For the Philadelphia Union, the next 36 days may very well define their season. That rough stretch begins on the final day of June at Houston.
The club faces an enormous challenge of playing nine games over that 36 day period, and one of those games has trophy implications. Along with MLS regular season games and a friendly with Aston Villa of the EPL, the Union have another matchup with Sporting Kansas City on July 11, where the winner will move on to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup final.
This series of games will surely test the depth of the squad, and will provide more solid answers to questions that the team has.
I wouldn't expect many changes in Saturday's lineup, unless some players have struggled with rest and recovery. Interim manager John Hackworth used 10 same players in the MLS win vs. Sporting Kansas City and the Open Cup win vs. Harrisburg. The only change was Porfirio Lopez for Carlos Valdes, but that was because the Union captain was suspended for last Tuesday's game.
Right back Raymon Gaddis was hit with a one game suspension by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for a challenge he made last week on SKC's Roger Espinoza, so that's one change that Hackworth will have to make. If Sheanon Williams passes all tests, he would be expected to reclaim his right back spot. Gaddis will be eligible to play in the game at L.A. next Wednesday.
The Houston game will be a tough one for many reasons. It's an angry team following a 4-2 loss last Saturday at Montreal. Add in their unbeaten record at home (3-0-2) and the intense heat in Houston, and you have more reasons for concern. It's a true home field advantage now for the Dynamo who are playing in the new BBVA Compass Stadium downtown.
Players to watch for Houston:
So exceptional as a playmaker, be it the run of play or set pieces. He has what has been described as the best left foot in MLS.
With 78 career goals, Ching has made a living in the air, and in the box. The Union central defenders could be facing a busy day.
Already he has more goals (nine) than he had all of last season. Bruin is also red hot, scoring five goals in his last six games. He has scored in three straight games for the second time this season. In the history of the Houston Dynamo, no player has scored in four straight games. The Union need to make sure that this note doesn't change after Saturday's game.
Looking forward to Saturday's matchup, which begins on The Comcast Network with the pre-game show at 8 pm.