After an offseason marked by turnover, the 2011 season is set to begin for the second-year Philadelphia Union. Peter Nowak’s squad will travel to Houston to kick off their sophomore campaign on the road against the Dynamo (TV: Saturday, 8:00pm, 6abc), the scene of the club’s first-ever road win.
New faces litter Philadelphia’s roster, including a quartet of front line starters in goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon, defender Carlos Valdes, defensive midfielder Brian Carroll and forward Carlos Ruiz. Returnees are highlighted by Best XI member Sebastien Le Toux, who led all of MLS in combined goals and assists in 2010, and Danny Mwanga, who was second on the club with seven goals.
The Union are 1-0-1 all-time vs. Houston, edging Dominic Kinnear’s side 3-2 in comeback fashion on May 29 at Robertson Stadium, followed by a 1-1 draw at PPL Park on October 2. Mwanga’s stoppage time goal was the difference in Houston, while a magical goal by Le Toux, assisted by Roger Torres, equalized for the Union at home.
Houston and Philadelphia were in different conferences last year, but Saturday’s showdown will now feature conference rivals after the Dynamo shifted to the Eastern Conference to make room in the West for MLS newcomers Portland and Vancouver.
In 2010, the Dynamo finished with a record of 9-15-6, including a 6-6-3 mark at home. The Union ended their expansion campaign with a 8-15-7 record, which was dragged down by a 2-12-1 road mark.
The Union may catch a break on Saturday, as Brian Ching is listed as doubtful heading into the contest with a right hamstring strain. Houston will also be without Colin Clark, who is targeting an April return from knee surgery.
The Union enter the season healthy, despite receiving a scare when Le Toux underwent a precautionary MRI on Monday for his left ankle. The 2010 all-star is expected to be ready to play a full 90 minutes this weekend.
In addition to potentially being without leading scorer Ching, Houston will also have to deal with the loss of starting goalkeeper Pat Onstad, who retired and took a job as ‘keeper coach for D.C. United, only to come out of retirement during preseason when United was hit hard with injuries. The Dynamo will rely on 25-year-old Tally Hall, who has only started five matches in his professional career.
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With or without Ching, the Dynamo attack is driven by midfielder Brad Davis, who paced the club with 12 assists in 2010, also adding five goals. Speedy striker Dominic Oduro, who registered five goals and four assists last year, and Geoff Cameron, who moved from central defense to a midfield role last season, are two other players the Union will need to constantly monitor.
Wins on the road are never easy in MLS, but that’s exactly how Peter Nowak’s side will look to kick off their 2011 campaign. Coming away with a result in Houston would go a long way towards building momentum heading into the club’s sold out Home Opener next Saturday, March 26 at PPL Park.
Philadelphia Union Injury Report
QUESTIONABLE: DF Juan Diego Gonzalez (L hip flexor strain)
Houston Dynamo Injury Report
OUT: MF Colin Clark (L knee); MF Francisco Navas Cobo (R hamstring strain);
DOUBTFUL: FW Brian Ching (R hamstring strain)
Date: Saturday, March 19, 2011
Time: 8:30pm (8:00pm pre-game show)
Location: Robertson Stadium (Houston, TX)
Talent: JP Dellacamera (play by play); Taylor Twellman (color analyst)
Referee: Abbey Okulaja; SAR (bench): Chris Strickland; JAR (opposite): Adam Garner; 4th: Andrew Chapin