie match will be taking place late on Saturday night, as the Union are travelling to Providence Park in Portland to take on a Timbers side that has been on a roll lately.
The Timbers’ new head coach Giovanni Savarese has his squad riding 14-game unbeaten streak coming into this match, and they have yet to lose at home this season. They are in fourth place in the Western Conference, and they surely see this match against the Union as a great opportunity to potentially leapfrog the two Los Angeles teams that are ahead of them in the standings.
This will not be an easy match for the boys in blue. They will be dealing with a cross-country plane flight, and Providence Park is one of the most intimidating places to play for a visiting side. They have a top notch attacker in Diego Valeri, who has 7 goals and 9 assists in the 19 matches the Timbers have played so far. Forward Samuel Armenteros (7 goals so far this year) has played so well that the Timbers shipped off Fanendo Adi to Cincinnati FC this week. The Timbers have been playing in a 5-3-2 formation lately, and those five defenders will provide a challenge to the Union attack.
The Union will get a break with midfielder Sebastian Blanco suspended due to yellow card accumulation, and Armenteros is listed questionable with a back injury he suffered a couple of matches ago. If Armenteros isn’t ready to go, Dairon Asprilla will likely get the nod at second forward, which is step down from the departed Adi, who has been a Union killer in the past.
The Union may be a little travel-weary from the long flight, but at least they are well rested, not having played a match since July 25. They actually won a game on the road that night, and they are sitting on a little two-game road winning streak right now. Ilsinho is out with a right quad strain, so we should see either David Accam or Marcus Epps on the wing opposite Fafa Picault. Neither player has made a case to be a regular starter, so whoever does get the start should want to seize the opportunity and make a statement. With their semifinal U.S. Open Cup match coming up on Wednesday, head coach Jim Curtin could tweak the lineup in other ways too to make sure the team has fresh legs for that do-or-die match.
Before the last match, I said I would not pick the Union to win on the road until they show improvement with that. Yes, they have won two away matches in a row now, which is definite improvement. But Providence Park is a fortress for the Timbers. I hope I’m wrong again, but I don’t expect the Union to win. Prediction: Timbers 2, Union 1.