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Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. San Jose Earthquakes

Game time: Saturday, 6 p.m.

TV: Fox Soccer Channel

Philadelphia Union kick off a four-game home stretch on Saturday as Philly native Bobby Convey and the San Jose Earthquakes come to town.

San Jose (5-4-4) has been playing solid soccer thanks to Convey’s return to form and the emergence of forward Chris Wondolowski and rookie center back Ike Opara. Knee injuries had derailed the former U.S. international Convey’s career in England, and after a disappointing 2009 return to Major League Soccer with San Jose, some wondered whether he was washed up. As it turns out, all Convey needed was the opportunity to play his natural position – left midfield – with some regularity, and now he’s second in the league in assists behind Landon Donovan, having assisted on seven of San Jose’s 16 goals. The Union passed up on taking the hometown kid during the expansion draft, and if not for the fact that Shea Salinas, the former San Jose player they took instead, is looking like a future star, the choice might not look so good right now. Now, the two former teammates will likely square off as Salinas may draw the responsibility of marking Convey.

Philadelphia (3-7-2) has moved out of the basement in the standings and is probably a better team than their record indicates. Rookie forward Danny Mwanga has improved the attack, and goalkeeper Chris Seitz is playing much better behind a solidifying back line. Questions remain at midfield, where manager Peter Nowak has yet to settle on a regular starting four, and the team could acquire reinforcements there after the World Cup. Overall, the team looks much improved, and home field has been a huge advantage for them thus far, as they haven’t lost in three matches in Pennsylvania.

Probable starters

Philadelphia

Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz

Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Michael Orozco, Danny Califf, Shea Salinas

Midfielders: Sebastien Le Toux, Stefani Miglioranzi, Fred, Roger Torres

Forwards:  Alejandro Moreno, Danny Mwanga

San Jose

Goalkeeper: Jon Busch

Defenders: Ramiro Corrales, Ike Opara, Bobby Burling, Jason Hernandez

Midfielders:  Bobby Convey, Brandon McDonald, Sam Cronin, Arturo Alvarez

Forwards: Chris Wondolowski, Ryan Johnson

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia: OUT: MF Kyle Nakazawa (R knee sprain); QUESTIONABLE: FW Alejandro Moreno (R knee contusion).

San Jose: OUT: MF Andre Luiz (L knee internal derangement); DF Steven Beitashour (R knee sprain); QUESTIONABLE: FW Scott Sealy (R quad strain); PROBABLE: MF Joey Gjertsen (L quad strain); FW Eduardo (R hip flexor strain)

Match-ups

Philadelphia defense vs. San Jose attackers

After wasting away for five years as a substitute for the Houston Dynamo, forward Chris Wondolowski has been a revelation this year for San Jose, with six goals in 11 matches, good enough for fifth in the league. He has paired primarily with Jamaican forward Ryan Johnson up top, who hasn’t exactly had the same kind of season, with just one goal from 26 shots and 11 offsides calls.

The Union will likely counter with a back line of Harvey, Orozco, Califf and Salinas from left to right, unless Nowak decides to throw Cristian Arrieta into the mix. Again, Alejandro Moreno’s injury may create a domino effect, because if he doesn’t play, Orozco or Salinas could start in the midfield. The back line has looked better every week, with goalkeeper Chris Seitz in good form after his slow start. However, the Union remain the league’s only team not to record a clean sheet.

Edge: Philadelphia

Philadelphia midfield vs. San Jose midfield

After a rough 2009, Philadelphia native Bobby Convey has returned to form and is one of the league’s best left wingers.  Right midfielder Arturo Alvarez has looked good in limited action this year, while the center midfield pairing of Brandon McDonald and Sam Cronin is a solid if unspectacular one.

Meanwhile, Nowak continues to tinker with the Union’s midfield. Last week, he started Michael Orozco at left midfield and moved Sebastien Le Toux back up to forward to replace the injured Moreno. The Union didn’t hold possession nearly as well as they did in the PPL Park opener against Seattle, when Fred starred at center midfield, but Moreno’s absence certainly played a part in that. The unsettled nature of the squad here hurts the chemistry.

Edge: San Jose

Philadelphia forwards vs. San Jose defense

San Jose recently elevated former Chicago Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch to the starting role, and he’s given up just one goal in two starts, an improvement over former starter Joe Cannon’s 1.27 goals against average. Rookie center back Ike Opara is a future star and has quickly established himself as the San Jose’s defensive anchor.

The Union attack functions best when Moreno can play hold up and send Le Toux on runs, while Mwanga is proving to be a goal poacher with good finishing skills. If Moreno’s out, the attack lacks a little something, as he’s proving to be one of the most important cogs in play.

Edge: Even

Individual match-up(s) to watch

Danny Mwanga vs. Ike Opara

The league’s top two candidates for rookie of the year will square off in San Jose’s box. Opara was thought to be the logical top pick in the draft until Nowak zeroed in on Mwanga. Neither team appears to have gone wrong with its selection. Opara has scored three goals in eight matches and played solid defense, while Union forward Danny Mwanga has five goals in his last six matches.

Bobby Convey vs. Shea Salinas

OK, so we couldn’t just pick one match-up this week, because both are fascinating. Before the expansion draft, we figured the Union would take one of these two, and it was just a question of which one. Now, they’re likely to face off as Convey goes down the left wing that Salinas has been tasked with shutting down lately. It should be entertaining.

Prediction

Union win 2-1.

(Photo: Nicolae Stoian)

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Philly Soccer Page » Thus spake Paul the Octopus: Spain

  2. Ed Farnsworth says:

    I wonder if the supporters section will turn their backs on Convey when he is announced?

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