The Philadelphia Union have already gotten the better of Inter Miami twice in the second-year club’s MLS career and Jim Curtin’s side will be eager to make it a third-straight win this weekend.
Both teams come into Saturday night’s showdown at Subaru Park off the back of opposite results on opening weekend, with the Union feeling better coming in. The defending Supporters’ Shield winners advanced into the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals before tying the Columbus Crew 0-0 last weekend.
Phil Neville’s Inter Miami showed positive moments against the L.A. Galaxy, but eventually suffered a 3-2 loss on home soil. After shutting out Inter Miami 3-0 last September, the Union are preparing for a hungry group this weekend.
“Overall I thought it was a strong defensive performance from the group, especially on short rest and in their building,” Curtin said. “Our ability to press and make Columbus uncomfortable was good, but we know we could’ve been better on the day in front of goal. To keep a clean sheet and take a point is a good. Now we focus on Miami, a team who did very well and made things difficult for the Galaxy in Week 1. We recognize the individual quality in the group.
“We want to press and make them uncomfortable for 90 minutes at Subaru Park. We will utilize our fitness and hopefully some of those attacking chances can be sharper in the final third this time around. You only get one home opener each season so we know it’s an important game early in the season. We’re looking forward to putting on a strong showing in front of our fans.”
In two meetings last season, the Union picked up a pair of victories against the then-expansion side, outscoring them 5-1 in the process. A 3-0 home victory at Subaru Park saw Gonzalo Higuain sky a penalty kick and Kacper Przybylko register two assists, in what turned out to be a comfortable home win.
Now the focus is on Saturday’s meeting, the home opener for the Union in regular season play, continuing a busy early-season stretch. Defensively, the Union have been been strong, keeping clean sheets in all of their matches so far, and pressing teams high up the field.
After delivering a strong defensive showing against the defending MLS Cup winners in Columbus, the goal will be to do more of the same against Miami’s dynamic attack.
“I think we need to keep defending as a team and if we keep working hard at it, then the clean sheets will keep coming,” Union centerback Jack Elliott said. “We’re focused on ourselves and obviously we’ve looked at a few details in their style of play, but we have to keep focusing on defending well as a team.”
The Union scored five goals over two legs against a struggling Deportivo Saprissa side, but failed to find the back of the net at Mafpre Stadium last week. Sergio Santos returned to the field from injury for the Eastern Conference club, but attacking options remain thin outside of Santos and Przybylko at the forward position.
Both Cory Burke and Ilsinho are expected to play some sort of role for the Union this week after missing most of the preseason with respective injuries, while Anthony Fontana is also an option higher up the field. Curtin doesn’t have his full strength squad back yet and knows its early in the season to risk guys for long periods of time.
“Cory [Burke] and Ilsinho have rejoined the group and both have looked very sharp,” Curtin said. “Both are available but I’d say time wise 20-30 minutes will be maximum to be smart. We recognize it’s a long season and there are going to be difficult decisions this week. Jack [de Vries] is still in concussion protocol.”
It will be the start of four home matches in the next six overall for the Union in all competitions, a good chance to pick up some early momentum in front of the home fans. While Miami will look to spoil the party, and hand new head coach Neville his first MLS coaching victory, the Union have become one of the best clubs at home in recent seasons.
“The team [Miami] did well in its first season and we think they will come even stronger this time around,” Union striker Kacper Przybylko said. “We have to focus on ourselves first, we respect every team in this league, but it’s our field and we enjoy playing in front of our home fans.”