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Union vs. D.C. United preview

Game time: Saturday, 6 p.m. ET

TV: Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Soccer en Español

Philadelphia Union host rival D.C. United in its first-ever home opener at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The two clubs come in having scored a combined zero goals in three games. The Union have more of an excuse, having played half their first game one man down due to Toni Stahl’s red card. But D.C. has been positively punchless, getting outscored 6-0 in two matches and generally looking like a team that could be in for a very, very long season. Former D.C. manager Peter Nowak and midfielder Fred face their former team for the first time, and they have a good chance to walk away with a win.

Probable starters

Philadelphia

Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz

Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Shavar Thomas, Danny Califf, Michael Orozco

Midfielders: Stefani Miglioranzi, Fred, Roger Torres

Forwards: Sebastien Le Toux, Alejandro Moreno, Jack McInerney

(Note: The Union list the above players as probable starters. Don’t be surprised if manager Peter Nowak sends out a few different starters – Shea Salinas and anticipated signee Cristian Arrieta, for example – as well as a 3-5-2 formation.)

Washington

Goalkeeper: Troy Perkins

Defenders: Carey Talley, Dejan Jakovic, Juan Manuel Peña, Rodney Wallace

Midfielders:  Brandon Barklage, Kurt Morsink, Santino Quaranta, Cristian Castillo

Forwards: Jaime Moreno, Chris Pontius

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia: Toni Stahl (suspended) is out. Jordan Harvey (left knee sprain) is questionable. Danny Mwanga (left wrist sprain/left calf strain), Danny Califf (right ankle sprain/right hamstring strain), Stefani Miglioranzi (left groin strain),  Amobi Okugo (right knee strain), and Nick Zimmerman (right ankle contusion) are probable.

D.C.: Josh Wicks (dislocated shoulder, MCL sprain), Bryan Namoff (post-concussion syndrome), Marc Burch (foot surgery), and Clyde Simms (left hamstring sprain) are out. Devon MacTavish (groin) and Bill Hamid (shoulder) are probable.

Match-ups

Union defense vs. D.C. forwards

Right now, anyone playing D.C. United gets the advantage against their forwards, because so far, they’re scoreless. Califf, Orozco, Thomas and Harvey are the most proven foursome of defenders on the club, and even if Orozco is at defensive midfield again in a 3-5-2, the Union should be in decent shape provided they can avoid silly bookings. That’s a big IF. (Note: If the Union sign trialist Cristian Arrieta, as expected, he could land in the starting lineup at right back, bumping Thomas or Harvey from the lineup with Orozco’s perceived flexibility allowing him to play almost anywhere on the back line.)

Pontius impressed in his rookie year last season with four goals and three assists, but those numbers will have to increase drastically for United to have any hope this season. Moreno is the all-time leading scorer in MLS, but despite nine goals last year, some are wondering whether he’s at the end of the line. Unless he starts finding the net, expect those whispers to get louder.

Edge: Philadelphia

Union midfield vs. D.C. midfield

Let’s presume that the 11 probable starters will actually start (even if it’s not likely to happen). If so, the Union look OK in a 3-5-2 with Fred helping step up an attack that looked nonexistent after the first 10 minutes of the Union’s first match against the Sounders. Roger Torres was one of the few bright spots in that game, and pairing the two could be fun. A 3-5-2 would probably have Le Toux and Orozco Joining the midfield at winger and defensive midfield, respectively. A 4-3-3 could get them smoked on the defensive transition.

As for D.C., the players to watch are Santino Quaranta and Christian Castillo. The former was salvaged from the trash heap and turned in a surprise stellar season last year. The latter is a new signing who plays for El Salvador’s national team and has gotten beaten up so far in MLS. It’s a decidedly ordinary midfield, but then again, you could say the same about the Union so far.

Edge: Even

Union forwards vs. D.C. defense

The Union haven’t scored yet. United played defense against Kansas City as if goalkeeper Troy Perkins was a subway turnstile. Something has to give.

D.C. United’s defense is anchored by Juan Manuel Pena, who played 13 years in Spain, most of them in the first division with Real Valladolid and Villareal. Before he signed with D.C. United, most thought he’d retired. Not good. Canadian international Dejan Jakovic is a solid defender, but this back line hasn’t looked good so far.

For the Union, you have target forward Alejandro Moreno and potentially 17-year-old Jack McInerney. Union Jack showed some spunk after subbing into the Sounders match in the second half, actually trying a bicycle kick on goal. That takes some serious stones, and because he’s not yet old enough to vote, we’ll take it as a good sign. (Pena is 36. Union Jack is 17. No, not your daddy, but old enough to be.) This is a small front line that didn’t get to show much against the Sounders, down a man.

Edge: Even

Individual match-up to watch

Alejandro Moreno vs. Juan Manuel Pena

If the Union are going to find the net, chances are Moreno will have something to do with it. He draws a lot of fouls, holds up the ball well, and can find the net on his own when given the opportunity. The question is what kind of service he’ll get from the midfield. With Fred returning from suspension, it could be a bit better. But Moreno won’t know many tricks Pena hasn’t seen.

What to expect

The Linc is a great place to watch a soccer game. Busloads of D.C. United fans are expected to make the trip, and Vice President Joe Biden is stopping by with several gaffes already prepared for his opening kickoff. (Will his foot hit the ball or skip right by and head into his mouth, where it’s most comfortable?) The atmosphere should be awesome, and this will likely be the fun rivalry for the Union over the coming years (whereas the Red Bulls will be the team we hate).

On the field, it could get ugly though if these two clubs don’t shake off the cobwebs that bogged them down in their first matches. Neither has shown any offense yet. If the Union play like they did against the Sounders, this “Flyers on Cleats” tag is going to stick. This one could get rough.

Prediction

A 1-1 draw. The Union win 2-1. (I changed my mind and let myself be optimistic!) The Union are an expansion team that lacks discipline or much experience playing together, but D.C. United just flat out suck compared to years past. The Union will outplay them, and homefield advantage helps get them the win.

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