FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- They may not be the flashiest club in the conference, but the Philadelphia Union (10-7-8, 38 points) pose a formidable challenge nevertheless for the New England Revolution (9-9-8, 33 points) on Sunday.
While the Union feature a dynamic forward duo, along with a strong back four, what really concerns Revolution coach Jay Heaps about Sunday’s opponent is their ability to get results, regardless of the circumstances.
“They're resilient,” Heaps said. “They go on the road and they can win on the road, they can win at home, (and) they can win in a bunch of different ways. They're one of those teams that, no matter what, responds and does well.”
Though they currently hover only two points clear of the fifth and final playoff spot, the Union have done remarkably well to avoid any serious pitfalls. In fact, they’re the only club in the conference to avoid consecutive losses this season.
How they’ve managed to remain quietly consistent all season has been the delicate balance they’ve struck between their defense and offense.
In the defending third, center backs Jeff Parke and Amobi Okugo have helped the Union collect clean sheets in three of their last four, while Sheanon Williams has remained one of the best right backs in the league.
But up top is where the Union punishes their opponents the most. Although Jack McInerney and Conor Casey come into the match with a combined 19 goals, Heaps knows there’s more to the attack than Philadelphia’s potent poachers.
“They're a relentless team in what they can do off the ball, off those key forwards,” Heaps said. “And the players that run off of those players are dangerous at all times.”
One thing that makes players like McInerney and Casey especially dangerous is their propensity to score off set pieces. With Sebastien Le Toux providing picturesque passes from free kicks and corner kicks, the Union have collected a conference-high 15 goals from set pieces.
With that in mind, Revolution striker Chad Barrett believes the best way to beat the likes of Le Toux and MacInerney is to stay disciplined, especially inside their own end.
“You just try not to foul them,” Revolution striker Chad Barrett said. “And try not to commit any stupid fouls in the final third and give them chances.”
While the Union have mastered the art of the set piece, they’re also effective on the counterattack. Their overall road possession percentage (43.1 percent) is one of the worst in the league, so the Revolution are expecting Sunday’s opponent to be keen on feasting off of mistakes.
“They’re going to sit in and let you have the ball and try to catch you asleep in the back,” Revolution midfielder Lee Nguyen said. “So we have to be wary of that. We can't give away silly balls in our area where it can leave us vulnerable in the back. We just have to be careful and strong up top and keep them pinned in their half.”
If the Revolution can succeed at doing at doing all that, then there’s no telling what a win could do for them in a wide-open conference race.
“We’ve got one game on them (and we’re) five points back,” Barrett said. “So if we win this game, we have a game in hand with a chance to step in front of them. We think that we're a better team than Philadelphia, (but) no doubt they are a good team.”