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Preview: Philadelphia Union at Houston Dynamo

Game time: Saturday, 8:30 p.m.

TV: Fox Soccer Channel

Oh by the way, did you hear Philadelphia Union has a game Saturday too?

Yes, it’s been lost in the hype of the U.S. National Team’s last friendly and upcoming match earlier on Saturday against Turkey at Lincoln Financial Field.

But sure enough, the Union (1-5-1) are traveling to Texas to face a 4th place Houston Dynamo team (5-4-1) that includes the only guy not on the U.S. World Cup roster that truly deserves to be there. Forward Brian Ching comes into this game fresh off of learning Wednesday that he won’t be going to South Africa, with national team coach Bob Bradley choosing Robbie Findley over Ching, the one true target forward on the team. Whether Ching plays or not against the Union on Saturday could well determine how the game goes, because Houston’s offense is based largely on him.

For the Union, this is their first game in two weeks, which usually might be a bad thing, but considering they’re on the road trip from hell, with nine of their first 11 games are on the road, a breather probably couldn’t hurt. Leading scorer Sebastien Le Toux has had more time to get back to full speed after a knee injury (just because he played against Dallas, it doesn’t mean he was 100 percent), and the Union are a team still gelling. More time isn’t a bad thing.

Probable starters

Philadelphia

Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz

Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Michael Orozco, Danny Califf, Cristian Arrieta

Midfielders: Stefani Miglioranzi, Fred, Roger Torres, Kyle Nakazawa

Forwards: Sebastien Le Toux, Alejandro Moreno

Houston

Goalkeeper: Pat Onstad

Defenders: Mike Chabala, Eddie Robinson, Bobby Boswell, Richard Mulrooney

Midfielders:  Brian Mullan, Brad Davis, Danny Cruz, Lovel Palmer

Forwards: Dominic Oduro, Brian Ching

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia: Toni Stahl (left knee strain) is probable.

Houston: Geoff Cameron (right knee) is out.

Match-ups

Philadelphia defense vs. Houston forwards

Houston comes in with one of Major League Soccer’s most interesting groups of strikers. Oduro is the young Ghanaian speedster with all sorts of raw talent, but he sometimes has trouble finishing. Landin is the designated player who showed up at Houston out of shape last year and still hasn’t lost the Chubby Checker look. Then there’s Ching, the 24th man on a 23-man U.S. World Cup roster, an excellent target forward who hustles, holds the ball up and passes well, can hit the back of the net, but has injury problems. If Ching plays, Houston has the edge here.

On the other side, Philadelphia’s defense is coming off one of the few games where a killer defensive mistake didn’t cost them a goal. We’ve said it over and over again. On paper, Arrietta, Califf, Orozco and Harvey could be the league’s best back line. They played relatively well their last game against Dallas, but we might not be saying that if Dallas could hit the broad side of a barn with a shot. (Remember Califf’s swing-and-miss that gave Jeff Cunningham a 1-on-1 with Seitz?) So it’s all perspective, based on the scoreline. The one who definitely played well, however, was goalkeeper Chris Seitz, who settled down for his best game of the year.

Edge: Even

Philadelphia midfield vs. Houston midfield

Last year, Houston had arguably the league’s best midfield.  But U.S. internationals Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark have left for Europe, and Geoff Cameron, the young all-star defender who moved up to midfield to help replace them, is out for the year with a knee injury. That leaves Brad Davis, Brian Mullan and a cast of nobodies who could turn into somebodies. Davis is one of the league’s most underrated players, solid on free kicks and crosses, but who’s seen his role change with Cameron’s injury. Thanks in part to a new conditioning routine, he is playing the best soccer of his career and leads Houston in goals and assists. Mullan has netted twice this year and is the other long-term starter. U.S. youth international Danny Cruz scored in his first MLS start last Saturday, while Lovel Palmer has tried to replace Clark in the defensive midfielder role.

The Union have been playing a midfield without any true wingers, as manager Peter Nowak continues to keep Shea Salinas stapled to the bench until the second half. Will he do so again Saturday, or will Salinas get the start in place of Torres? That’s been the catch. Torres is just a teenager, and his potential has tantalized. Still, his propensity for dribbling into traffic and losing the ball has driven Union fans equally bonkers. Fred holds down the other attacking wing, and while he has enviable ball skills, he seems woefully out of position and hasn’t taken a single shot this season. Stefani Miglioranzi holds down one holding midfield position and has mostly played well in that capacity. Kyle Nakazawa has started the last two games in place of Andrew Jacobson and been dangerous on free kicks but largely invisible in the run of play.

Edge: Houston

Philadelphia forwards vs.  Houston defense

Houston has one of the most experienced defenses in the league, anchored by 42-year-old Canadian international goalkeeper Pat Onstad and center backs Bobby Boswell and Eddie Robinson, 33 and 31, respectively. Robinson missed last season with an injury, which allowed Cameron to blossom into a star before this season’s injury. Mike Chabala and Richard Mulrooney man the flanks, while Andrew Hainault can slide between midfield and fullback with ease and could start.

The Union have struggled to find the net, with Le Toux scoring five of the team’s eight goals in all matches. Le Toux and Moreno have good chemistry, with the target forward Moreno setting Le Toux up for some excellent chances. Moreno hasn’t found the net himself, however, and he’s taken just five shots in seven regular season matches, far too low a number for a striker, regardless of his passing. Rookies Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney have played like rookies off the bench, showing signs of brilliance and lots of rawness. Mwanga’s game-tying goal in stoppage time against Dallas put him in Union fans’ good graces for a while.

Edge: Houston

Individual match-up to watch

Brian Ching vs. Bob Bradley

Wait, did we already see this? Well, the question is how the hangover affects Ching. If Ching plays instead of Landin, Houston is easily the better team. If not — and early indications are that he may not — the gap closes somewhat. Ching has only played in three games this season, due to injury and the U.S. team’s training camp, and that’s part of why Houston has been mediocre this season.

What to expect

Two of the league’s most established coaches, Dominic Kinnear and Peter Nowak, will send their teams out onto one of the league’s worst fields, Robertson Stadium in Houston. Look for divots in the field, lots of falling down, someone to get hurt, and a toss-up if Ching doesn’t play, determined by whether the Union defense makes a goal-creating mistake.

Prediction

Houston wins 2-1.

5 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Philly Soccer Page » USA, Union & Independence weekend!

  2. Until this team plays with some width they will not meet with success. Harvey and Arrieta are understandably getting worn out with no help out wide and all 4 defenders are forced to pump the ball up the field rather than playing a controlled buildup.

    Why not play salinas wide left and torres wide right. he’s 18, they can make him into whatever they want him to be. or is he just not fast enough? his long dribbling runs would be more useful out wide where he could get around the defense and deliver a cross.

    Fred remains the biggest problem in this offense however. His game is incredibly negative and for a player who passes backwards 9 times out of 10, he still doesnt really help us to maintain possession. someone show this man where the goal his and tell him to run towards it.

    Can’t wait for another Mwanga cameo. He looked a lot more comfortable in his latest outing and the goal was tremendous.

    GO UNION!!!

  3. Tim Uhrich says:

    Clearly, Dan, you don’t think highly of Heath Pearce. Doesn’t seem like there was a lot of controversy in the midfield – and I agree that Ching still has the game to be on that squad up front – but Im looking hard at Bob’s decision to leave a good attack-minded fullback at home. We’ll have to wait and see.

  4. Actually, I do like Heath Pearce. But he had a lot more to prove than Ching, and he had a nightmare game Tuesday. And, well, I do like Ching. He’s a real lunchpail-type player who can do something no forward on the U.S. roster can do — hold the ball up well and help you maintain possession and kill time if you have a lead.

    And by the way, good point about width, Eli. They’re playing with four center midfielders. Until that changes, that width issue will likely remain.

  5. I found myself surprisingly disappointed when ching was left off the us roster. what’s the point of playing these warm up games if playing well doesnt get you on the roster. every time i’ve seen findley play for country he has been inadequate. the game is too quick for him and he just isnt up to snuff.

    while heath pearce provides above average service against concacaf minnows, he is just too much of a defensive liability. he’s terrible on defense. and as a defender, defense is pretty important.

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