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Preview: Philadelphia Union at D.C. United

Game time: Sunday, 2 p.m.

TV: 6abc, MyNetwork TV

D.C. United has lost five straight and hasn’t won a game in more than two months. Philadelphia Union is winless in their last five. The Union have the league’s worst road record. D.C. are the league’s worst team, period. Something has to give.

The Union travel to Washington this weekend to get the first seemingly easy game after a murderer’s row of  five matches over 15 days against three of the league’s best clubs and two that have been much improved. Three draws and two losses were the tally, and the Union should have found a way to win at least two of them. With Roger Torres and Stefani Miglioranzi back from injuries, the team at least gets a boost, but they’re still missing the dangerous Shea Salinas, who’s out with an injury.

D.C. United seems like just the tonic to fix these ailings. The club that Peter Nowak led to a Major League Soccer championship just five years ago is now a mess. They’ve been unable to secure a stadium despite playing in one of the league’s best natural soccer markets. Their personnel decisions over the last year or so have been mostly questionable, with the only silver lining being the emergence of home-grown youngsters Bill Hamid and Andy Najar. The team announced all-time MLS leading scorer Jaime Moreno’s retirement in a move that is more a forcing out of an ineffective player than anything voluntary. While the all-too-common reference to Moreno as a legend is pure hyperbole and his time has clearly passed, the clumsy way his departure was handled symbolizes much of what’s wrong with the franchise. Longtime player Ben Olsen has taken over as an interim coach in his first year of retirement, but the team has yet to do anything to show that the true problems have anything to do with the coaching staff.

It’s a great way to end a winless streak — if the Union can close the deal.

Probable starters

Philadelphia

Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz

Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Juan Diego Gonzalez, Danny Califf, Michael Orozco Fiscal

Midfielders: Fred, Eduardo Coudet, Stefani Miglioranzi, Sebastien Le Toux

Forwards: Danny Mwanga, Alejandro Moreno

D.C. United

Goalkeeper: Bill Hamid

Defenders: Devon McTavish, Carey Talley, Julius James, Marc Burch

Midfielders: Andy Najar, Branko Boskovic, Stephen King, Santino Quaranta,

Forwards: Danny Allsopp, Pablo Hernandez

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia: OUT: MF Shea Salinas (L fibula fracture); PROBABLE: DF Jordan Harvey (L groin strain); FW Danny Mwanga (L groin strain)

D.C. United: OUT: MF Brandon Barklage (L ACL tear); GK Andrew Quinn (R meniscus tear); DF Rodney Wallace (L fibula fracture); QUESTIONABLE: DF Juan Manuel Peña (R quad strain); PROBABLE: MF Clyde Simms (L calf strain)

Match-ups

Philadelphia defense vs. D.C. attackers

D.C. lacks firepower up front. Striker Pablo Hernandez joined D.C. on loan from Uruguay side Club Defensor Sporting in early July and has bumped Chris Pontius to the bench. Pontius has just two goals in 13 starts and 16 total games, but Hernandez has been no better, failing to net so far through five games. Australian journeyman Danny Allsopp hasn’t been the answer at the other starting forward position, with just two goals himself.

The Union back four has been steadier since Juan Diego Gonzalez signed with the team last month and immediately joined the starting lineup as captain Danny Califf’s center back partner. He’s been solid in the air and a bigger, seemingly more consistent presence. Califf has been good most of the year and bounced back from two mediocre showings with a terrific game against Colorado last week. Left back Jordan Harvey has been viewed by many as one of the Union’s most consistent players throughout the season, but the last two games have been consistently subpar from him. Fatigue could be a factor, but so too could the changing lineup around him. Converted center back Michael Orozco Fiscal has been starting at right back and offering good defense but little in the way of a push up the flank. So far, he’s yet to show why he belongs at the position, other than that his talent deserves to be on the field somewhere. Goalkeeper Chris Seitz had a great game against Dallas, but his poor punches eventually gave up the goal against Colorado. He has been very tentative attacking plays, but the league’s youngest starting keeper is getting the time to show he can play. A clean sheet sometime this year would be nice.

Edge: Philadelphia

Philadelphia midfield vs. D.C. midfield

If D.C. United has a strength, it may (eventually) be their midfield, although it’s one that hasn’t yet gelled. Montenegro captain Branko Boskovic signed as a designated player in June, and the attacking midfielder could be a creative presence the team’s been missing. He’s yet to net or create a goal yet, but he’s only played 271 minutes thus far. Teenager Andy Najar is Danny Mwanga’s primary competitor for rookie of the year, with the right midfielder practically setting off an international incident as Honduras and the U.S. have begun jockeying for his national team allegiance. Left midfielder Santino Quaranta had a good 2009, but with one goal from a team-leading 37 shots and 12 offsides calls this season, he’s been part of the problem this year. South Jersey native Stephen King has been playing the holding role in a 4-1-3-2 for D.C. after coming over in a trade from Seattle. Some think he should just go to Maine and write better books, but whatever. Clyde Simms has been out with an injury.

The Union have shuffled their midfield regularly, but unless something changes, look for Nowak to go with Fred, Chacho, Migs and Sebastien Le Toux across the midfield. It’s Fred has been playing on the left of a 4-2-2-2 (or 4-1-3-2, depending on the personnel and tendencies) and driving Union fans crazy with his play. (Somewhere, D.C. fans are nodding sagely.) The talented ball-handler remains out of position but has played well when put in the center of the field. Le Toux has carried the team, and his passing has probably been the most underrated part of his game. He starts at right midfield when both Alejandro Moreno and Danny Mwanga get the nod at forward. Eduardo Coudet has shown great vision on through balls as a deep-lying playmaker, but the 35-year-old’s emergence leaves fewer minutes for impressive youngsters Andrew Jacobson, Amobi Okugo and Roger Torres. Stefani Miglioranzi is the defensive stalwart, as much a defender as anything else, but he’s been more active in the attack lately, taking a few shots from distance that show his game has more than we’d seen through much of the season. New acquisition Justin Mapp has also been getting time on the wings, with varying impressions.

Edge: Even

Philadelphia forwards vs. D.C. United defense

The ultimate sign of just how much the Union fleeced D.C. on the Troy Perkins trade can be seen by Perkins’ presence on the bench. Teenager Bill Hamid has won the starting goalkeeper job, though it should be noted that his stats aren’t really any better than what Perkins did. Perkins saved 66 percent of the shots on goal, while Hamid has saved just 62 percent. The difference is that D.C. is letting far fewer shots on goal since making some other personnel changes, and Hamid is seeing one fewer shot on goal per game than Perkins. The dropping of Dejan Jakovic from the starting lineup may be part of why. Other than veteran center back Carey Talley, the back four is a pretty anonymous group.

Moreno and Mwanga will likely start for the Union. Moreno finally scored his first goal this season against Dallas and then looked pretty active against Colorado, hitting the post on one shot. Mwanga continued to show the nice scoring touch that has put him in the pole position for rookie of the year. He has seven goals from 20 shots in 824 minutes of play this season and has been lethal when getting the ball in the area. Should one sit, Le Toux would likely start up front, opening another spot in the midfield. Teenager Jack McInerney has looked very creative and confident when he comes off the bench.

Edge: Philadelphia

Individual match-up to watch

Sebastien Le Toux against anyone

Le Toux has nine goals and nine assists, playing a role in all but five of the team’s goals this year. He’s playing with an insane amount of confidence, and he scored the Union’s first ever goal with a hat trick against D.C. United the first time they met. Can anyone stop him? Probably not on D.C.

Prediction

Union win 3-1. The Union may be the league’s worst road team, but D.C. is the worst team, period.

(Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz)

11 Comments

  1. I sure hope that is not the starting line up. If we have learned anything from past two weeks it is that Mwanga and Le Toux partnership up top is an emerging force in MLS and that while Moreno is a hard worker and a great guy the legs are not there anymore. Then the fact that Jordan Harvey is garbage on the back line. Poor games for him against New England and one of the worst performances by a Union player for him against columbus. Dallas, Salt Lake and Colorado were also sub par. I would hope that he is dropped from the line up for DC game. Also Torres has really earned a starting position. In the last few games where he has come in to the game as a sub the Union have looked far more explosive and likely to score with him on the field.

    • @mike- agreed

      • To be clear, those aren’t necessarily who I think SHOULD start. It’s who I think WILL start. (I’d use the list of probable starters that MLS sends out weekly, but the list is usually outdated.)

      • Yeah I figured that those were not your opinions Dan and I agree with you that those are probably the people that will start. It would be interesting to find out why Nowak has been so opposed to starting Torres this season even when he is healthy and his continued attempts to push Le Toux into a midfield position.

  2. Mike Servedio says:

    You can’t start Torres, Fred, Migs, and Coudet. It’s basically 4 central midfielders. This is fine if you are Chelsea and you have outside backs that attack well. But the Union are clearly not Chelsea and the outside backs haven’t show much all season.

    Salinas can’t get healthy fast enough in my opinion. I’d be happy to see any player that can play an outside position brought into the team. At this point, I wouldn’t mind seeing McInerney get a start with Mwanga and moving Le Toux out wide, just out of shear lack of outside midfielders.

  3. Agree to agree. Lack of natural width is far and away the most glaring problem with this team. If two hack writers without a UEFA Pro A coaching license can see this, why can’t Nowak?

    You can’t create space for people to run into without first dragging defenders out wide and out of position.

    Salinas on 40K is FAR superior to Fred on 282K. The former can actually stretch a defense. The latter can stretch his 30-year-plus groin doing stupid flicks.

  4. Torres has looked the best besides Salinas in a wide position though because his crosses have been decent like the first goal against DC way back then. I think Nowak has seen the issue, but failed to fix it. Mapp was supposed to be a wide player, but so far he seems to enjoy going into the middle rather than staying wide and working on crosses. For the style of play the Union have I would like to see Salinas back on right back and another speedy defender who can put in crosses for left back. Dan is there any word on the prognosis of when Salinas will be back?

    • It should be soon- I spoke to him a week before the Crew game and he said a few weeks- it was a fracture, not a break. Of course, a few weeks may be the standard answer he gives.

      • I sure its only a few weeks, whether Nowak puts him in as right back or a wide midfielder I think everyone would agree he is a starter somewhere in this team.

  5. Josh Trott says:

    I want Torres to start over Fred, and Okugo over Harvey.

  6. Does that mean you would like to drop down to 3 at the back and 5 in the mid? I have been thinking on whether they should try that now that the seasons goal is stay out of last pretty much. With Orozco, Califf and Gonzalez it would be a pretty well balanced 3 back set up and seeing how they suck at building out of the back maybe stacking the midfield and keeping those three as committed backs without permission to go forward to much is the way to go. Would be interesting to see how it went though because I have a feeling it would not be successful.

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