The Philadelphia Union (4-9-3) will square off against FC Dallas (6-2-9) Sunday (6:00pm, FSC/FSE), the quickest turnaround in the club's inaugural MLS season. After dropping a hard-fought match at home to the Columbus Crew on ESPN2’s Game of the Week, the Union will face another of the league’s toughest opponents on just two days rest.
This time away from home, where Philadelphia has struggled to a 1-7-1 record, the Union will face a Dallas side that hasn’t lost in eight MLS matches after a 1-1 draw at Colorado last weekend, the club’s league-leading ninth of the season. The hosts are especially confident following a 2-2 tie against famed Serie A side Inter Milan Thursday in front of 19,435 fans at Pizza Hut Park.
The Union are coming off a four-game homestand at PPL Park in which the club went 1-1-2. The four points are far from an accurate indicator of the quality displayed throughout the home stretch, but the Union are nevertheless looking at a steep climb in their remaining 14 matches if they hope to fulfill lofty aspirations of a first-year playoff appearance.
Dallas won’t have to visit the Union’s new home along the Chester waterfront in 2010, having played at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia’s second-ever home match on May 15. The last meeting between the two clubs was a nail-biter, with Brek Shea’s 13th minute goal forcing the Union to press forward throughout the match. After a slew of chances were denied by goalkeeper Kevin Hartman’s standout performance, #1 overall draft pick Danny Mwanga finally broke though for the Union in stoppage time to tie the match at 1-1.
The dramatic equalizer went on to win AT&T Goal of the Week, but more importantly marked the beginning of Mwanga’s emergence as one of the top up-and-coming stars in the league.
Philadelphia may be without Mwanga again on Sunday, however, after the striker was forced to sit out against Columbus with a groin injury. As has been the case all season, Sebastien Le Toux will be counted on to shoulder much of the scoring load against the third stingiest defense in the league (0.88 GAA).
Le Toux has scored in three consecutive matches, with his four goals and four assists in the last six matches playing a part in all but one of the club’s goals in that stretch (since June 27). On the season, the all-star starter has nine goals and seven assists, the best combined mark in MLS prior to Saturday’s MLS schedule. Only Edson Buddle (12) and Juan Pablo Angel (11) have more goals, and Angel has had three more matches to rack up his total than have Buddle and Le Toux.
With game time temperatures expected to reach triple digits, the Union’s aggressive, attacking style will be put to the test. In their favor is the fact that FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman gave the starting nod to all but two of his regulars against Inter. Midfielder Eric Avila and goalkeeper Dario Sala were the lone changes, though he used 19 players over the course of the game.
Matchups to Watch
David Ferreira and Brek Shea vs the Union defense
Ferreira and Shea are Dallas’ two most dangerous attackers, each with four goals on the season. Ferreira has been particularly menacing for the opposition this season, earning the diminutive playmaker his first all-star appearance. Continuing his strong 2009 form, a season that saw the Colombian notch eight goals and seven assists, Ferreira has tacked five assists onto his four goals in 2010. His speed and quickness can cause problems for defenders, making it imperative that the Union deny possession in much the same way they did against Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
Shea’s size and speed are also a handful to deal with in the defensive third, with the 20-year-old just beginning to come into his own in his third MLS season. Playing mostly centrally and to the left as an attacking midfielder, Shea will see plenty of Michael Orozco Fiscal and Danny Califf on Sunday.
Attiba Harris must be monitored on the right as well, and Jeff Cunningham is always a threat to score as a second half substitute. The second all-time leading scorer in MLS is only one season removed from a leading-league 17 goals, but has come off the bench for five straight games. Cunningham hasn’t scored since his fourth goal of the season May 8 vs. D.C. United, a span of 10 league games.
Justin Mapp vs Heath Pearce
Mapp showed pace, creativity and strong possession skills against Columbus in his first start with the Union, bringing a dimension the Union previously lacked along the left flank. While none of the midfielder’s contributions led to goals against the Crew, it was evident that Mapp has already begun to assimilate in Philadelphia’s attacking scheme.
Mapp will often run into all-star starter Heath Pearce in Dallas’ territory, and life won’t be easy against arguably the premier right back in MLS. Pearce must also be watched coming forward, as the U.S. international is tied for the club lead with five assists.
If Mapp can find a way to penetrate Pearce and Dallas’ backline, the newcomer will have an opportunity to set up his teammates with service from the left or break through on his own for the first time as a member of the Union.
Sebastien Le Toux vs Kevin Hartman
Despite needing a late equalizer to steal a point from Dallas in the first meeting between the two sides, Philadelphia could've easily come away with three points given the amount of chances they produced. Standing in their way was Hartman, who was sensational throughout the match. The veteran ‘keeper made a number of acrobatic saves, proving that he’s still among the elite backstops in MLS at age 36.
While Le Toux played the full 90 against Dallas in May, it was his first match back from a two-game absence following a knee injury sustained against New York in U.S. Open Cup play. The Frenchman didn’t appear to show any lingering effects from the injury, but he may have been a little rusty after nearly three weeks off. Le Toux is just the opposite now, and Hartman will likely be tested be the Union’s leading scorer, who is fourth in MLS with 53 shots and second with 30 shots on goal.
On the season, Le Toux has played a role in 16 of Philadelphia’s 20 goals, a staggering 80 percent that leads the league. If Hartman and Dallas’ defense keep Le Toux off the scoresheet, their chances of earning three full points against the Union will increase dramatically.
Last Match Highlights
Philadelphia Union Injury Report
OUT: MF Shea Salinas (L fibula fracture)
QUESTIONABLE: FW Danny Mwanga (L groin); MF Stefani Miglioranzi (R groin strain); DF Danny Califf (L rib contusion)
PROBABLE: DF Jordan Harvey (L groin strain); MF Roger Torres (R ankle sprain)
FC Dallas Injury Report
OUT: DF Kyle Davies (L hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: MF Dax McCarty (R quad strain)
Date: Sunday, August 8, 2010
Time: 6:00pm ET
Location: Pizza Hut Park (Frisco, TX)
Television: Fox Soccer Channel/Fox Sports en Español
Talent: Dave Johnson (Play-by-play); Christopher Sullivan (Color Analyst); Todd Grisham (Host); Christian Miles (Sideline)