Preview: Union vs Fire

Eastern Conference sides desperate for points to do battle at PPL Park Saturday

Spirits are normally high when a club
is looking to extend to a four-match unbeaten streak in all competitions, but
after dropping two points against Kansas City -- and the club’s first shutout
and winning streak in league play in the process -- that’s not the case for the
Philadelphia Union (5-11-6). Even still, the Union are playing some of their
best soccer of the season, with the offense continuing to create chances and
the defense solidified since early season struggles.

Union currently sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 20 points
through 22 matches and a 3-2-5 record at home. That point total equals the
performance of Real Salt Lake in their 2005 expansion season, also bettering
Chivas USA’s record from their expansion season the same year. The next
expansion side to surpass is Toronto FC, who had 25 points in their inaugural
season of 2007. 

The Chicago Fire (6-7-8) will pay a
visit to PPL Park on Saturday in a fight to stay in the playoff hunt. The Fire, who have a 3-5-2 record away
from Toyota Park, have a game in hand on the Union and 26 points overall, but
Carlos de los Cobos’ side is
coming off a midweek scoreless draw with Toronto FC that extended their
winless run to four matches. Chicago are six points shy of San Jose for the
eighth and final playoff spot, while Philadelphia are in the unfavorable
position of being 11 points back with eight matches left to play.

The Union are looking for their first
win at home since July 17 against Toronto, although they’ve only lost once as
well, going 0-1-4 in league play during the stretch. Failing to extend and
protect leads has been the core issue at home, but it’s hard to point to a
single match in which Philadelphia have been outplayed on their
own turf this season. That bodes well going forward, but it’s time for the club
to start seizing the points they deserve, and that starts this weekend.


Manager Peter Nowak’s side won’t have
it easy against Chicago, who feature a bevy of dangerous attackers. An attacking core of Designated Players Freddy
Ljungberg and Nery Castillo, American soccer legend Brian McBride, MLS All-Star
Marco Pappa, dangerous winger Patrick Nyarko and Collins Johns certainly has
the capacity to produce more than the two goals they’ve mustered over the last
three matches combined, however. The combination of Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga
will lead the Union attack, a pairing that has accounted for 17 of the club’s
26 goals.

Castillo’s return to full fitness
should help Chicago, as the Mexican international went the full 90 on Wednesday
for the first time since joining the Fire, starting the game in a wide role on the left before moving centrally with the departure of Freddie Ljungberg for the
final quarter-hour. Castillo had four shots on goal, a season-high for a Fire

McBride may make his first and
last appearance at PPL Park after announcing his retirement effective at the end of
the season, providing Union fans with a chance to salute the former Fulham and
USMNT captain before rooting against him. The potential wrinkle, however, is
that McBride has popped up as doubtful on the injury report heading into the
contest with a left quad contusion. Pappa is also listed as doubtful with
tightness in his right hamstring, with John Thorrington already ruled out with
a right hamstring strain and Gonzalo Segares missing the contest due to a
two-match suspension for elbowing LA’s Leonardo.


For the Union, Juan Diego González is
doubtful and expected to miss the match with a left groin strain, while Eduardo
Coudet is listed as questionable with a right calf strain, an injury that held
him out against Kansas City. Philadelphia may receive a boost from the return
of Shea Salinas, who is not listed on the injury report after missing
more than two months with a stress fracture. Salinas’ playing time will likely
be limited, but his mere presence should motivate his teammates.

Another sidebar storyline is the
meeting of Union midfielder Justin Mapp and his former club after a midseason
trade on June 26. Mapp has been steller over the past three matches in all
competitions, tallying a game-winning goal and three assists. In eight seasons with the Fire, the Brandon, MS product
scored 14 goals and registering 36 assists in 174 appearances.

to watch:

Mwanga vs Wilman Conde

chase for the rookie scoring record has slowed with the striker scoreless in
the last three matches, but he set up the lone goal from Le Toux against Kansas
City and is a threat to score at any time. The physically imposing 19-year-old
will see a lot of centerback Wilman Conde, who controls the middle of the
defense for Chicago. The two-time all-star defender and 2009 MLS Best XI selection is
tough to contend with in the air and more than capable in one-on-one
situations. Conde came on for Thorrington in a midfield role against Toronto,
but he’s more likely to slot in along the backline again on Saturday.  

goal on Saturday would go a long way if Mwanga hopes to score four more times this
season and mount a challenge to Damani Ralph’s record of 11, but the Generation
adidas member has proven his quality this season regardless. Against an elite
MLS defender and defensive unit that is giving up 1.38 goals per game, the
fifth-worst mark in the league, he’ll have another opportunity to continue his
rapid development.

Ljungberg vs Justin Mapp

Mapp was traded to Philadelphia in part to make room for Ljungberg, the two
have performed comparably with their new clubs, each registering two assists.
Mapp’s game-winner against New England gives him the statistic advantage, and
his presence has been felt beyond the numbers. The 25-year-old has brought
dangerous flank play along with an ability to drift into the middle of the
field to create distribution angles, something Ljungberg has been known for during his illustrious career.

former Arsenal attacker will be making his second trip to PPL Park this season
after coming over to Chicago from Seattle on July 30, providing Union fans with
another chance to see the 2009 MLS Best XI member. Ljungberg and Castillo interchanged positions
throughout their draw against Toronto, with each player spending time both as a
withdrawn striker and on the wing. With de los Cobos saying he’ll likely employ
the same strategy again, it’s tough to predict where either will be at any
given time, but both will need to be watched closely throughout the match.
Whether or not Mapp and Ljungberg end up seeing each other head-to-head frequently, the one who makes a greater impact will put his club in a strong
position to take three points.

More Analysis

Mapp Set to Face Former Club Saturday

Union Looking to Avenge Loss to Fire

Union, Fire in Need of a Win

Urgency Sets in as Fire Head to Philly

McBride to Make First, Last Appearance at PPL Park

Last Match Highlights

Philadelphia 1, Kansas City 1

Chicago 0, Toronto 0

Philadelphia Union Injury Report

DOUTBTFUL: DF Juan Diego González (L groin strain)

DF Toni Stahl (R ankle strain); MF Eduardo Coudet (R calf strain)

DF Michael Orozco Fiscal (L hamstring strain)

Chicago Fire Injury Report

MF John Thorrington (R hamstring strain)

MF Marco Pappa (R hamstring tightness); FW Brian McBride (L quad contusion)

Match Information

Saturday, September 11, 2010

6:00pm ET

Location: PPL Park (Chester, Pa.)

Television: Fox
Soccer Channel, Fox Sports en Español

Brian Dunseth (Play-by-Play), Christopher Sullivan (Color
Analyst), Katie Witham (Sideline), Todd Grisham (Host)

Referee: Edvin
Jurisevic. SAR (bench): Bill Dittmar; JAR (opposite): Eric Proctor; 4th:
Andrew Chapin