Just as they did a season ago, the Philadelphia Union will open their 2011 campaign on the road. Unlike last year, though, they are much more settled at the key position of goalkeeper.
There was no question that Colombian 'keeper Faryd Mondgragon was brought in to be the number one man in goal as the Union addressed their biggest weakness of 2010. The addition of the two Colombians (central defender Carlos Valdes), and the acquisition of defensive midfielder Brian Carroll should make Philly a much tougher team to break down.
Add in Carlos Ruiz to the offense and the team appears to have a head start on another issue, that of adding some balance to the offense. When you look at 2010, Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga combined for 21 of the team's 35 goals, 60 percent of the club’s offense. Figure that in 2011 both of those players will receive some tighter marking, so the arrival of Ruiz comes at a good time.
The team appears to be healthy heading into Houston for Saturday’s game on 6abc, which begins with the pre-game show at 8:00pm.
Houston will be a worthy opponent and an improved team from a year ago when they missed out on the playoffs for the first time. They gave up the same number of goals as Philadelphia did last year (49), which was tied for 15th out of 16 teams. Having injured midfielder Geoff Cameron back makes Houston stronger, along with the addition of Jamaican international central defender Jermaine Taylor.
The biggest question mark is in goal where Tally Hall replaces Pat Onstad. As good as his potential is, the jury is still out when you have played just five games in your MLS career. Hall will have to prove to be worthy of the number one spot.
Midfielder Brad Davis makes this team so dangerous with his crosses from the left side, and even more dangerous on his set pieces. He’s coming off of a preseason where he connected for four goals and six assists.
Brian Ching is always a player to watch, but at the moment he is listed as doubtful with a hamstring strain. If you’re Houston, why risk him when your next two games come up quickly, on the road at Seattle and New York.
Two players to keep an eye on, if they start for Houston, are rookies Kofi Sarkodie and Will Bruin. No rookie has ever started on opening day for the Dynamo, but these two have a good shot. Sarkodie, a right back out of the University of Akron, has blazing speed and terrific offensive tendencies operating as a right back. Bruin, a forward out of Indiana, is a big man with skill who scored six goals in the preseason, including two in the final exhibition vs New England.
All in all, I’m looking forward to a good matchup on Saturday and the start of the Union’s second season. To all of the Union supporters watching at home, or at the viewing parties, or in person in Houston, enjoy the game.