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October 20, 2016

On 'Fan Appreciation Night', the Philadelphia Union should sit their starters

Soccer Union
102016_ny rudds_PSP Paul Rudderow/Philly Soccer Page

Sunday's regular season finale is mostly meaningless for both Philadelphia and New York.

It's important to note that Sunday's regular season finale has no effect on the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The New York Red Bulls are locked into first place.

The Philadelphia Union are locked into a wild-card road game.

I'd argue then, that there's really no reason for Jim Curtin to play any of his starters in this game.

Factor 1: Short rest

Schedule-wise, you're playing at four in the afternoon on Sunday, then turning around for a road trip to D.C., Toronto, or New York on Wednesday or Thursday night.

Let's say the Union get the Wednesday night game. Your schedule probably looks like this for the rest of the week:

     Monday – regeneration and light training
     Tuesday – training and travel 
     Wednesday – playoff game

In this case, your team has 72 hours between the regular season finale and the first playoff game in five years.

If you get the preferable Thursday time slot, it looks like this:

     Monday – regeneration and light training (or a day off)
     Tuesday – training
     Wednesday – training and travel
     Thursday – playoff game

That gives you 96 hours between games, which really does make a huge difference.

Factor 2: Injuries

Chris Pontius, C.J. Sapong, Alejandro Bedoya, Tranquillo Barnetta, and Josh Yaro all had some sort of limitation in training this week. Ken Tribbett was also absent from Wednesday's practice.

Pontius has hamstring tightness and came out of Sunday's game in the second half. Sapong and Yaro are in concussion protocol. Bedoya has the rib injury and Barnetta's knees regularly require "general maintenance," as Curtin put it in his midweek press conference.

Do you risk putting Pontius out there on Sunday? Does Sapong, an already out-of-form striker, need to play? Should Yaro be shut down for the season?

If nothing else, I'd sit all five or six of those players on Sunday to make sure they're close to 100 percent for the playoff game.

Factor 3: Playoff seeding

Philadelphia can climb to fifth place in the east with a home win and a Montreal loss to New England. The Union would finish on 45 points and edge the Impact on the "total wins" tiebreaker, setting up a postseason trip to D.C. United.

D.C. has just one loss in their last thirteen games, though the Union did finish 2-0-1 against United this season. They were 90 seconds from sweeping D.C. with two wins at home and one win at RFK Stadium.

Union fans seem split on whether or not D.C. would be a preferable playoff opponent.

Finishing in 5th place vs. finishing in 6th place doesn't change all that much going forward. It's obviously nicer to finish in the top half of the table for "optics" purposes, though there's not much tangible that changes with the shuffle.

Factor 4: Momentum

The primary counter-argument to resting the starters is that you're forfeiting an opportunity to build momentum going into the playoffs.

It's absolutely true.

A win against Red Bull would provide a confidence boost for a team that hasn't won since August 27th. That could do wonders for a club that has really stumbled into the playoffs by virtue of other teams playing poorly.

Is winning one game out of your last six enough to break the overall funk we've seen in the fall? Do a good 90 minutes make up for a terrible September and October?

It's important to note that the Union have played some decent halves of soccer during the winless streak. They were very good for about 60 minutes on the road in Toronto. They opened the scoring in New York and probably should have taken a result from that game.

I just think it's hard to turn around eleven starters on short rest after another draining game against a high-pressing Red Bull team.

Factor 5: A rookie record

If Keegan Rosenberry plays 90 minutes on Sunday, he will have played every single minute of every single game in 2016, setting a rookie record in the process.

It would be one hell of an accomplishment for a player for already made the all-star team and established himself as a day one starter in his first year as a pro.

Rosenberry can finish on 3,060 minutes with a full 90 on Sunday, beating out veteran Michael Parkhurst for the top spot. Teammate Richie Marquez can also finish in the top five with a full 90 minutes.

These are nice storylines, but they don't mean much if these guys find themselves injured or fatigued going into the playoffs.

There are a couple of other minor storylines as well. Tranquillo Barnetta could theoretically play his last home game on Sunday. The same goes for Andre Blake, who I think will be sold in the offseason. Brian Carroll will probably retire.

Do you value those storylines more than a fresh team for a playoff game?

Factor 6: The Golden Boot

Red Bull doesn't have a ton to play for since they've secured first place in the east and they are out of contention for the Supporter's Shield.

They do, however, have a chance to win the Golden Boot for Bradley Wright-Phillips, who currently has a one-goal lead on NYC rival David Villa.

New York has a first round bye, so I think it makes sense for them to play their starters in this game. If they do rest some of their guys, those players would have a two-week break going into the second round of the playoffs on the weekend of October 29th.

You might see a few changes here and there, but Jesse Marsch will likely put out a first team XI.

Lineup Options

If no starters, then who plays?

You could try something like this:

This gets all 11 starters off the field and gives us 2016 season debuts for a number of players. Maurice Edu and Kevin Kratz would get a good run out, and the homegrown signings would get their first taste of first team action. You'd also give Roland Alberg and Charlie Davies, guys who could factor into the playoff game, a chance to start for the first time in a long time.

But if you're worried that's not good enough, and that this squad would get rolled, you can shore-up the defense a bit with a couple of rearguard starters and a smattering of backups.

This one is similar to the first chart, but you add Blake, Creavalle, Ilsinho, Fabinho, and Marquez to the squad. Edu plays center back, which is his best position on the field.

Again, you have to take a step back and think about what the goal is. Is the goal to win at home in the regular season finale? Is the goal to finish off a couple of nice storylines? Or is the goal to prepare yourself for the third playoff game in franchise history?

I think the answer is obvious.