Philadelphia Union play Nashville SC for first time on Saturday

The Philadelphia Union will play Nashville SC for the first time in franchise history on Saturday at Nissan Stadium.

The game can be heard on Fox Sports The Gambler, starting with the Union Pregame Show presented by DraftKings Sportsbook at 7:30 p.m. ET with Jon Jansen and Joe Tansey.

JP Dellacamera and Danny Higginbotham will be on the call for the 8 p.m. ET match. Jansen and Tansey will be joined by Kevin Kinkead for the Union Postgame Show.

The Union come into Nissan Stadium with a 5-0-3 mark in league play since advancing to the semifinal stage of the Concacaf Champions League.

Philadelphia started that run with a 2-0 road win over the Chicago Fire. It has taken points from each of its five road contests, including draws in the last week at Atlanta United and Chicago.

Nashville, who is 3-0-4 on home soil, brings a more measured defensive approach to the field than Atlanta and Chicago. Gary Smith's side conceded on 11 occasions over 10 games and produced four clean sheets.

Nashville is playing the Union for the first time, but it is not the first scheduled contest between the Eastern Conference sides. They were slated to play at the MLS is Back tournament last summer before Nashville withdrew due to COVID-19 issues.

Despite the unfamiliarity with the overall side, Union manager Jim Curtin is well aware of what Nashville brings to the pitch with experienced MLS players throughout the squad, including Walker Zimmerman and Dax McCarty.

“(Nashville is) a team that does not give up a lot of clear-cut chances in the run of play," Curtin said on Thursday. "Gary Smith has done a great job with them getting organized and they are difficult to play against. We know how difficult it is to go down to Nashville and it’s our first time playing them. It seems like a great party atmosphere down there with the crowd and a very good team that has belief that they can beat anyone. We expect a very difficult match."

“They’re doing very well. They are a tough team to break down. It is a little unique in that we haven’t played each other yet and they’ve been in the league for a season," Curtin said

Curtin should have more depth to work with in midfield for the match. Jose Martinez is available for selection after returning from his time at the Copa America with Venezuela.

Martinez played in an outside position with Venezuela, which could open up more flexibility in the middle of the park between himself and Leon Flach.

“I think it helps us a lot. I think me and Jose are doing really well in the games we had together," Flach said. "It’s difficult with the language sometimes, but sometimes you don’t need language to know what the other guy is doing and I think we both are more concentrated on the defense while Ale (Bedoya) and Jamiro (Monteiro) and now Daniel (Gazdag) are concentrated on the offense. I’m really happy that he could prove himself at a different position because I think it just helps us as a team. We need versatile players and our system is perfect for that because we have so many positions a player could play, especially in midfield. It’s good for everybody."

Flach may be playing with an extra edge on Saturday and for the coming weeks after he did not make the United States men's national team squad for the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup.

“I would have loved to be in the squad, but it’s not like I could decide who is in the squad and who’s not," Flach said "For sure, I would have loved to be in it. I can’t change it. I will grind hard to show that maybe the wrong decision was made. I will continue my work here and I think the next few weeks I definitely will show everybody that it is maybe the wrong decision. I can’t change it, but I will continue what I’m doing here."

Flach's emergence on to the USMNT radar is remarkable in itself after he struggled to earn minutes with St. Pauli in the German second division.

“First of all, I’m happy because it’s gone really fast for me, especially from March to now," Flach said. "I wasn’t even playing at St. Pauli and now I’m here and happy that I’m playing and that I was even in talks about the Gold Cup. I would say it’s encouraging for me. It’s always a nice feeling because you can see that you are doing good work here because everyone is talking about you. For sure, it’s helpful, but I know that it can change really quickly, especially in soccer. I will do my thing and if I can continue my work here and how I’m playing, I think the rest will come."

Flach could start alongside Martinez and Daniel Gazdag in the midfield on Saturday. Bedoya's health could prevent the Union from putting their first-choice midfield four on the field for the first time this season in a starting lineup. Bedoya is questionable for the match, while Jack De Vries, Ilsinho and Anthony Fontana are out.

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