Preview: Union Head West to Face Chivas
Aside from the first match in club history, never have the
Philadelphia Union (3-7-1) been so excited to go on the road.
Why? Because they’re headed right back home afterwards for
four straight league matches at PPL Park.
The early stretch of the season was as tough mentally as it
was physically, with long road stretches that seemed endless. But PPL Park’s
grand opening – and it was grand after the Union dominated the Sounders 3-1 in
comeback fashion – was just what the doctor ordered to re-focus a young
That brings us to Saturday night’s tilt (10:30pm ET, Fox
Soccer Channel/Fox Sports
en Español) against a struggling Chivas USA (3-9-1), losers of
six straight league matches. Jonathan Bornstein’s homecoming from World Cup
action will boost Martin Vasquez’s squad, but Chivas doesn’t benefit from much of a home field
advantage, having lost their last three at the Home Depot Center to bring their
overall home record to 2-4-0.
At PPL Park on Sunday, Philadelphia looked as dangerous as
any team in the league in the second half. Crisp possession, frequent scoring
chances, efficient finishing, and superior fitness equated to the finest half
of soccer in franchise history.
The challenge for manager Peter Nowak & Co. is bringing
the same intensity and confidence on the road with them, where the club has only
earned three points in eight matches.
A win on Saturday would give the Union a world of momentum
heading back to the Chester Waterfront. With only two
points separating Philadelphia from 5th place in the Eastern
Conference, a rise up the standings is in their future if they consistently play
with the form they’ve shown at times this season. And yes, that means on the
road as well.
Let’s take a look at a few of the key matchups on the pitch.
Sebastien Le Toux, Alejandro Moreno and Danny Mwanga vs
Jonathan Bornstein and Zach Thornton
Le Toux’s shift back to an attacking midfield role
essentially gives Philadelphia a trio of strikers, in addition to attack-minded
midfielders Fred and Roger Torres. Le Toux is just as dangerous as a midfielder, with a goal and two assists last week and the game-winning assist against Houston in the club's only other road win after
dropping back to allow for Mwanga’s late substitution. With six goals and five
assists on the season, tied with Edson Buddle, Dwayne De Rosario and now Alvaro
Saborio for the highest combined goals/assists total in MLS, the word on Le Toux is quickly
spreading. No longer just a hard working, versatile option, Le Toux has taken
his place among the league’s elite.
Le Toux will need to continue serving as a link in the
midfield, and his 7th goal of the season early in the match would go
a long way towards convincing the Union that they can be a different team on
the road than they were in the first third of the season. In fact, Philadelphia
have scored first on the road once all season and that was in Houston.
Moreno is constantly softening defenses with his physical
play, creating space and opportunity for those around him. When he’s not
racking up assists (tied with Le Toux for the team lead), he’s drawing
fouls in and around the area like the one that led to a penalty kick last week.
You can bet he’s hungry for his first goal for the Union, and one would think
it’s on the way with Moreno looking for his shot more frequently of late.
Rounding out the trio is everybody’s favorite rookie, number
one overall pick Danny Mwanga, who forced his way into the starting lineup with
three stoppage time goals in a row off the bench. On Sunday, he showed that he
can find the back of the net as a starter too. While maintaining his pace of
1.1 goals per 90 minutes is unrealistic, Mwanga has already proven that he
belongs at this level. The question is just how good the 18-year-old can become with starter’s minutes.
In net for Chivas is Thornton, a physically imposing ‘keeper
who had a stellar year in 2009 with career bests in shutouts (12) and GAA (0.87).
2010 has been a different story, however, with the opposition scoring an
average of 1.57 goals per match against the Baltimore native. Chivas’ defense hasn’t been
the same either, which is certainly contributing to the stark difference, but nor has Thornton. At age 36, it remains to be seen whether
he can return to last year's form, or even close, and it’s up to Philadelphia’s attack to find out in the short term.
Bornstein’s return can only help a defense that has given up
the fourth most goals per game in MLS. The left back is joined by Mariano Trujillo, Michael Umana and Dario
Delgado, but it’s Bornstein who is the glue. If he can ward off Le Toux’s dangerous
runs along the right flank, Chivas will have a far better chance of containing
the Union. If not, it could be a long day for the Goats at home.
Justin Braun and Jesus Padilla vs Stefani Miglioranzi
Braun and Padilla are the only Chivas players with more
than a single goal on the season, with four and three respectively. Braun is
Chivas’ most dangerous player and is one of the better young talents in
MLS. While defenders Danny Califf and Michael Orozco will have to do their part
if Braun finds his way into Philadelphia’s third, the Union would be better off preventing
situations like the one that allowed Kei Kamara to score early on a wide open
strike from the edge of the box last match.
Much of that responsibility will fall on holding
midfielder Stefani Miglioranizi. The elder stateman on the roster doesn’t get
the headlines, but he’s been one of Philadelphia’s most consistent contributors
through 11 matches. The Union are at their best in the midfield when
Miglioranzi is winning loose balls or breaking up onrushing
attacks, then jumpstarting the counter attack. If he can do just that on
Saturday, the Union may very well be too much to handle in Chivas’ half.
Chris Seitz and the Union defense vs the club’s shutout-less
After an encouraging performance across the backline
and Seitz’s best performance of the season, which including a game-changing
penalty kick save with the score tied at 1-1,
the Union have their sights set on the first shutout in club history. Seitz’s
confidence is at an all time high, and his critics have quieted.
Despite a successful outing last week, no
defense-goalkeeper combo is fully happy without a zero on the scoreboard for
the opposition. Chivas has an offense that can be shut down, and the Union know
they have the talent on their backline to do it, even on the road.
Michael Orozco Fiscal will be back from suspension to
pair with fellow centerback Danny Califf, which leaves Nowak needing to choose
between Shea Salinas and Cristian Arrieta on the right. Salinas could push up
to his natural midfield position, with Torres coming off the bench as a second
half spark plug, but Salinas’ speed is a nice compliment to Califf’s ball
winning. The former Earthquake doesn’t lose his attacking instincts coming out
of the back and he has the speed to get back on defense after making a run forward.
Don’t be shocked to see Salinas starting in the same position again on
Saturday, and possibly longer.
Union Injury Report
MF Kyle Nakazawa (R knee sprain);
FW Alejandro Moreno (R knee contusion);
Cristian Arrieta (R ankle contusion)
USA Injury Report
Date: Saturday, July 3, 2010
Time: 10:30pm ET
Location: Home Depot Center, Carson, Ca.
Television: Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Sports