Preview: Union at United

Philadelphia looking for second road win of the season against struggling D.C.

Looking to simultaneously snap a five-match winless streak
and extend a two-match unbeaten streak, Philadelphia Union will head south on
I-95 to RFK Stadium for a Sunday showdown with D.C. United. While the matchup
pits the two clubs with the least number of points in MLS against one another, the
Union have been competitive in almost every match this season, something that
can’t be said for United.

A 3-1 loss to FC Dallas on Saturday handed D.C. their second
five-match losing streak of the season, leaving them with a league-worst 12
points in 20 matches. Another loss on Sunday would give the Black-and-Red
a share of their longest losing streak in franchise history, a dismal state of
affairs for the most successful club in MLS history. The four-time MLS Cup champions haven’t won a
league match since July 10 against Seattle, a span of eight matches, and have
scored just three goals during the stretch.

It’d be hard to argue, on the other hand, that Philadelphia
have been outplayed in any of their last nine league matches, aside from a 3-1 loss in
Dallas that was precipitated by an early red card when the club was up 1-0. The
Union have had well-documented struggles finishing in the attacking third, holding leads and avoiding defensive lapses, but the club is
playing an attractive, attacking style that has drawn rave reviews from across
the league.

WATCH: Mwanga, Jacobson, Fred on Sunday's match

Road contests have been particularly troublesome for
Philadelphia, with the expansion side struggling to a 1-8-1 record and -13 goal
differential on the heels of five first-half red cards. But D.C. haven’t been
much better on their home pitch, with a 2-7-1 and -9 goal differential. On
the season, United’s league-worst -22 goal differential is twice that of the Union’s -11,
which is the second worst mark in MLS by a narrow margin. While Philadelphia’s
sixth ranked offense on a per-match basis has only been shutout three times,
D.C. has gone scoreless on 13 occasions, just two shy of the MLS record of 15
shared by Toronto (2007) and New York (2009).

Statistics paint a negative picture for the Union,
but a foundation for future success has been firmly established. Philadelphia
already have one bona fide superstar in 26-year-old Sebastien Le Toux, and Danny Mwanga isn’t
far behind at the tender age of 19. With a fluid and attack-minded midfield --
albeit one that has only produced three goals and five assists this season
aside from Le Toux’s contributions -- a defense with enough individual talent to be successful, and a
goalkeeper who has taken his lumps but also exhibited signs of his vast
potential, the Union appear to be on the cusp of being a very difficult club to
beat.

Even with the recent additions of 35-year-old Eduardo Coudet
and 29-year-old Juan
Diego González, the Union’s roster still ranks second youngest in MLS with an
average age of 25.3, behind only D.C. United’s average of 25.0. Such
has been the strategy of Union Manager Peter Nowak, who has clearly emphasized steady growth and the development of young talent.

Youth will be one subplot on Sunday, spotlighted by two of
the most promising teenage attackers in the league, Mwanga and 17-year-old
United academy product Andy Najar. Arguably D.C.’s most dangerous weapon, Najar
has also been versatile, slotting in at fullback, central
midfield, right wing and forward already in his rookie season. While the
dynamic Honduran has been mentioned in Rookie of the Year conversations, Mwanga
is the undisputed frontrunner, needing just four goals to tie Damani Ralph’s
all-time mark of 11.

Another
intriguing storyline heading into Sunday’s tilt is Nowak’s return to D.C. for the
first time since leaving for a position with the U.S. National Team. As
United’s head coach for three seasons, Nowak compiled a 42-27-25
record and led the club to an MLS Cup title in 2004, his first season in
charge. Featuring as a player during his tenure was current D.C. Interim Head Coach Ben
Olsen, who recently took over for Curt Onalfo after the former DCU boss departed with a
3-12-3 record at the helm.

Matchups to
watch:

Branko Boškovic
vs Stefani Miglioranzi and Eduardo Coudet

When United
completed the signing of 29-year-old Montenegrin midfielder Branko Boškovic on
June 14, the club hoped their newest Designated Player from Rapid Vienna of the
Austrian Bundesliga would bring a playmaking ability previously lacked in the
middle of the pitch. While Boškovic has yet to break through with a goal or
assist in five league matches, he did score within the first minute against the
Harrisburg City Islanders in an Open Cup match and has the potential to be
dangerous when afforded time on the ball, especially in space.

Boškovic will
attempt to navigate between Philadelphia’s midfield and backline, but he’ll
have to contend with the holding midfield combination of Miglioranzi
and Coudet first. Both veterans excel at staying behind the ball, warding off
opposing forays and distributing intelligently. If they can keep Boškovic from frequently penetrating into Philadelphia’s third and creating angles for D.C.'s strikers and other attacking midfielders -- likely at any given time to be some combination of 
Najar, Chris Pontius, Santino Quaranta, Danny
Allsopp, recent signee Pablo Hernandez or all-time leading scorer Jaime Moreno -- 
to spring free, the Union will
have an opportunity to walk away with three points and their first shutout in franchise history.

Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga vs D.C.’s backline and
Bill Hamid

When an attacking
duo has three more goals than an entire team (16 to 13), one can safely bet
it’ll be a point of emphasis to contain them. Staring down Le Toux and Mwanga
will be Hamid, who became the youngest goalkeeper in MLS history to win a
league match when D.C. edged Kansas City 2-1 on May 5. Following his
appointment as Interim Head Coach, Olsen named Hamid -- the first United
Academy player to be signed by the first-team -- to replace Troy Perkins, who
the club acquired in a pre-draft deal with the Union for Fred, the #7 overall
pick (which was used on Jack McInerney) and allocation money. The 19-year-old
‘keeper has performed well in two matches since seizing the starting role, but D.C.
has been unable to earn a result despite his efforts. 

Mwanga’s goals
have come in bunches this year, and the phenom is looking to tally
in his third straight match for the second time this season. Mwanga has
benefitted from the attention paid to Le Toux, but he also has been a deadly
finisher when given the opportunity to score, converting 35 percent of his shots
and 58 percent of his shots on goal. Le Toux has an opportunity to enter
rarified territory with a goal and an assist Sunday, which would make him one
of four players in MLS history to reach double-digit goals and assists in his
club’s first 20 matches.

United's starting backline -- a unit that consisted of Devon
McTavish, Carey Talley, Julius James and Marc Burch
against
Dallas
-- will have their hands full
with the size, pace and cohesiveness of Le Toux and Mwanga. The
league’s second worst defensive unit (1.75 GAA) -- ahead of only Philadelphia (1.79
GAA) -- will need to prevent Le Toux from finding enough space on the wings to
cut into the box with the option of shooting or feeding an onrushing
Mwanga, as he's done successfully on numerous occasions this year. Le Toux has also been deadly receiving service at the top of the area
with his back to the goal and finding the rookie streaking past him, a sequence
that yielded goals against Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake. If United can limit the chances of Philadelphia's prized pair, goals may be hard to come by for either side on Sunday. 

Last Match Highlights

Philadelphia 1, Colorado 1

Dallas 3, D.C. 1

More Analysis

Play by Play Plus: MLS, Possibly USMNT Future on Display

Watch: United Preview

Union, United Looking to Turn Seasons Around

Hackworth Expects Tough D.C., Despite Standings

Califf: We Have the Talent to Win Now

Le Toux in Midst of Record-Breaking Season

Fred Seeking to Beat Former Club

Fred Excited for Return to D.C.

Union Focused on Themselves vs D.C.

Philadelphia Union Injury Report

OUT: MF Shea Salinas (L fibula
fracture)

PROBABLE: DF Jordan Harvey (L groin
strain)

DC United Injury Report

OUT: MF Brandon Barklage (L ACL tear);
DF Juan Manuel Peña (R quad strain); GK Andrew Quinn (R meniscus tear); DF
Rodney Wallace (L fibula fracture)

QUESTIONABLE: FW Chris Pontius (R
hamstring strain)

PROBABLE: MF Clyde Simms (L calf
strain)

Match Information



Date:
Sunday, August 22, 2010

Time:
2:00pm ET

Location: RFK Memorial Stadium (Washington, DC)

Television: Live Well HD Network, MyNetwork TV – WQMY

Talent:
JP Dellacamera (Play-by-Play); Kyle Martino (Color Analyst)

Referee: Alex
Prus;
SAR (bench): Craig Lowry; JAR (opposite): Eric Proctor;
4th: Jorge Gonzalez