Like most professional leagues, in Major League Soccer, it’s not easy to be successful on the road.
Only two teams, Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake have winning road records, not a coincidence that they happen to be the leaders in MLS’ Eastern and Western Conference.
Away from home this season the Union has a respectable 3-4-3 mark, but they've been stuck on that first three for a while now. Their last road win came on May 11, a 1-0 win at Chicago.
Winning their fourth road game will be a challenge as they face a long trip to Vancouver to take on the Whitecaps (7 p.m., The Comcast Network). Led by Camilo Sanvezzo, the current top scorer in MLS (13 goals), the Whitecaps are the only team in the league yet to lose at home, winning seven and drawing three in 10 games.
These two teams are similar statistically. Both reside fourth place in their respective conferences. Both have high powered offensive numbers with Vancouver's 1.65 goals per game topping the league. At 1.52 goals per game the Union is tied for fourth. Also, both have given up more than their share of goals with Vancouver's 1.40 GAA (12th in MLS), while the Union rank below the Caps (14th) with their 1.43 goals against average.
Both teams though are getting better defensively. Each team announced a veteran goalkeeper signee when the transfer window re-opened with the Union bringing in Oka Nikolov while Vancouver brought in David Ousted. While neither guy has played, is it a coincidence that both teams starting goalkeepers’ numbers have gotten better?
Since the Nikolov announcement Zac MacMath has allowed six goals in his last six starts, with two shutouts. He was at his best last week against Portland in all facets of the game in a 0-0 draw.
His counterpart, Brad Knighton has allowed just five goals in his last six starts, while also netting two shutouts. Yes, it could just be a coincidence, but I'm guessing the anticipation of more job competition from a more seasoned pro might have had something to do with it.
Saturday's game has a lot of story lines including:
- Sebastien Le Toux' return to Vancouver for the first time since the team traded him to New York last season.
- Knighton and Jordan Harvey get to play against a Union team whose jersey they once wore.
- Philadelphia's Jack McInerney will try to get back on the scoring sheet, having gone four games without a goal.
In the case of McInerney, when he left for the Gold Cup, he was tied for MLS’ lead in goals scored (10). The new leader is Camilo Sanvezzo (13 goals), who plays for Vancouver. McInerney's game will have to rise even more as the team is without suspended forward Conor Casey due to yellow card accumulation.
The Union lineup will be bolstered by the return of Keon Daniel after playing for Trinidad and Tobago in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Finally, we have seen Fabinho in the last two games playing as a sub on the left side of midfield. The veteran Brazilian can also play at left back. No idea if he will make the starting 11 this week, but one would think he will at least have a chance for increased minutes in Vancouver. At some point in the near future, he looks like he will contend for a starting position.
Saturday's game vs. Vancouver will be the fourth meeting between these two clubs. Each has won one game by a 1-0 score, while the other match produced a scoreless result.
I'll be alongside Alejandro Moreno for Union soccer this Saturday, beginning at 7 p.m. on the Comcast Network.