While the MLS Cup Playoffs are no longer attainable for the expansion Philadelphia Union, there is plenty to play for in the club’s three remaining matches. Facing both conference leaders at PPL Park and another top five club on the road to finish out the season, Peter Nowak’s side has pride on the line, not to mention roster spots to contend for heading into an offseason that will feature a two-team expansion draft.
Next up is a sold-out, nationally televised matchup against the league-leading LA Galaxy (8:00pm ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes), a contest that will see David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Golden Boot frontrunner Edson Buddle in town for the first time. The Galaxy regained the lead in the MLS overall table on Sunday evening with a 2-1 win against Home Depot Center rivals Chivas USA, while the Union are fresh off a 1-1 draw vs Houston on Saturday. In the last meeting between the two clubs, LA took a 3-0 first half lead on the heels of a brace from Buddle, more than enough to hold off a late consolation strike from Jack McInerney, the first of the rookie's career.
Philadelphia have only lost at home twice all season, sporting a 5-2-6 record at home and 4-2-5 mark at PPL Park. The Union have only given up four goals in their last six league matches along the Chester Waterfront, not counting a 1-0 victory over CD Guadalajara. The Union’s home-field advantage may be less pronounced than usual, however, against a Galaxy side that features by far the best road record in MLS. Bruce Arena’s squad is 8-3-3 on the road this season, assuring them of the best road record in the league this season.
While early-season defensive dominance helped LA mount a 10-0-2 record to start the season, they’ve come back to earth since. After keeping nine clean sheets in their first 13 games of the season, a defense led by Omar Gonzalez and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts have kept just two in their last 14 games. The 11 shutouts are tied with Columbus, New York, San Jose and Seattle for second most in MLS this season, with only Real Salt Lake keeping more (13). On the season, LA have allowed 22 goals in 27 games for a 0.81 GAA.
While injuries aren’t expected to be a factor for Philadelphia -- no player is listed as worse than probable on the injury report -- the Union will be without starting striker Alejandro Moreno, who is on international duty with Venezuela. FIFA action won’t cost Donovan, Buddle or Gonzalez any time after Bob Bradley opted not to call upon the trio for the U.S. Men’s National Team’s two upcoming friendlies.
Matchups to Watch:
Danny Mwanga vs Omar Gonzalez
Two of Major League Soccer’s brightest young stars will go head-to-head at PPL Park in what could potentially be a matchup of two consecutive Rookie of the Years winners. Mwanga hasn’t wrapped up the 2010 award, of course, but a strong finish to the season could be the icing on the cake for the 19-year-old. With Moreno out, Mwanga will be counted on even more than usual to supplement Sebastien Le Toux’s offensive production. Mwanga has hit a scoring drought spanning eight matches (a shoulder injury has largely contributed to the drop in form), yet the number one overall pick still paces all MLS rookies.
Finding space won’t be easy against Gonzalez, a towering presence in the center of LA’s backline. The 21-year-old is a force in the air and becoming better and better at organizing his fellow teammates with each passing match. LA may attempt to neutralize Mwanga with Gonzalez alone and focus the majority of their remaining defensive attention on Le Toux, in which case the outcome of the battle between the two prized youngsters will be critical.
Sebastien Le Toux vs Edson Buddle and Landon Donovan
Le Toux may not be physically matched up against Buddle or Donovan Thursday (although considering Le Toux’s work rate, don’t be surprised to see him track back behind LA’s duo), but Philadelphia’s MVP candidate is locked into individual battles with each heading down the stretch. Two goals behind Buddle’s 15 in the MLS Golden Boot race, Le Toux (13 goals, 10 assists) leads Donovan (7 goals, 14 assists) by the same number in combined goals and assists for the league lead. FC Dallas’ David Ferreira (7 goals, 13 assists) sits in third, while Seattle’s Fredy Montero (10 goals, 9 assists) rests in fourth.
If Le Toux has aspirations of catching Buddle with only three matches to go, outperforming him -- more specifically, outscoring him -- on Thursday may be as much as necessary. Donovan is likely to add to his total as well before season’s end, so Le Toux would do well to add to his narrow cushion. It goes without saying that contributing statistically to yet another goal on Thursday -- Le Toux has done so on 72 percent of the Union’s tallies this season -- would help Philadelphia’s chances of defending their home grounds.
NOTE: New and gently used coats will be collected at PPL Park during Philadelphia Union's home matches in October to help keep Chester residents warm this winter. All donations are greatly appreciated.
Last Meeting Highlights
Last Match Highlights
Philadelphia Union Injury Report
PROBABLE: GK Brad Knighton (L shoulder strain)
DF Juan Diego González (L groin strain); MF Eduardo Coudet (R calf strain); FW Danny Mwanga (L shoulder sprain)
LA Galaxy Injury Report
QUESTIONABLE: DF Gregg Berhalter (neck strain); MF Dema Kovalenko (R adductor strain); DF Leonardo (L quad strain)
Date: Thursday, October 7, 2010
Time: 8:00pm ET
Location: PPL Park (Chester, PA)
Television: ESPN2/ESPN Deportes
Talent: JP Dellacamera (Play-by-Play), John Harkes (Color Analyst)
Referee: Jorge Gonzalez. SAR (bench): Corey Rockwell; JAR (opposite): Greg Barkey; 4th: Chris Penso