After a perfect 2-0-0 start to the season, the Philadelphia Union are in for their toughest test yet on Saturday night: a showdown with the LA Galaxy (1-1-1).
Peter Nowak’s side will head to The Home Depot Center to face a Galaxy squad that is fresh off a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Real Salt Lake. Landon Donovan is expected back from national team duty, and he’ll join David Beckham, Juan Pablo Ángel & Co. in an attempt to get LA back on track.
"They're a group that has a lot of experience on their team, and anytime they take a thumping like they did in Salt Lake, they're going to be looking to bounce back," said defender Danny Califf.
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Bruce Arena’s side is hopeful that, in addition to Donovan’s return, Best XI defender Omar Gonzalez (probable, R shoulder sprain) and reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Donovan Ricketts (questionable, R hamstring strain) will be available for selection. Gonzalez’s return is likely, while Rickett’s chances are reportedly much slimmer.
Regardless, the Union are looking to assert themselves offensively after two consecutive 1-0 victories. Neither Sebastien Le Toux or Danny Mwanga – a duo that combined for 21 of the club’s 35 goals in 2010 – have tallied through two matches.
"We still need to improve offensively," Nowak said. "There were some things against Vancouver that I didn't like. We watched the film together Wednesday, and we're going to make things better.”
The Union enter the highly-anticipated road contest banged up, although midfielder Justin Mapp (questionable, L hamstring strain) is the only starter who appears likely to miss the match. Sebastien Le Toux (not listed on injury report), Danny Califf (probable, L knee meniscus) and Carlos Valdés (probable, R ankle sprain) are all nursing minor injuries, but expected to suit up.
One player the Galaxy will certainly be without is 2010 Golden Boot runner-up Edson Buddle, who is now plying his trade with Ingolstadt 04 of the German second division. Buddle burned the Union for three goals in two matches last season. He was effectively replaced by Ángel, who scored a late consolation goal against RSL but otherwise has yet to show his best form.
The Union hope their re-tooled defensive unit can contain LA’s offense, the most dynamic attack they’ve seen by a wide margin. Faryd Mondragón hasn’t been truly tested yet through two matches, a testament to his leadership and organization of the backline. The centerback pairing of Valdés and Califf has been rock solid, while Sheanon Williams and Jordan Harvey have been reliable on the right and left, respectively. The defensive midfield pairing of Brian Carroll and Stefani Miglioranzi have also been a stabilizing force on the defensive side of the ball.
After losing twice to the Galaxy in 2010 – 3-1 in LA and 1-0 at home – the Union are eager to prove their hot start is just a sign of things to come. A statement win in LA would keep Philadelphia atop the Eastern Conference and prove that the Union are a formidable contender in 2011.
"It's [a good test] to see where we are at this point,” said Nowak.
Philadelphia Union Injury Report
QUESTIONABLE: MF Justin Mapp (L hamstring strain);
PROBABLE: DF Carlos Valdés (R ankle sprain); DF Danny Califf (L knee meniscus)
LA Galaxy Injury Report
OUT: DF Gregg Berhalter (L knee MCL sprain); FW Adam Cristman (L knee surgery); MF Hector Jimenez (R wrist surgery);
QUESTIONABLE: GK Donovan Ricketts (R hamstring strain);
PROBABLE: DF Omar Gonzalez (R shoulder sprain)
PHI: Zac MacMath, Amobi Okugo (U.S. U-20s)
Date: Saturday, April 2, 2011
Time: 10:30pm (10:00pm pre-game show)
Location: The Home Depot Center (Carson, Ca.)
Television: The Comcast Network
Talent: JP Dellacamera (play by play); Taylor Twellman (color analyst)
Referee: Paul Ward; SAR (bench): Darren Clark; JAR (opposite): Anthony Vasoli; 4th: Chris Penso