Match previews / Union

Preview: Philadelphia Union at Kansas City Wizards

Game time: Thursday, 8 p.m.

TV: ABC 6.2 (Live Well/HD)

The end of the road trip is at hand.

When Philadelphia Union (2-6-1) play the Kansas City Wizards (2-5-3) on Thursday night, it will mark the end of an opening stretch of games that has seen them play nine of their first 11 regular season and U.S. Open Cup matches on the road. In two weeks, PPL Park will be complete in Chester, and the Union will host their first home game there on June 27.

But for now, it’s a trip to Kansas City to meet the team that could have been in the Philadelphia area instead of an expansion team. Back in 2006, Kansas City ownership looked at moving the team to Glassboro, N.J., possibly via a sale.  Naturally, it never happened. At the time, their problem was the lack of a stadium. That problem still exists, though if things go according to plan, a new stadium will be built across the state line in Kansas in a few years.

The Wizards are struggling. They opened the season well by winning the first two games, with European imports Ryan Smith, Stephane Auvray and Jimmy Nielsen impressing right away. But now Auvray is hurt, forward Kei Kamara has become notorious for his “miss of the century,” and the Wizards haven’t won in eight games. They’ve scored the second lowest number of goals in the league, with nine in nine games. Now they get to host an expansion team that’s the only Major League Soccer club not to record a clean sheet this year.

That said, the Union look primed for a hot streak. Maybe it won’t start till they get their home stadium, but the Union have looked good for most of their last two games, defeating Houston on the road and falling to Chicago thanks to a botched clearance that gave away a goal. Rookie Danny Mwanga has scored in stoppage time in three straight matches, making him the first MLS player to ever do that. Things are looking up.

Probable starters

Philadelphia

Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz

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

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

Forwards: Sebastien Le Toux, Alejandro Moreno

Kansas City

Goalkeeper: Jimmy Nielsen

Defenders: Chance Myers, Jimmy Conrad, Pablo Escobar, Michael Harrington

Midfielders:  Jack Jewsbury, Teal Bunbury, Ryan Smith, Josh Wolff, Davy Arnaud

Forwards: Kei Kamara

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia: PROBABLE: DF Michael Orozco Fiscal (L ankle contusion), FW Danny Mwanga (R ankle contusion), and MF Stefani Miglioranzi (R foot contusion).

Kansas City: OUT: MF Zoltan Hercegfalvi (R knee sprain/torn ACL) and MF Stephane Auvray (R knee strain). MF Craig Rocastle is suspended. MF Roger Espinoza is on international duty with Honduras at the World Cup.

Match-ups

Philadelphia defense vs. Kansas City forwards

Kei Kamara may have recorded the worst botch of a gimme goal in recent history, but he also has five goals in 10 matches. The guy can play. So too can Josh Wolff, a forward who is playing more of an attacking midfield role this season in a formation that’s most akin to a 4-2-3-1.  Whether that’s helped Wolff or hurt him is up for debate, but whereas he had a career-high 11 goals last season, he has just one this year. Still, despite leading the league in shots on goal with 60, the Wizards have little to show for it with just nine goals scored.

Philadelphia’s defense has given up four goals the last two games but still seems to be settling down and beginning to mesh. Left back Jordan Harvey has been solid since the opening match, while center backs Danny Califf and Michael Orozco Fiscal appear to have begun playing up to their preseason billing as one of the league’s best center back duos.  Goalkeeper Chris Seitz made several terrific saves against Chicago. The one weak link in recent games has been Cristian Arrieta, who’s shown a distinct lack of speed – or hustle – at the worst moments. Winger Shea Salinas can fill in at right back, but that changes his role on the attack and weakens the Union up front. Arrieta needs to step up. He has the talent, but does he have the will?

Edge: Philadelphia

Philadelphia midfield vs. Kansas City midfield

Watch Ryan Smith. The Englishman is one of the best signings in the league. Just 23, the former Arsenal youth player was going nowhere fast at Crystal Palace in England’s second tier when he left to cross the pond. He’s shown creativity that makes one wonder why he had so much trouble seeing the field before now. Davy Arnaud is another guy who can play forward or midfield, as is rookie Teal Bunbury, whose speed has kept defenders on alert. Still, it’s a matter of Kansas City putting together the type of form they had in their first two games.

The Union midfield’s performance has been uneven, and it’s probably the one part of the team where the lineup is least settled. Salinas has wowed with his speed on the flanks when inserted as winger, but manager Peter Nowak has moved him all over the field – and the bench. Fred continues to show terrific ball control but often seems out of step with his teammates, perhaps in part because he’s playing out of position on the wing instead of his natural central role. Central midfielder Kyle Nakazawa continues to look good on free kicks and seems to be settling in as a nice, consistent, if unspectacular player in the center, while Stefani Miglioranzi plays the primary defensive midfielder role aggressively – sometimes a bit too aggressively. Roger Torres is up and down off the bench, while Andrew Jacobson hasn’t seen the field in several games after beginning the season as a starter.

Edge: Kansas City

Philadelphia forwards vs.  Kansas City defense

Jimmy Nielsen is the guy who bumped Kevin Hartman, the goalkeeper who holds MLS records for most wins and shutouts and who shut down the Union at home a few weeks ago with some brilliant play to earn FC Dallas a tie. Many wondered why Kansas City was willing to let Hartman go, but Nielsen has shown why with some terrific saves. Center back Jimmy Conrad anchors the back line in front of him, and despite missing out on this year’s World Cup, Conrad remains one of the league’s best defenders. The rest of the back line? Well, Michael Harrington did a great video for Maxim, though the whole pretend-you’re-a-cat thing was kind of a bizarre choice, wasn’t it?

The Union’s Sebastien Le Toux is tied for fifth in the league in goals, while his partner, target forward Alejandro Moreno, is among the league leaders in assists but hasn’t yet found the net himself. Off the bench, Mwanga has shown brilliant finishing recently. It’s a good, hard-working group, but they’re not spectacular. Given better and more consistent midfield play, that could change.

Edge: Even

Individual match-up to watch

Jimmy Conrad vs. Alejandro Moreno

When the Union offense clicks, it’s often because Moreno is doing a good job holding up play and then finding his teammates on runs with good through balls. When the Union offense doesn’t click, it’s usually a game when Moreno is invisible and rarely sees the ball. Which kind of game will this be? Conrad knows how to find him.

What to expect

This is a game the Union can win. Kansas City is struggling. The end of the Union road trip is in sight, and a win going into the two-week break for the World Cup would be a great send-off. But in a small, odd stadium like CommunityAmerica Ballpark, things can change. It seats just 10,385, and it’s a far better fit for minor league baseball, which is also played there. Home field advantage in a strange stadium is often more significant.

Prediction

1-1 draw.

(Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz)

One Comment

  1. Pingback: The Philly Soccer Page » Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock . . .

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