Preview: Philadelphia Union VS F.C. Dallas

There’s no place like
home.

After a four game road
losing streak, playing in front of the passionate
Union faithful is a welcomed change
. Despite early season struggles,
the Union (1-5-0) have by no means dug a hole they can’t climb out of.
In fact, just 6 points separate Philadelphia and third place in the
Eastern Conference. Furthermore, the expansion side is one of only three
teams (Columbus and Kansas City being the others) to have played less
than seven games so far this season, meaning more points to be had the
rest of the way. Simply put, there’s a whole lot of season left. 

Couple
all of this with the fact that no other MLS team has played less than
three home games so far, compared with just one for the Union, and
perhaps its not so surprising that the youngest team in MLS is off to a
rough start. 

There are encouraging
signs on the field too. The Union have played far better than a four
game losing streak would lead you to believe. Against Real Salt Lake,
there was no doubt who the better team was in the first 25-30 minutes,
something even Salt Lake Head Coach Jason Kreis acknowledged after the
game. Philadelphia moves the ball gracefully and efficiently at times,
but aside from the Home Opener, far too many attacking sequences have
broken down one or two steps too soon. Mistakes in the defensive third
have been the story this season, something Philadelphia knows they need
to cut out in order to be successful. 


So what does all this
mean? Well, not much this year if the Union don’t start winning.
Ownership knows this. The Technical Staff knows this. Players know this.
And fans know this. The Union are built for the future, perhaps better
than any other team in the league, but that doesn’t take away any
urgency from Saturday’s match against FC Dallas (2-1-4). 

After ties in four of out
Dallas’ first five games, two straight 1-0 wins have the Hoops just
three points shy of being in a tie for second place in the Western
Conference. Then again, aside from LA, every team in the conference has
between 9 and 13 points, but that just makes every game even more
important. Dallas is looking to build off of their current momentum, but
the 13,231 opposing fans in attendance in Houston for their last away
game won’t compare to the atmosphere expected on Saturday.

The home crowd will
provide an advantage that Manager Peter Nowak’s side hasn’t had in over a
month. The real key, however, will be cutting out the mistakes that
have plagued the Union nearly every game. Scoring first is also vitally
important. Philadelphia has done so just once this season, not
coincidentally in their only win, a 3-2 triumph against D.C. United in
the club’s Home Opener. The Union hope that a match in Philadelphia will
be just what they need to turn their
season around
.

How is each side looking
as the Union look to win the second of two matches at Lincoln Financial
Field before moving to their home grounds, PPL Park, on June 27? Let’s
take a position-by-position look. 

Goalkeeper –
Philadelphia Union

Chris Seitz would be the
first to tell you he’s struggled at times this season. He’s shown
flashes of his vast potential, but the mistakes have overshadowed the
good. A 2.33 GAA is too high for any MLS ‘keeper and Seitz will have to
start bringing that number down in order to instill confidence. Nowak
hasn’t hinted at replacing Seitz as the starter and it looks as if the
first-year starter will be given time to work out the kinks.

One thing is for sure:
Nowak, Coach John Hackworth and Goalkeeper Coordinator Rob Vartughian
haven’t lost confidence in Seitz long-term. He’s still the future in net
for the Union; it’s just a question of how quickly he realizes his
potential. A strong performance this weekend would go a long way, but
the onus doesn’t fall solely on Seitz. The defense in front of him will
have to do a better job marking, as two of the three goals last week
were virtually impossible for Seitz to prevent. 

Goalkeeper – FC
Dallas

Kevin Hartman has settled
in as Dallas’ keeper
 after manning the net for two straight 1-0
victories. Hartman’s worst showing of the season, a 4-2 loss to D.C.
United in a U.S. Open Cup play-in match, doesn’t count against his
stats, so the 14-year MLS veteran is sporting a stellar 0.67 GAA in
three starts. 

Hartman’s last performance
against D.C. United may have been his finest of the season, with a few
highlight saves including the NAPA Save of the Week.
Hartman is in good form, so the Union will need to test him early and
often to break through.

Defense –
Philadelphia Union

The Union’s backline is
clearly underperforming, with far too much talent to be giving up the
most goals per game in the league. That stat is a bit skewed by the fact
that Philadelphia’s last two opponents, LA and Salt Lake, are tied for
the most goals scored in the league, but not a single member of this
unit would tell you they’re happy with the way the group is playing. 

The main problem seems to
be committing a very costly error, usually in the first half, that
causes the Union to play catch-up the rest of the game. When a team is
desperate for a goal, they push forward a bit more than they otherwise
would, leaving holes exposed in the back. Jumping out to an early lead
on Saturday would do wonders for Philadelphia’s defense, allowing them
to play their game with the knowledge that all they have to do to win is
hold Dallas down.

Defense – FC
Dallas

Dallas’ defense has been
stellar the last two games, recording shutouts against Houston and D.C. Their stinginess has been a full-team
effort
, but the defense has certainly done their part. Heath Pearce,
who will report to U.S.
National Team camp following Saturday’s match
, is the biggest name
in the backline mix, but he’s actually been featured plenty in midfield
roles this season. It remains to be seen where Dallas Head Coach
Schellas Hyndman will feature Pearce on Saturday, but expect to see him
in the back with all of their offensive guns healthy, most likely at
left back.

Ugo Ihemelu will start in
the center, joined by George John, a pairing that hasn’t been easy to
beat in recent matches. Rookie Zach Loyd, the 5th overall selection in
the 2010 SuperDraft, will likely slot in at right back. 

While this unit has been
strong, they’re not unbeatable. If Philadelphia’s midfield and perhaps
even backline help out in the attacking third, the Union should be able
to do what Houston and D.C. were unable to do - score.

Midfield –
Philadelphia Union

The return of Stefani
Miglioranzi will help, as the midfielder’s ability to break up the
opponent’s attack and initiate the counter-attack is invaluable for a
young expansion side. The probable return of Sebastien Le Toux will also
improve this unit, with Fred able to move back into his familiar
attacking midfielder position. While Kyle Nakazawa drew the start
against Salt Lake and performed well, particularly on set pieces, he’ll
likely be relegated to a role off the bench with the midfield fully in
tact. 

Many expected Shea Salinas
to start last game, but Nowak instead used him as a spark plug off the
bench. Salinas has been just that and it’s a good bet that his
impressive pace will be employed again this Saturday when the defense
begins to tire. 

Roger Torres has
experienced some inconsistency
 adjusting to the physicality of MLS,
but his creativity and attacking instincts are evident every time he
touches the ball. Once the 18-year-old learns how to channel his skills
for 90 minutes, he’ll be even more difficult to contain.

Midfield – FC
Dallas

Dallas will likely go with
a 4-5-1 formation on Saturday, with Brek Shea and Atiba Harris along
the left and right flanks, respectively, midfield maestro David Ferreira
in an attacking role, Captain Daniel Hernandez in a holding role, and
Dax McCarty helping out on both sides of the ball. 

Hernandez is the glue in
this midfield, allowing the rest of the unit to push into the attack.
Ferreira is a dynamic playmaker who racked up 7 goals and 8 assists last
year and has 3 assists so far this year. McCarty isn’t far behind as a
playmaker, with 6 assists last year and 2 this year to go along with a
goal.



Attack –
Philadelphia Union

The likely return of
Sebastien Le Toux will provide a much-needed shot in the arm for an
offense that only scored once in two games in his absence. According to
Nowak, playing on Saturday is “more than possible” and Le Toux has
proclaimed himself ready to play. Exactly how long and whether or not
the Union’s leading scorer starts is another story, but there shouldn’t
be too many lingering effects from the left knee injury sustained over
two weeks ago. If Alejandro Moreno and Le Toux pick up where they left
off playing at home, the home crowd will be in for a treat.

Le Toux’s return helps
Moreno, who is most effective when holding the ball up in the opponent’s
territory and finding his teammates. That dynamic was on display in the
Home Opener, with Moreno having a hand in all three of Le Toux's goals.
With only 4 shots and 1 SOG on the season, one would think Moreno will
start looking for his shot more as well. The Union’s offense has only
clicked on all cylinders once this season, but boy was it pretty when it
did
. Oh, and that three-goal performance came in the only other
home game so far this season. 

Attack – FC Dallas

FC Dallas leads the league
in both shots (107) and shots on goal (42), so they’re not afraid to
let it rip. Led by Jeff Cunningham, this unit only has 9 goals in 7
games, meaning shots haven’t always translated to goals. Dallas’ offense
has played just well enough to get a result in all but one game this
year, with strong defensive efforts leading to 6 points in the last 2
matches despite only 1 goal in each of the games.

If Hyndman in fact opts to
field a 4-5-1 formation, Cunningham will serve as the lone striker.
Major League Soccer's second all-time leading scorer, with 125 career
tallies, Cunningham scored his first non-PK goal of the season last
week, but he's undoubtedly still among MLS’ most dangerous attacking
players.

Cunningham netted 17 goals
last season to take home the 2009 MLS Golden Boot thanks to a
second-half run for the ages. With 16 goals during the team’s final 14
games, Cunningham was deservedly named to the MLS Best XI squad and was a
finalist for the league MVP award. The striker also added 8 assists to
his league-leading goal tally. Containing Cunningham is the obvious key
to the match for the Union on the defensive side of the ball.