After a hard-fought draw with defending MLS Cup champs Real Salt Lake Wednesday, Philadelphia Union (4-10-4) will take the pitch again Saturday against the Colorado Rapids (7-5-6). The Union are winless in their last four matches, while the Rapids were winless in their last seven before a 1-0 home victory against the San Jose Earthquakes last weekend.
Philadelphia sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 16 points, with Colorado currently occupying the fifth spot in the West with 27 points. Due to MLS’ playoff structure, Colorado would be the number four seed in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket if the season ended today.
Colorado, the only MLS side the Union haven’t played in their inaugural season, will likely have U.S. international Conor Casey back in action after the forward missed two matches with a head injury suffered against Seattle on July 25. They won’t, however, have the services of midfielder Colin Clark, who has been ruled out for the season after suffering a torn ACL against Kansas City.
For the second consecutive time, Philadelphia scored within the opening 10 minutes of the match Wednesday only to lose the lead before the half. It was the third time in their current four-match winless streak that the club have scored the opening goal in the first half and not come away with maximum points.
The Union are still the only team in MLS not to have recorded a defensive shutout this season, with a league-worst 1.88 GAA. No team in MLS history has gone the entire season without a defensive shutout – the MLS record low is two, set on six previous occasions (most recently by the LA Galaxy in 2008).
Colorado’s defense, on the other hand, has been the fifth toughest unit to beat this season with a 0.94 GAA. Goalkeeper Matt Pickens has been strong in net for the Rapids, while Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne have been consistently solid in the back. Head coach Gary Smith’s side has also been helped on the defensive end by their central midfield pairing of all-star Jeff Larentowicz and team captain Pablo Mastroeni. Saturday is shaping up to be a milestone affair for Mastroeni, who could set a new Rapids record for minutes played with only 87 standing between him and current Seattle Sounders technical director Chris Henderson.
The Union are expected to have the services of two regular starters who missed the Real Salt Lake match, Alejandro Moreno and Stefani Miglioranzi. Moreno missed Wednesday’s tilt to join the Venezuelan National team for a friendly against Panama, while Miglioranzi missed the last two matches after going down July 5 with a groin strain against Columbus.
Matchups to watch:
Danny Califf vs Conor Casey
Presuming that Casey is inserted back into his normal role, the burly striker will be a load around Philadelphia’s penalty area. Casey has remained an attacking force in 2010 with seven goals and three assists following a career year in 2009, during which he set a new Rapids single season scoring record with 16 goals to finish only one behind FC Dallas' Jeff Cunningham for the league lead. Casey was named to the MLS Best XI squad for the first time in his career, also garnering MLS All-Star honors along the way.
One Union defender who will see a lot of Casey is Califf, who will have to be decisive in his tackling and assertive winning balls in the air. Califf has the size and strength to body up Casey in the box if necessary, but the Union captain will be better served cutting off passing lanes to prevent Colorado's leading scorer from receiving the ball in dangerous positions.
Califf and the rest of the Union back line will also have to keep a close eye on Omar Cummings, whose speed can cause serious problems. The 28-year-old only has three goals since June 9 after scoring in each of the first two weeks of the season, but his eight goals and 12 assists in 2009 are more than enough proof that the Jamaican international can do damage if given the chance.
Fred and Justin Mapp vs Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni
Larentowicz and Mastroeni make up one of the better holding midfield pairings in MLS, regularly stifling the opposition’s rush and igniting the counter attack. Larentowicz, a West Chester, Pa. native, will be especially excited to perform in front of over 100 family members and friends who have purchased tickets for the match. The 27-year-old, who came to Colorado in an offseason trade after spending his first five seasons in New England, will be tough to work around for whoever lines up on the left flank, a position that both Fred and Mapp have occupied at times over the past few matches.
Mapp has shown plenty of pace and ability to beat defenders 1v1 along the touchline, something the Union lacked before his signing. While Shea Salinas has the capacity to do so as well when healthy, the former Chicago Fire member has fit in seamlessly with his new club and appears to have grabbed hold of a regular starting role. While he’ll have a tough task against either Larentowicz or Mastroeni, Mapp’s rejuvenated form suggests a breakthrough is to come in the near future.
If Fred and Mapp can find ways to feed Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga behind Colorado’s dynamic midfield duo, the Union will be in good shape on Saturday.
Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux vs Colorado’s defense
It’s no secret at this point that Le Toux and Mwanga are the most feared strikers on Philadelphia’s roster, accounting for 15 of the club’s 22 goals. Le Toux has catapulted from part-time starter to one of the league’s premier players in just over half a season, while Mwanga has lived up to his enormous hype and then some. With an incredibly efficient six goals on only 17 shots, Mwanga uses his pace, physicality and clinical finishing to capitalize on the attention paid to Le Toux. With nine goals and eight assists, Le Toux is closing in on double digits in both categories, a feat only one MLS player has accomplished in the last three seasons (Jaime Moreno, with 10 goals and 10 assists in 2008).
Attempting to combat the Union’s feared attackers will be a defense led by Moor and Wynne, along with goalkeeper Matt Pickens. Moor has stabilized Colorado’s defense since being acquired from Dallas in August 2009, and 2006 number one overall pick Wynne has been a revelation since coming over from Toronto and settling into a more defensive role. Their ability to handle Le Toux, Mwanga and veteran Alejandro Moreno could be the decisive factor in Saturday’s match.
Last Match Highlights
Philadelphia Union Injury Report
OUT: MF Shea Salinas (L fibula fracture)
PROBABLE: DF Jordan Harvey (L groin strain); MF Stefani Miglioranzi (R groin strain); FW Danny Mwanga (L groin strain)
Colorado Rapids Injury Report
OUT: MF Colin Clark (L knee ACL tear); MF Ciaran O'Brien (L hip sprain); FW Ross Schunk (R ACL tear)
PROBABLE: FW Conor Casey (head trauma); MF Jamie Smith (neck strain)
Date: Saturday, August 14, 2010
Time: 4:00pm ET
Location: PPL Park (Chester, PA)
Television: 6abc, MyNetwork TV – WQMY, Telefutura
Talent: JP Dellacamera (Play-by-Play); Kyle Martino (Color Analyst)
Referee: Terry Vaughn. SAR (bench): Greg Barkey; JAR (opposite): Corey Rockwell; 4th: Lee Suckle