1) With how tight the standings are in the East, especially in the middle of the pack, is this match a "must win" for the Union in regards to their playoff chances?
Yes, it is a must win. The Philadelphia Union are winless in their last five games and have scored only one goal in those five games combined. Of course, that was the Union's 5-1 loss to New England Revolution. Previous Union games during that five game stretch have also been classified as must win, but at some point you run out of must wins, and I fear the Union are approaching that point of no return if they do not win. They are not mathematically eliminated with a loss, but it would get progressively harder and according to sportsclubstats, the Union will increase their playoff chances to over 50% with a win, but a loss could send their chances as low as 18%. With time running out, the Union cannot afford another disappointment.
2) Last time these two teams met, the Union got an early lead and almost made it 2-0 before giving up 3 goals. What do they have to do to start well and make sure that they hold on later in the match?
The Union need to be assertive and do their best to take control of the midfield. The Union tend to prefer a real slow and methodical buildup, often trying to attack down the wings, and to say it has not been working of late is putting it mildly. That said, Union manager John Hackworth is extremely stubborn with his starting XI, a starting XI that features little in the way of creative midfielders. The frustrating part is the Union do have two creative midfielders on their squad, including Kleberson, a player who has been around the European circuit and has made a total of 32 appearances with the Brazilian national team. Most of that was in the 2000s and while Kleberson is not the player he used to be at age 34, he's not dead either. And frankly, dead is the best way to describe the creativity of the Union midfield with him and Roger Torres on the bench, as they always are.
3) How will the week off affect the Union's play this week?
I can only hope it will affect the Union positively as the rest factor in most scenarios overwhelms the rust factor, but the Union's issues do not stem from fatigue. They just are not a very strong team with a poor manager too loyal to "his guys." I can only hope that the extra week will mean the Union will play the best game they can possibly play, but considering the Union and considering the opposition, that may not be enough.