Philadelphia Union (1-5-1) head to Houston coming off a bye week to begin a three-game road trip against the Dynamo (5-4-1) on Saturday. Away games haven’t been kind to Philadelphia this year, accounting for all five of the club’s losses in as many games, but spirits are high coming off of a dramatic 1-1 tie against Dallas two weeks ago.
While currently sitting in 7th place in the Eastern Conference, the expansion side has played less games (7) than any other team in the league. If they can come away with points in the next three games, momentum would be strong heading into PPL Park's June 27th opener against Seattle Sounders FC. Philadelphia will play 13 of their last 20 league matches in a brand new venue, and while two matches isn’t a sufficient sample size, it appears the young club responds to the passionate hometown crowd.
Thinking multiple matches in advance is counter-productive though, especially for the technical staff and players. Their focus is on Houston and taking three points against a team that has alternated wins and losses over the last nine games after an opening day tie, good for 16 points. Winning in Houston is never easy, and Saturday figures to be a battle for the Union, especially given Brian Ching’s surprise omission from the U.S. World Cup roster.
Let’s jump into a position-by position analysis of both sides.
Goalkeeper – Philadelphia Union
Chris Seitz hasn’t played consistently up to his talent level this season, but he had his finest performance of the season last game against Dallas. Only Brek Shea passed the first-year starter, and it’s unlikely any ‘keeper in the world would’ve be able to do anything about his laser into the top right corner.
Seitz was assertive, decisive and confident, shutting Dallas down on a number of occasions and keeping the deficit to only a goal. Every Union fan likely knows that Mwanga’s first career goal salvaged a point for the Union in the match, but the club wouldn’t have been in position to do so if not for Seitz.
If he can play with the same focus and the defense can limit Houston’s chances, Seitz will be able to build on his last performance and continue increasing his confidence.
Goalkeeper – Houston Dynamo
At age 42, Pat Onstad is still among the best in MLS at keeping the ball out of the net. With a 1.11 GAA this year, Major League Soccer's career GAA leader brings vast experience and a tremendous ability to organize the defense in front of him. What he may have lost in speed or quickness is compensated for by his superior positioning and awareness.
There's no question Onstad will be tough to beat playing at home, but the Union will need to find a way if they hope to steal their first road points of the season.
Defense – Philadelphia
With Brian Ching playing against Philadelphia tomorrow instead of in Philadelphia with the rest of the U.S. World Cup roster, the Union backline will have to contend with a striker motivated to prove he should’ve been on a plane to South Africa in the coming days. Central defender Danny Califf figures to match up well with the Hawaiian native, but expect a physical battle in the penalty area.
Each member of the Union's starting defense has shown the individual ability to be among the better defenders in the league at their respective positions, but the unit as a whole hasn’t put it all together on a regular basis. The backline played perhaps its best game against Dallas, but consistency is the key over the course of a full season. With that in mind, Califf, Micheal Orozco, Cristian Arrieta and Jordan Harvey will look to put together their second straight strong performance on Saturday.
Defense – Houston Dynamo
Houston's defense is only giving up a goal per game, good for the fifth best GAA in the league. Bobby Boswell and Eddie Robinson anchor the middle of the defense with plenty of experience and talent. Robinson has struggled with injuries for much of his career and missed two straight games prior to last weekend’s showdown with D.C., but he appears to be healthy enough to play in Saturday’s tilt.
Mike Chabala and Richard Mulrooney patrol the left and right flanks, rounding out one of the better defensive units in MLS. It’s unlikely Philadelphia will be able to create quite as many chances as they did at home against Dallas, so they’ll have to bury the ones they do get in order to break through on the road.
Midfield – Philadelphia Union
Kyle Nakazawa has started the last two games in place of Andrew Jacobson, joining Stefani Miglioranzi, Roger Torres and Fred in a midfield that has seen very little rotation when everyone is available. This unit controlled the game against Dallas, dictating the pace of play and creating chance after chance. While all but one of the Union’s scoring opportunities were ultimately stifled, it was a promising display by the home side. If not for a terrific performance by Dallas goalkeeper Dallas Hartman, Philadelphia could’ve easily scored 3-4 goals.
Shea Salinas has yet to crack the starting lineup in his normal wing midfield position, but he appears to be Manager Peter Nowak’s first option off the bench. Salinas provides instant energy and pace every time he steps on the pitch, nearly netting the equalizer against Dallas himself before Danny Mwanga’s late heroics. It’s a safe bet that we’ll continue to see Salinas contributing on a regular basis, and one has to wonder if the technical staff will give him a chance to play from the opening whistle sometime in the near future.
Midfield – Houston Dynamo
Geoff Cameron is out for the season with a torn PCL, and the Dynamo are still adjusting to life without midfield stars Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark, both of whom are now playing in Europe and for the USMNT World Cup squad. Brad Davis has continued his evolution as one of the premier midfielders in the league, leading the team in goals (3) and assists (4) after notching 5 goals and 12 assists in 2009.
Brian Mullen has been strong on the left wing this year, netting two goals and an assist. A Dynamo since the club’s inception, Mullen is a hard worker and staple in the starting XI. Lovel Palmer has also become a regular since earning MLS Goal of the Week honors in his MLS debut with a world-class strike from distance.
Attack – Philadelphia Union
Sebastien Le Toux and Alejandro Moreno will continue building the chemistry that was disrupted when Le Toux went down with an injury in New York on April 27th. Philadelphia’s leading scorer proved he was back to 100% against Dallas and the bye week has helped with any lingering soreness. Both Moreno and Le Toux have played extremely well so far this season, but perhaps Saturday will be the day that roles reverse and Moreno finds himself on the receiving end of a Le Toux assist.
The playing time of top rookies Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney will be a hot topic all season long, especially after each netted their first career goal within a span of three weeks. Mwanga’s confidence is especially high and it’ll be interesting to see if Nowak tries to ride his momentum. Playing time up top isn’t easy to come by given the work rate and endurance of Le Toux and Moreno, but the Union could feature three forwards at some point in the match, especially if a late offensive boost is needed.
Attack – Houston Dynamo
All of a sudden, Houston’s frontline is awfully crowded. Brian Ching’s expected return will provide a huge boost for the Orange, but he isn’t the only one returning to the club with Cam Weaver also healthy again.
Designated Player Luis Landin is finally beginning to get comfortable in MLS, assisting on both of Houston’s goals against D.C.
Dominic Oduro has been a regular starter all season and has made the most of his opportunity with 2 goals and 3 assists, on pace to blow past his career highs in both categories. Whether or not he continues to play as much remains to be seen, as does head coach Dominic Kinnear’s choice formation now that he has more attacking talent at his disposal. Might we see a 4-3-3 with Ching, Landin and Oduro all up top? We’ll see soon enough.
Last Match Highlights
Philadelphia 1, Dallas 1
Houston 2, D.C. 0
Philadelphia Union Injury Report
Houston Dynamo Injury Report
OUT: MF Geoff Cameron (R
Date: Saturday, May 29, 2010
Time: 8:30pm ET (8:00pm ET pre-game show)
Location: Robertson Stadium, Houston, TX
Television: Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Sports en Español