Preview: Philadelphia Union at D.C. United

As exciting as Philadelphia Union’s first game against Seattle was for the club’s hometown fans, it was merely an appetizer. The main course is this Saturday, when Major League Soccer, and the world for that matter, will get a taste of the atmosphere opposing teams can expect when coming to play in Philadelphia. 

We’ve seen glimpses of the excitement and passion over the last few years – when Philadelphia was awarded a team, at PPL Park’s Groundbreaking ceremony, when the club’s name and logo were unveiled – but never on this scale. Not even close. This is the moment Philadelphia soccer fans have really been waiting for. 

The proof is in the ticket sales. PPL Park would’ve been sold out long ago if the Home Opener were being played there, with well over 25,000 tickets sold. If the weather holds up, expect that number to spike considerably.

The atmosphere at Lincoln Financial Field will speak for itself on gameday, but what will transpire on the pitch? Let’s take a look at each squad heading into the game.

The Competition – D.C. United

D.C. United heads into the match after a disappointing first two games. The club lost 4-0 to Kansas City during MLS’ opening weekend, followed by a 2-0 defeat to New England this past weekend. The big question now for D.C. is whether they’re simply off to a shaky start or if it’s the beginning of a long season. 

The Squads

Goalkeeper – Philadelphia Union

Chris Seitz got the nod in goal in Seattle and did nothing to lose his spot, so we should see him between the pipes again vs. United. Holding Seattle scoreless in the second half down a man was impressive and Seitz looked decisive throughout. While admitting after the game that he could’ve punched the ball even further before the second goal was scored, the fact is he did his job by coming out and clearing the box. 

With at least half of Union’s defensive backline featuring new faces in game two of the expansion club’s inaugural campaign, Seitz will need to establish strong communication early, especially given the level of crowd noise anticipated. The tools are all there for a breakout season filled with numerous shutouts, and Seitz is undoubtedly looking for his first in front of the hometown supporters. 

Goalkeeper – D.C. United

Looking to solidify its ‘keeper position in the offseason, D.C. re-acquired 2006 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Troy Perkins in a pre-draft trade with none other than the Philadelphia Union. Dealing its #7 overall pick (which the Union used to select Jack McInerney) and midfielder Fred, United hasn’t seen the deal reap benefits in the early going, with the club surrendering six goals in just two games.
 
But there’s no doubting Perkins’ skill in net, so it should only be a matter of time before he meshes with his defenders and begins to slow down the attack of opposing teams. Count on Philadelphia Union doing everything in its power to ensure that the adjustment period lasts at least one more game. 

Defense – Philadelphia Union

It’s rare that a backline is guaranteed to see a 50% turnover from one game to the next before lineups are even close to determined. But after Toni’s Stahl’s red card and David Myrie’s release, Union Manager Peter Nowak has some decisions to make. Captain Danny Califf and left back Jordan Harvey are likely to stick in the starting XI, but what about right back and the centerback position alongside Califf? 

Don’t be surprised if Shavar Thomas steps right into the space that Stahl occupied against Seattle. An experienced central defender, Thomas should fit in rather seamlessly. In fact, many expected him to start the season in that role. 

The tougher spot to call is on the right, but Nowak has a few options to consider. One option is bringing Michael Orozco back from the defensive midfield role he played in the opener. But with Nowak pleased with the way Orozco performed in just his first game as a midfielder, will he want to continue the experiment? Or is the need at right back strong enough to warrant a change in strategy?
 
One determining factor could be Cristian Arrieta, who was announced as the Union’s newest player on Friday. If Arrieta can step in right away, and don’t rule it out given that fact that he’s been training with the club recently, that may be the easy answer.

Defense – D.C. United 

A perceived weakness heading into the season, D.C.’s defense has been just that in its first two games. Anchored by Dejan Jakovic in the middle, who failed to clear Chris Tierney’s cross that led to New England’s first goal last weekend, D.C. will look to establish some cohesion with new faces littering the unit. 

Also playing centrally, former Villareal defender Juan Manuel Peña, 37, was promptly inserted into the lineup against New England after being convinced to come out of retirement by fellow Bolivian and teammate Jamie Moreno. Except to see him there again after a solid debut.

Carey Talley is another who is still adjusting to his new team after being dropped by Chivas USA prior to the 2010 season, not long after wearing the Captain’s armband for the red-and-white. Having won an MLS Cup with United in 1999, Talley will play out wide on the right and look to bring back some of the magic that has gone missing in the nation’s capital over the past two years. 

On the left, sophomore Rodney Wallace hopes to continue the strong form he showed last year, when he led United with 3,117 minutes played in all competitions as a rookie. 

Midfield – Philadelphia Union

Philadelphia’s midfield will get a boost this week, as Fred will be returning from a one-game suspension that carried over from last season’s regular season finale. Facing the team that traded him in the offseason, he’ll be looking to prove the deal was a mistake for D.C. But more importantly, he’ll be motivated to convince Nowak that he should be in the starting XI to stay. 

Odds are Fred will be joined by Roger Torres, one of the brighter spots for the Union in Seattle. Torres’ quickness and vision were on display, as the 18-year-old Colombian was often seen wreaking havoc along the right touchline. 

Will Danny Mwanga play an attacking midfield role again? Will he start again? Both are questions many are asking leading up to the Home Opener. Mwanga is naturally a striker, meaning he could come off the bench as a super-sub behind Alejandro Moreno and Sebastien Le Toux. Either way, look for Nowak to find Mwanga’s ideal role early in the season, perhaps starting this weekend.

And what about Stefani Miglioranizi? Many thought he would start in a holding midfield role, but the surprise start by Orozco in that position relegated Miglioranzi to the bench. But Miglioranzi performed well after coming on for Mwanga at the half and could be in line for a game two start. Orozco’s location on the field could have a lot to do with that decision.

Midfield – D.C. United 

New acquisition Christian Castillo has all the moves and plenty of quickness, but it has yet to translate into goals. Will the Salvadorian break through from the left wing this week? That’s certainly one thing D.C.’s traveling supporters will be rooting to see this weekend.

Union midfielder and defenders will want to monitor Santino Quaranta, who has been capped eight times by the USMNT in his career, to make sure he doesn’t get a clear line of sight to strike within 20-25 yards of goal. Quaranta’s blast off a free kick last week nearly netted United its first goal of the young season. 

All in all, D.C.’s midfield will need to maintain it’s ground on the defensive side of the ball, but more importantly must provide service to United’s dangerous striking combo of Jaime Moreno and Chris Pontius. Without that, D.C. could be heading into its fourth game of the season against Chicago still scoreless on the 2010 campaign.

Attack – Philadelphia Union

You can bet that the Union’s attack will be eager to net the first goal in club history on Saturday. Alejandro Moreno is a prime candidate to do so, having the most career MLS goals amongst players on the Union roster with 43 tallies.

Sebastien Le Toux is another striker with a good shot to score, no pun intended. Likely to draw another start up top, Le Toux will need to prove his effectiveness as a goal scorer early in the season if he wants to continue playing his favorite position. With Mwanga, Nick Zimmerman and youngster Jack McInerney constantly pushing for playing time, there no room for complacency or lack of form.

The Union will look to get on the scoreboard early to ignite the hometown fans, while also working on the chemistry that will carry through to the rest of the season. Make no mistake though, that first goal is the immediate focus. Will we see it on Saturday? If we do, you’ll regret not bringing your ear plugs.

Attack – D.C. United

The aforementioned duo of Moreno and Pontius should be one of D.C.’s strengths, but it hasn’t materialized in the club’s first two games. But Moreno is always dangerous, evidenced by his standing as MLS’ all-time leading scorer. Despite being 36 years of age, Moreno hasn’t lost much, other than his endurance, accumulating 9 goals and 3 assists in just 1,240 minutes last year. Impressive stuff from one of the League’s legends, but how much longer can he keep it up? 

On the other end of the career spectrum is Pontius, a second year player who can play all over the pitch. Pontius was formidable from the first game of his MLS career, when he scored against L.A. on a bending strike to the far post. Pontius is on his way to being a star in this league, but the Union’s defense will do everything possible to ensure that his rise to stardom is put on hold for at least one more game. 

Match Information

Date: Saturday, April 10, 2010

Kickoff: 6:08 p.m. ET

Location: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA

National TV: Fox Soccer Channel/Fox Sports en Español