Preview: Union vs Wizards

Philadelphia looking for first winning streak in MLS play Saturday vs Kansas City

Saturday’s showdown between Philadelphia Union (5-11-5,
seventh place in the East) and the Kansas City Wizards (7-9-5, fourth place in
the East) will pit two clubs who are on the outside looking in as the MLS Cup playoff
hunt enters the stretch run. KC is in better shape with 26 points through 21
matches, putting them three points behind the San Jose Earthquakes for the
final spot if the season ended today. Philadelphia is sitting on 21 points,
making Saturday’s match a virtual must-win if the club hopes to keep their
postseason hopes alive.

BUY: UNION-WIZARDS TICKETS

Both sides are entering the match with confidence and
momentum gained from recent road victories. The Union edged the New England Revolution
2-1 thanks to an 82
nd minute equalizer from Jack McInerney, which was followed
by Justin Mapp's stoppage time game-winner. Kansas City is coming off an
impressive 2-0 shutout win against the LA Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. LA
had only lost at home in a league match once this season (3-2 to Chicago
on August 1), and Bruca Arena’s squad hadn’t been shut out at home all season
until the Wizards came to town. Philadelphia further built upon their dramatic
win on Saturday with an impressive showing against Chivas
Guadalajara, topping the Mexican giants 1-0 Wednesday at PPL Park.

Kansas City’s win was their second in as many tries,
marking the first time the club has won back-to-back league matches since
winning their first two of the season. Prior to the victory against LA, head
coach Peter Vermes’ side dominated New England to the tune of a 4-1 win. After winning just once in a three-month stretch from
mid-April to mid-July, losing eight times in 12 games in the same period,
the Wizards have lost just one of their last seven games. Philadelphia are
still looking for their first winning streak and first shutout in MLS play, two
spells the club will attempt to end simultaneously.

Despite the shutout-less streak, the club’s backline has not been
a point of weakness lately. The Union have allowed only five goals in their last
five matches in all competitions, 18 goals in their last 16 matches in all
competitions, and just a single goal in seven of their last 11 league matches. 

Kansas City's defense has been particularly strong during
their last seven league matches, conceding only four goals on the way to a 4-1-2 mark.
A 2-1 win against Manchester United on July 25, four days after the Union fell
1-0 to the English giants, makes their form of late even more impressive.

WATCH: Seitz, Miglioranzi preview Saturday's match

Over the same stretch Kei Kamara has notched two goals and three
assists, with Ryan Smith contributing two assists. Central midfielder Davy Arnaud has also
weighed in with two goals and an assist, and the target striker tandem of Teal
Bunbury and Birahim Diop has netted four goals combined. The Union will catch a
break with Kamara, who leads KC with eight goals, away on international duty with the Sierra Leone National Team for an
Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Cairo this weekend.

The Wizards will have both Roger Espinoza and Shavar Thomas
available, however, as both defenders will join their respective national teams after
the weekend. Thomas will be making his first trip back to Philadelphia after
being traded on June 30 in exchange for two second round MLS SuperDraft selections, one in
2011 and one in 2012, as well as allocation money. The Union will be without starting midfielder Eduardo Coudet, who will miss the contest with a right calf strain.

Saturday’s
match will feature four rookies who were semifinalists for the 2009 MAC Hermann
Trophy Award, given annually to the best college player in the nation. Kansas
City forward Teal Bunbury (Akron) won the honor, beating out Philadelphia
rookies Danny Mwanga (Oregon State), Kyle Nakazawa (UCLA), and Toni Stahl
(Connecticut).

A
key to the match for the Union will be shutting the Wizards down early. Counting the Manchester United friendly, Kansas City have struck first
in seven of their last eight games, and six of those seven goals came before
the 30th minute. KC is 7-0-2 in league play and 8-0-2 overall in 2010 when opening the scoring.

Matchups to watch:

Union attack vs Jimmy Nielsen

Philadelphia
will face a Kansas City defense that is averaging 1.10 goals against per game in
2010, a mark tied for seventh stingiest in the league, but their form of late
has been stellar. Leading the charge has been goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, who has
played every minute of every MLS game for Kansas City this season, one of only
seven players in the league to do so. In 1,890 minutes of action,
Nielsen has 63 saves, tied for third best in MLS, and eight shutouts, tied for
fourth most in the league. His goals against average is the lowest
single-season average for a Wizards goalkeeper since Tony Meola in 2004 and
third best all-time. He is also a five-time NAPA Save of the Week winner this
season, including a kick-save this past weekend to stifle the Galaxy’s Chris
Birchall. Nielsen was named an MLS All-Star in July and has the distinction as
one of only two 2010 All-Stars to earn the honor in their first season of MLS
action, along with New York’s Joel Lindpere.

Looking
to break through against Nielsen will be the most prolific stoppage time offense in the league. Justin
Mapp’s goal three minutes into extra time against New England was the third
winning goal scored by Philadelphia after the 90th minute.
Danny Mwanga netted the winner against Houston on May 29 in the 93rd minute,
while Sebastien Le Toux converted a penalty five minutes into added time for a
2-1 win vs Toronto FC on July 17. The Union have five goals after the 90th
minute, by far the most in MLS.

While late-match heroics certainly make for exciting
finishes, Philadelphia would be better served scoring early and avoiding the
necessity to push forward in the attack at all costs. While it hasn’t been the
case this season, an early advantage should theoretically help the club secure
their first shutout in league play. The Union are a dynamic offensive bunch,
led by Le Toux and Mwanga, with only the final pass or touch in the attacking
third failing the club at times.

Ryan Smith vs Michael Orozco Fiscal and the Union's right wing midfielder

With
Kamara out of action, Kansas City’s most dangerous attacking player is
midfielder Smith, a product of Arsenal’s youth system who has tallied a
goal and seven assists this season. Two of those assists came against
Philadelphia, meaning the Union should have a better idea of how to handle the
23-year-old Englishman. The skillful left winger, who came to Kansas City from
Crystal Palace of The Championship, is a load along the flanks, and will need
to be constantly monitored by Orozco Fiscal and whoever lines up on the right for Manager Peter Nowak.

Recent
matches have seen Mapp, Jacobson, Fred and Le Toux all start in that role, and
it’s hard to predict who it’ll be on Saturday. Fred is more likely to feature
on the left, leaving three players who have the ability to track back and
help on the defensive side of the ball as the most likely options. If the Union can find a
way to shut down KC’s mercurial winger, they’ll greatly increase their chances of
walking away with three points Saturday.

More Analysis

Play by Play Plus: Hungry Wizards Need this One

Union Look to Make it Three Straight vs KC

KC Face Tough Test at Philadelphia

Last Match Highlights

Philadelphia 2, New England 1

Kansas City 2, LA 0

Philadelphia Union Injury Report

OUT: DF Toni Stahl (R lower leg strain); MF Eduardo Coudet (R calf strain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Fred (R groin strain); FW Alejandro Moreno (R hamstring strain); DF Shea Salinas (L fibula fracture)

Kansas City Injury Report

OUT: MF Zoltan Hercegfalvi (R knee
sprain/torn ACL)

Match Information

Date:
Saturday, September 4, 2010

Time:
3:30pm ET

Location: PPL Park (Chester, Pa.)

Television: Live Well HD Network/MyNetwork TV – WQMY

Talent:
JP Dellacamera (Play-by-Play); Tommy Smyth (Color Analyst)

Referee: Ramon Hernandez; SAR
(bench): Cameron Blair; JAR (opposite): Thomas Supple; 4th: Lee Suckle