FC Dallas (2-0-0, 6 points) at Philadelphia Union (0-0-2, 2 points)
What: Major League Soccer regular season match; When: Friday, 7 p.m. (kickoff 7:06 p.m.)
Where: PPL Park, Chester, Pa.; Tickets: Purchase tickets
TV: UniMas featuring play-by-play announcer Jorge Perez Navarro and color analyst Diego Balado.
How to watch in English
Radio: None; Online: None; Social: Follow the action via Twitter: @TheUMatchday
Parking: $20 at all PPL Park approved lots Mass transit: Shuttle service to and from Chester Transportation Center
Through the opening two weeks in Major League Soccer, only one team has 6 points. The Philadelphia Union probably feel like they should be the second.
But that’s the matchup for Friday night’s nationally televised game on UniMas, as FC Dallas brings in their (albeit early) flawless record into PPL Park to face the Union, who have been undone in each of their first two games by less-than-ideal circumstances, resulting in a pair of draws.
For Dallas, they’ve taken care of business at the comfort of their home park, Toyota Stadium, to open the season with two wins. After escaping San Jose Earthquakes with a stoppage-time goal in the season opener, they impressively dispatched Sporting Kansas City 3-1 last week. Now they make their first road trip of the season to Philadelphia.
“They’re a team that’s done very well in their first two games – kind of the talk of the league in some ways,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “They have a coach I respect a great deal in Oscar Pareja. For me, if you go back to the midway point of last season, they’re in the upper echelon and right on the cusp of being in the discussions with the LA’s and the Seattle’s – they’re that good and I respect them that much.”
It has been an impressive start for FC Dallas who has been led by Blas Perez. The veteran forward sits atop the MLS leaderboard with three goals alongside Clint Dempsey. But it’s their overall balance and depth that has particularly caught Curtin’s eye.
“For me, [Fabian] Castillo, 1v1, is the most dangerous guy in the league right now,” Curtin said. “He really has a way of wrongfooting defenders, can get to the end line whenever he wants, is as fast as anyone in the league so that is a guy we’ll have to focus on obviously. Blas Perez is kind of in the Carlos Ruiz mode – he’s not a player’s favorite to play against…
“[Tesho] Akindele is a young player who gets better and better each week,” Curtin continued. “I thought he made a good play on their first goal this week. [Mauro] Diaz is starting to get going. They have two guys that hold – [Victor] Ulloa and Michel – that are kind of the unsung heroes of the group who protect the back four and do a really great job at that. And they have a solid, organized back four. So they’re a strong team and one that we respect a great deal. But at the same time we don’t fear.”
Yes, front-to-back, FC Dallas is arguably one of the strongest teams in the league. But for the Union, who were unfairly denied a penalty against Colorado and called for a tough one against Real Salt Lake, they feel they should have six points as well. Moving on and looking to grab all three points, however, is the focus.
"These last two games, by the referees' own admissions, were mistakes," Curtin said. "I have a good relationship with the referees in this league. It’s a hard job to do but there were some critical calls that maybe didn’t go our way. We can’t complain and dwell on it. We’re looking forward to now bouncing back."
To do that, they’re obviously going to need a strong all-around effort. Start with going against a defense that has allowed just six shots on target – and just one goal – in two games. As Curtin alluded to earlier, a lot of that dirty work is done by defensive midfielders Ulloa and Michel. But, opposing teams haven’t had much success working down the flanks, either. That should be a big storyline Friday night.
However the Union plan to get the ball into the box, they can be confident in the play of target striker Fernando Aristeguieta. The Venezuelan has made an immediate impact for the club, scoring two goals against Real Salt Lake in just his second ever MLS game.
However, with Cristian Maidana (MCL strain) and C.J. Sapong (concussion) due to miss the game, more of the offensive responsibility will undoubtedly fall on wingers Andrew Wenger and Sebastien Le Toux. For Wenger, he says the offense is still a work in progress with Aristeguieta just joining the team roughly one month ago.
“It’s only been two games and we’re still feeling each other out,” Wenger said. “We’ve played in two MLS games so far that have really been choppy games and games that have been played in bits and parts. So we’re still trying to find that form and connections there, which is exciting because if we can find those connections, it could be a benefit.”
Of course containing Dallas’ speed on the wings will be just as vital.
“Containing that [speed] is going to be a collective effort,” Wenger said. “It’s not going to be one guy out wide trying to defend one-on-one. It’s going to be about being organized together and really making them break us down. Looking back at the two games we’ve played this year, no team has really broken us down and that’s a positive for us.”
Friday night will mark the Union’s first game on new national TV partner UniMas. Along with ESPN and Fox Sports, Univision has earned national game of the week rights, making Friday and Sunday, respectively, destination watching for MLS.
“The fact that we have nights designated for soccer now is special,” Curtin said. “The first weekend that’s what everyone talked about – all my friends, my meathead football friends – they couldn’t believe how much MLS was on TV, with the triple-header that wound up being on Sunday… As players, to have a Friday night game where you know you’re the only team playing and everyone else in the league watching is special. It puts a little more into the game.”