When the Union (1-3-0) travel west to take on the league-leading LA Galaxy (4-0-1), Philadelphia will look to end their first ever losing streak in MLS play. After 2-1 losses to Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls, life won’t get any easier for the Union. The quality of play wasn’t the issue in those two defeats though; it was a couple mistakes that ultimately prevented the club from returning home with points.
Philadelphia will need to limit those errors and find a way to beat the league’s stiffest defense in order to beat Bruce Arena’s side. They’ll have to do so without the aid of their top scorer and MLS’ third leading scorer, Sebastien Le Toux. After suffering an injury in the second half of Tuesday’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tilt against New York, Le Toux has been ruled out by the Union coaching and medical staffs. His injury is considered mild, but it was determined to be in his best interest to take the week off.
The Galaxy don’t have an obvious weakness, with MLS’ hottest player in Edson Buddle, perhaps MLS’ best player in Landon Donovan, and MLS’ best goalkeeper thus far in Donovan Ricketts, who is sporting a 0.20 GAA average through five games.
The Union will have their hands full, but Philadelphia has looked as good as any team in the league for stretches this season. If they can cut out the mistakes that have cost them points, they’ll prove to be a tough test for LA.
Let’s take a closer look at both clubs heading into Saturday’s match (10:30pm ET, Live Well HD Network, DirectKick/MLSsoccer.com):
Goalkeeper – Philadelphia Union
Chris Seitz will be staring down the league’s most fearsome attacking duo of Buddle and Donovan, but the Union’s starting ‘keeper has shown signs of rounding into form. After having his best game of the season against New York on Saturday, Seitz didn’t make any glaring mistakes against the Red Bulls on Tuesday, with both goals coming from point blank range.
A deflected shot that settled for Conor Chinn right in front of the goal forced Seitz to come out, and he actually broke up the play, but the ball bounced unluckily right back to Chinn and the striker easily slotted it into a wide open net. The second goal also put Seitz in a tough spot, as Luke Sassano sent in a perfect cross from the right flank to an on-rushing Chinn, just far enough out that it would’ve been tough for Seitz to get to, but close enough that Seitz had little time to react to Chinn’s one-touch deflection.
Seitz will need to continue evolving in his fifth league match for the Union, and he’ll likely have to have his best game yet to hold down the Galaxy. The potential is certainly there to do just that, and Seitz is due for a big game with his kind of talent.
Goalkeeper – LA Galaxy
Ricketts has been nothing short of the best ‘keeper in the league this season, and the 32-year-old Jamaican international had perhaps his best game of the season in last week’s 0-0 draw with Kansas City, making a season-high six saves including a few highlight reel stops.
Ricketts’ has been aided this season by a stellar defense, having faced no more than three shots on goal or made more than two saves in a game all season long until last week. In fact, the six shots on goal Ricketts faced against the Wizards equaled the total amount he had faced in LA’s first four games. Part of the defense’s success has to be attributed to Rickett’s organization of the backline, but allowing just one goal in five games and keeping four clean sheets is impressive no matter how good the defense is in front of you.
Ricketts has lowered his career GAA from 1.03 to 0.89 this season and will be tough for the Union to beat. But no one maintains a 0.20 GAA average over the course of a season, and Ricketts is due for a letdown. The loss of Le Toux hurts, but the Union offense has shown flashes of brilliance this season, particularly on the counter-attack, and LA’s defense showed some holes last week. Philadelphia will have to be sharp to register the first multi-goal game against the Galaxy and Ricketts this season.
Defense – Philadelphia Union
The Union’s backline has shown its potential to be a very effective unit, save for a few important letdowns. The starting four of Danny Califf, Michael Orozco, Jordan Harvey and Cristian Arrieta are pretty solidified, and they can continue building cohesion and consistency with Califf back in the lineup. They’ll need to be in good form on Saturday, paying particular attention to Buddle and Donovan.
After moving to the middle in place of Califf against New York, Arrieta will be back to his more natural position on the right. He’s been nothing but solid this season in defense and has proven to be a dangerous offensive weapon out of the back. His service to Le Toux from the edge of the box created Philadelphia’s only goal in Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup game. That offensive mindset will always be welcomed, but his primary responsibility on Saturday will be pairing with Califf to shut down Buddle.
Califf and Orozco will need to lock down the middle and force Buddle and Donovan out wide, while also keeping an eye on Juninho pressing up from the midfield. Harvey will chip in along with Orozco to mark Donovan, who hasn’t scored this season but leads the league in assists with four.
Bottom line, if this unit can shut down Buddle and Donovan, a task that hasn’t been easy this season, points are attainable.
Defense – LA Galaxy
While Los Angeles’ offense gets all the headlines, it’s the defense that has turned this side into one of the league’s elite. Dating back to late last year, the Galaxy have gone eight straight regular season games without a loss (6-0-2), and the defense is a big reason why. LA has recorded a shutout in seven of those eight games and has not trailed in any of them. Impressive stuff.
While the Galaxy sport the best goal differencial in the league at +6, their defense showed signs of loosening up last week against Kansas City. Ricketts bailed them out a few times and Kei Kamara twice could’ve put the Wizards up a goal. But this unit is definitely a strength, led by second year player Omar Gonzalez, last year’s MLS Rookie of the Year. The University of Maryland product has elevated his game to the next level this season in the center of LA’s defense, becoming of the league’s best defenders.
Gonzalez is joined on the backline by A.J. DeLaGarza, his college teammate. DeLaGarza has also been impressive in his second campaign, playing both out wide and centrally. With Greg Berhalter back from an early-season injury, we’ll likely see Berhalter join Gonzalez in the middle with DeLaGarza on the right and Todd Dunivant on the left. Dunivant and Gonzalez have both played every minute for LA this season, providing stability to the league’s top defensive unit.
The Union will need to follow KC’s lead in terms of creating quality chances, but converting with efficiency will be the key because opportunities won’t be easy to come by on Saturday night.
Midfield – Philadelphia Union
While Philadelphia’s attack has been the most dynamic so far this season, the midfield has been a model of consistency. Fred, Roger Torres, Stefani Miglioranzi and Andrew Jacobson have done nothing to jeopardize their starting spots, but this unit will need to step up and produce more offense in Le Toux’s absence.
While they’ve been strong on the defensive side of the ball and providing service, the midfield has yet to produce a goal. At least one tally from a long-range strike or a darting run into the penalty area would go a long way towards making up for Le Toux’s presence.
The wildcard this week is Shea Salinas, who filled in as a starter on the backline for each game against New York, but Manager Peter Nowak may very well choose to play a 4-5-1 with Le Toux out, which would make Salinas a natural fit on the right wing. If Nowak chooses to maintain a 4-4-2 formation with Nick Zimmerman, Danny Mwanga or Jack McInerney replacing Le Toux, Salinas will still be counted on to come off the bench and utilize his tremendous speed along the touchline.
Midfield – LA Galaxy
LA’s most unheralded group has been effective this season, despite quite a bit of turnover. The biggest star of this unit and MLS, David Beckham, went down with a torn left Achilles, leaving many to wonder if they could hold up without him. Others have stepped in admirably, despite a series of additional injuries to the likes of Eddie Lewis, Dema Kovalenko, Jovan Kirovski and Clint Mathis.
Juninho and Chris Birchall have been the cornerstones of the Galaxy midfield, both playing centrally with Juninho in an attacking role and Birchall in a holding position. Juninho has been a pleasant surprise for the Galaxy in his first year with the club, and Birchall has been a rock in front of the defense, holding the midfield together when others push forward.
Exactly who we see on Saturday remains to be seen with some of the Galaxy’s injury-ridden players returning to health, but it may not matter much given their depth. This unit may not win games for LA on their own, but they don’t lose them either.
Attack – Philadelphia Union
Le Toux’s injury creates a number of questions, but Alejandro Moreno’s role in the offense isn’t one of them. He’ll have to look for his shot more though in addition to holding the ball in the attacking third, which he does as well as anyone in the league. Moreno has had no problem doing the dirty work with Le Toux finishing regularly, but the Union don’t have that luxury against LA. With just two shots and no shots on goal this season, look for Moreno to increase those statistics dramatically against LA.
The questions arise when you wonder who will be paired with Moreno up top, if anyone. For the sake of argument, let’s assume the Union stick with two strikers. No matter how you look at it, youth will have to step up for the Union. Neither of Philadelphia’s first round forwards, Mwanga and McInerney, have scored their first career goals yet, but playing time has been hard to come by and Mwanga has played much of his time in the midfield. Talent isn’t the question with either player, it’s how quickly they can harvest it and become effective MLS players. Whoever is given the opportunity will need to take advantage of it, or else Le Toux’s injury will be felt in a major way.
The other possibility is Zimmerman, who has shown his aggressiveness and quickness on the ball in limited playing time. The former Red Bull is also looking for his first career goal, and Le Toux’s injury just may create the playing time he needs to break through.
Attack – LA Galaxy
Pretty much everything that can be said about Donovan and Buddle has been said over and over across the soccer landscape, but this duo is scary good. Donovan proved in a stint with Everton that he can play and make a substantial impact amongst the best players in the world, and Buddle has set the league on fire in record-setting fashion. Donovan won’t be held scoreless all season and Buddle won’t keep up this pace, but they’ll wreak havoc on defenses all year long regardless of who has the last touch.
Soccer is a funny game though, and even the best players can be shut down in any given match. The Union’s midfield, particularly Jacobson and Miglioranzi, will have to pitch in and Seitz will have to keep the defense organized. Kansas City showed last week that LA’s offense can be slowed, but the Galaxy were away for that showdown.
Donovan and Buddle will be a load, but Philadelphia has tons of talent in back. It won’t be easy, but if the Union can hold their opponent to under two goals, something that hasn’t happened yet this year, they’ll have a good chance to earn a result.
Last Match Highlights
Philadelphia at New York
Philadelphia Union Injury Report
OUT: FW Sebastien Le Toux (left knee); MF Kyle Nakazawa (illness)
LA Galaxy Injury Report
QUESTIONABLE: DF Sean Franklin (left ankle sprain); MF Dema Kovalenko (right hamstring strain); DF Leonardo (right quad strain); MF Eddie Lewis (left foot contusion); MF Clint Mathis (left knee surgery)
Date: Saturday, May 1, 2010
Time: 10:30pm ET
Location: Home Depot Center; Carson, CA
Television: Live Well HD Network (local broadcast)/MLS Direct Kick/MLSsoccer.com