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How You Doin'? Philadelphia Union - Take Two

Eugene Rupinski of The Brotherly Game stops by for a chat prior to Saturday's match in Toronto between TFC and the Philadelphia Union

The Philadelphia fans are ready for Saturday's match - are you?
The Philadelphia fans are ready for Saturday's match - are you?
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Continuing Waking the Red's build in the eighteenth game of the 2015 season, WTR exchanged some questions with Eugene Rupinski of SB Nation's Philadelphia Union site, The Brotherly Game, to shed some light on the opponent from their perspective.

Question the First
After a difficult start to the season, the Union appeared to have turned things around, especially on the goal-scoring front. CJ Sapong is on fire, Andrew Wenger has finally broken his duck, and Vincent Nogueira has been chipping in, but the man that makes them tick is Cristian Maidana. How important is Maidana to the attack, what has Sapong been doing on the current hot streak, and is it all down to that fan protest in May that sparked the resurgence?

Both Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira are crucial pieces in the Union's attack. Without them, the creative engine shuts down and the Union attack becomes predictable and rather impotent. Missing one or both of these players, the Union are 0-6. With both of them in the starting lineup, the Union are 5-3-2.

Sapong has been on fire since returning from his suspension, having five goals and an assist in his eight games back. The last match against the Portland Timbers was the first in which he didn't register a point since a May 30 loss against D.C. United, where he was subbed on in the 72nd minute. And even if CJ doesn't score a point, he is enough of a threat where the opposing defense has to keep an eye on him at all times, which allows the other guys to work free of added pressure.

And while it's hard to know exactly what sparked the resurgence, I think it has more to do with the Union finally getting a healthy first choice starting XI out on the pitch than the fan protest from earlier this season. That being said, the fans and players here have a great relationship. They knew the protests weren't about them, and perhaps some of that passion and fire rubbed off on them in a good way.

Question the Second
Philadelphia's goalkeeping circus has been a running comedy for the past few seasons, opting to draft Andre Blake with Zac MacMath coming into form, only to sign Rais M'Bolhi in what can only be termed a disastrous mistake. Since then, a pair of virtual unknowns – Brian Sylvestre and John McCarthy – have stepped into the breech and done very well. Given the strength at that position domestically, does their rise to prominence, as well as that of the likes of Clint Irwin, Joe Bendik, and Chris Konopka, finally put to rest the idea that it is worth investing an international roster spot on a keeper?

If there's one position the United States churns out quality prospects regularly, it's goalkeeper. While we've become accustomed to seeing passport Americans playing other positions, the list of goalkeepers born and raised in the United States is long. From current guys like Timmy Howard, Brad Guzan, and Nick Rimando to Brad Friedel, Dino Vanole, and Tony Meola there is a tradition of great American goalkeepers. 

The Union's goalkeeper woes are well-documented and self-inflicted. The club put all of their hopes in M'Bolhi and seemed genuinely shocked when he imploded. The only hope is to offload him during this transfer window to free up his massive salary and use that on something useful.

The Union will also still have quite the conundrum to deal with even if M'Bolhi leaves. Brian Sylvestre is on a short term loan from The Carolina Railhawks, and he has proven he can play at an MLS level consistently. The Union will need to make a move to sign him if they feel he's the guy to be their number one. They also have Jamaican international Andre Blake, who looked great during last year's Caribbean Cup - earning the Golden Gloves - but has had meniscectomies on both knees and hasn't played a competitive minute since. He's currently with Jamaica in the Gold Cup, but is third on the depth chart. John McCarthy has been serviceable, but is still very green and needs a lot of polishing.

Then there's Zac MacMath, who was exiled to the Colorado Rapids and is solidly stuck behind Clint Irwin on the depth chart. He's scheduled to return to Philadelphia at the end of the season if the Rapids don't choose to purchase his contract - and honestly I don't see that happening with Irwin playing as well as he had been. Would MacMath want to come back to the club that gave up so easily on him for the shiny new time bomb that was M'Bolhi? We'll see this winter I'm sure. 

Question the Third
What is going on with Toronto-born Steven Vitoria? Some (hi!) had high hopes for him this season, but a combination of factors have seen him away from the pitch for a very lengthy period. It is just the form of Richie Marquez and Maurice Edu as a partnership that is keeping him off the pitch, or is it something more? Any way that a trade of some sort could be arranged with Toronto – not sure how that would work, given he is on loan – but what would it take to pry him away from Philly?

Vitoria had been hurt for a good portion of the season, however when he was playing he was rather ineffectual. With Vitoria in the lineup, the Union were 1-5-3 with a -7 goal differential. That being said, he was playing in front of Rais M'Bolhi for five of those matches and John McCarthy for the rest, so perhaps it will be different with a solid guy like Sylvestre behind him. I'd like to see Vitoria given a second chance here to prove himself, however I'd keep him on a very short leash. Marquez has proven to be a capable center back, and is also a domestic player making significantly less than Vitoria. He also won't cost a transfer fee at the end of he season.

As far as a trade, if I were a GM I'd listen to any and all offers, however I'm not sure how it would work with him being on loan from Benfica still. It'd probably be doable thanks to the unique structure of MLS, however it'd be interesting from a procedural standpoint to say the least. Right now the Union's biggest need would probably be left midfielder and left back, although depth at center back is needed too (although I don't see the benefit of trading Vitoria for another center back unless it's a salary dump and/or freeing up an international slot). There are players I'd be interested in on TFC for sure, but I'm not the GM.

Barbed Question
Protest marches from pub to match, the lumberjacking of bread, and documentaries about a club's fanbase that is less than a decade old; is there a risk that the supporter's are becoming more famous than the club, shouldn't some matters on the field be a priority?

I'd say that the record since the fan protest (5-3-1) speaks for itself. The fans here are awesome. The acerbic wit that comes with living here shows through in our celebrations, hence things like the chainsaw-ing of the loaf of bread against Portland. It's fun to be a part of that, especially when the season has been as tough as it has been on the fans.

Make no mistake though - the fans in the stands don't win or lose points, but if the fans can help by drawing some of the attention and pressure off of the team by holding a fan protest or doing a send-up of another team's mascot, then I'm all for it. 

Many thanks to Eugene for spending some time with Waking the Red – he can be followed on Twitter @GolazodelGringo – and be sure to check out all the latest Union news over at The Brotherly Game.

Waking the Red's answers to their questions can be found here