Coming off the largest win of their inaugural season, Philadelphia Union (7-12-6) will travel west for a mid-week showdown against the Colorado Rapids (10-7-8) Wednesday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. In the last meeting between the two clubs, a 1-1 draw at PPL Park on August 14, Philadelphia native Jeff Larentowicz struck from distance in the 59th minute, but Danny Mwanga equalized in the 73rd minute off a low cross from Sebastien Le Toux.
While the Union are playing as well as they have all season coming into the match – Peter Nowak’s side is 3-1-1 in their last five league matches and coming off a 3-0 drubbing of Chivas USA Saturday – the Rapids are in the midst of a historically dominant stretch at their home grounds, with three straight 3-0 shutouts. On Saturday, Colorado nearly ended Real Salt Lake's record 24-match unbeaten streak at home, only for Nat Borchers to equalize in the waning moments of stoppage time.
Philadelphia’s defense has tightened up considerably in their own right since a sloppy start to the season, allowing more than a single goal only once in the club’s last eight matches. To put that into perspective, the Union allowed multiple goals on nine of 10 occasions to open the season. The improved form has culminated in two shutouts within a three-match stretch after going without one in the first 22 matches.
The suddenly stout Philadelphia defense will catch a break with U.S. international Conor Casey forced to miss the match due to yellow card accumulation, but Colorado still have a striker pairing of Omar Cummings, who is expected back after missing the club’s previous match with a sprained left ankle, and Mac Kandji, another dynamic speedster who was recently acquired from the New York Red Bulls.
The Union may also be shorthanded after talented rookie Danny Mwanga left Saturday’s match at the half, having aggravated a separated shoulder suffered two weeks prior. Mwanga is listed as questionable for the match, along with Eduardo Coudet, who was activated but didn’t see any minutes against Chivas after missing three matches with a right calf strain.
Philadelphia are clinging to distant playoff hopes having not yet been mathematically eliminated, and even a loss on Wednesday wouldn't serve as the final straw. A win would certainly help, but it'll take a miraculous series of events in the season's last few weeks to secure a coveted spot. Colorado, on the other hand, are five points clear of ninth-place Kansas City with five games to be played, and while a victory against Philadelphia wouldn't put them through just yet, it would further distance the club in the playoff race after missing out each of the last three seasons.
For the Union, Wednesday's match will be one of the last chances of the season to earn a winning streak in league play. Despite their recent success, the club has yet to take six points from any two consecutive matches, an accomplishment they'll be keen to achieve in the Rocky Mountains.
Matchups to Watch:
Sebastien Le Toux vs Colorado’s impenetrable defense at home
Gary Smith’s side has recorded three successive 3-0 victories in Commerce City, just the third team in history to accomplish the feat. What’s more, Colorado haven’t seen a visiting player score since Kansas City’s Davy Arnaud on July 17; the only goal they’ve conceded at home since was an own goal. The Rapids are unbeaten in their last nine home games with a 7-1-4 mark on the season, including 428 straight scoreless minutes.
Testing that streak will be Golden Boot contender Le Toux, who scored his 12th goal of the season Saturday and third in four matches. Le Toux trails Edson Buddle by two goals for the league lead, also outpacing Landon Donovan for the most combined goals and assists in MLS by one. While Le Toux may have to compensate for the potential absence of Mwanga, fellow striker Alejandro Moreno is healthy and in good form to provide support. Still, if Philadelphia are to escape Colorado with three points, the Union’s MVP candidate will likely have to produce yet another standout performance.
Omar Cummings vs Brad Knighton and the new-and-improved Union backline
With Casey, who has scored four goals in the last five games, out on Wednesday, the return of Cummings comes at a perfect time for the Rapids. Cummings may have been the most in-form striker in the league before missing the last match, with goals in his last four matches and five in total during the same stretch. After a breakout 2009 that saw the Jamaican international rack up eight goals and 12 assists, Cummings has turned it on after a slow start, already up to 10 goals in 2010. The 28-year-old has speed to burn and is difficult to handle in space, making it imperative that he be tracked well before receiving service.
In all liklihood the foursome tasked with doing so will be Sheanon Williams on the right, Danny Califf and Michael Orozco Fiscal in the center, and former Rapid Jordan Harvey on the left. While Juan Diego González, who had been featuring in the center before missing two matches, is available again, it's difficult to imagine Nowak tweaking a combination that has worked so well. Same goes for Brad Knighton, who has been stellar since taking over for Chris Seitz, putting up some staggering statistics in the process. The former Revolution member has allowed only one goal in 292 minutes of league action (0.31 GAA) and 472 minutes in all competitions (0.19 GAA).
While Knighton and the Union backline won't have it easy in search of another shutout and the club's first winning streak, their confidence has never been higher despite a 2-10-1 road record. Only the league-leading LA Galaxy have managed to take three points in Colorado this year, though, setting Philadelphia up for an opportunity to prove just how far they're come over the course of their first season in existence.
Last Match Highlights
Philadelphia Union Injury Report
QUESTIONABLE: MF Eduardo Coudet (R calf strain); FW Danny Mwanga (L shoulder sprain)
PROBABLE: MF Stefani Miglioranzi (L shin contusion)
Colorado Rapids Injury Report
OUT: MF Ciaran O'Brien (L hip sprain); FW Ross Schunk (R ACL tear)
DOUBTFUL: DF Julien Baudet (L hamstring strain)
PROBABLE: FW Omar Cummings (L ankle sprain); GK Matt Pickens (groin strain)
DISCIPLINARY: FW Conor Casey (yellow card accumulation)
Date: September 29, 2010
Time: 9:30pm ET
Location: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (Commerce City, CO)
Television: Live Well HD Network/MyNetworkTV WQMY
Talent: JP Dellacamera (Play-by-Play), Glenn Davis (Color Analyst)
Referee: Baldomero Toledo. SAR (bench): Craig Lowry; JAR (opposite): C.J. Morgante; 4th: Ben Chouaf