At long last, MLS about to debut in Philadelphia
At long last, it's just days away: The Philadelphia Union will play
their home opener on Saturday in front of a packed Lincoln Financial Field.
Philly-area soccer fans may not have liked the result in the
Union’s first match in Seattle last month, but they were all treated to finally
seeing their team in action. For the Sons of Ben who traveled to Seattle, just
being at the Union’s first official match was incredible. It’ll be even more
impressive when Philadelphia gets to see them play first hand.
The Union’s first home date will be with D.C. United, the rivals
to the south and a team off to a woeful start this season. They’re also one the
Union could very well take some points from in their first home game.
Ahead of the official preview coming later this week, here are a
few thoughts about what we might see from both teams in Saturday’s match.
Line-up changes: The Union will surely boast a very different
side when they take the field at the Linc. With Toni Stahl out to suspension
and David Myrie being shown the door, things may look slightly different in the
Peter Nowak may drop Michael Orozco into the right-back slot and give
Shavar Thomas the center-back role next to Danny Califf. If it becomes
official, Union fans may also see former Puerto Rico Islanders right back
Christian Arrieta in the side, but a start this soon may be a reach.
In the middle, Nowak has lots of options, but expect Fred to make
his Union debut after missing the Sounders match due to a suspension that
carried over from last season. Playing against his old team, the Brazilian
should be motivated to put in a strong performance.
As far as the forwards go, the same three players who patrolled
the opposition area during First Kick may return. Arguably the two most useful
Union players against Seattle, Alejandro Moreno and Sébastian Le Toux should
get another look against D.C., along with Danny Mwanga, who was only withdrawn
at halftime due to Stahl’s ejection.
D.C.’s worries: After two matches this season, United have yet to
get on the score sheet, shut out 4-0 by Kansas City and then 2-0 by New England
this past weekend. Second-year man Chris Pontius is being relied on heavily to
score the goals and he doesn’t seem ready to do that as yet. His strike mate,
longtime D.C. captain Jaime Moreno, seems to have a slowed a bit as well.
New coach Curt Onalfo wasn’t the first choice to take over the
club in the offseason, and by the looks of things, some in the nation’s capital
may be scratching their heads over what he’s actually brought to the team after
two lackluster seasons in Kansas City.
The former D.C. contingent: It’ll be a special night for a trio
of Union personnel as Fred, Andrew Jacobson and Nowak all will be facing off
against their former team. Fred spent the better part of three seasons with the
club, scoring 11 goals.
Jacobson, now in his second season in MLS spent a year in D.C.
after being drafted 24th overall in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft. He made 17
appearances for the club in 2009 and was considered a solid contributor to the
team that just missed the playoffs.
Finally, we all know about Nowak’s history in D.C., as the Polish
manager ran the team from 2004 to ‘06 and was able to bring the city its fourth
MLS Cup in his first season. Coaching against Onalfo, with whom he worked with
the U.S. national team, will also be an interesting twist for the veteran boss.
Five days still to go before the start of the Union’s home
campaign but there’s obviously lots to discuss. From the inevitable shift in
the lineup to those ready to compete against their former team, the home opener
has plenty of intrigue surrounding it. Combine the packed house at the Linc and
the city of Philadelphia should be in for a wild ride.