Match previews / Union

Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Kansas City Wizards

Game time: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

TV: 6abc

One of Major League Soccer’s hottest teams visits Chester this Saturday as Philadelphia Union host the Kansas City Wizards.

The Wizards (7-9-5) have gone 4-1-2 over their last seven games, with wins over both conference’s first place teams. Bolstered by the return of holding midfielder Stephane Auvray, they have revived the early season form that saw them win their first two games before injuries initiated a miserable stretch. English winger Ryan Smith and rookie first round draft pick Teal Bunbury have impressed, while Danish backstop Jimmy Nielsen has been among the league’s best goalkeepers this season. Former Union defender Shavar Thomas has resurrected his career, breaking into the starting lineup after being traded to the Wizards to end a mostly bench-ridden tenure with the Union.

The Union (5-11-5) broke their own winless streak last Saturday with a dramatic come-from-behind 2-1 win over a 10-man New England Revolution squad. Philadelphia capped that with a 1-0 win in a friendly against Mexican side Chivas Guadalajara on Wednesday. Newly acquired midfielder Justin Mapp scored one of those goals and assisted on the other two, both of which were scored by rookie Jack McInerney, and the two look to be in prime form. Shea Salinas, who has been out with a leg fracture, could return to the field Saturday. The Union continue to look for their first regular season shutout of the year as they seek to avoid setting a new MLS record for futility in that regard, but perhaps their clean sheet against Chivas and the excellent play of Mapp, McInerney and Roger Torres could help take some pressure off the defense.

Probable starters

Philadelphia

Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz

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

Midfielders: Justin Mapp, Roger Torres, Stefani Miglioranzi, Sebastien Le Toux

Forwards: Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney

Kansas City

Goalkeeper: Jimmy Nielsen

Defenders: Roger Espinoza, Jimmy Conrad, Shavar Thomas, Michael Harrington

Midfielders: Ryan Smith, Craig Rocastle, Stephane Auvray, Davy Arnaud, Teal Bunbury

Forwards: Kei Kamara

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia: QUESTIONABLE: FW Alejandro Moreno (R hamstring strain); FW Sebastien Le Toux (L knee contusion); MF Shea Salinas (L fibula fracture); PROBABLE: MF Eduardo Coudet (R foot contusion).

Kansas City: OUT: MF Zoltan Hercegfalvi (R knee sprain/torn ACL)

Match-ups

Philadelphia defense vs. Kansas City attackers

The Wizards typically play one man up top, either Kei Kamara (he of the epic miss earlier this year), newly acquired Birahim Diop, or Josh Wolff, the latter of whom finds himself on the wing more often than not of late. Kamara has netted eight times this year, but it’s taken him 57 shots to do it. Diop scored both his goals in one game this season after being recently signed. The one striker is not so important as the attacking midfielders who support him, and Smith and Bunbury have been in good enough form to nudge Wolff to the bench.

Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz continues to look for his first shutout. He has made the routine stops in recent weeks but not the great ones, ticking the scoreboard from zero every game. Fullbacks Jordan Harvey and Michael Orozco Fiscal have hit a rough patch, though they nearly combined for a goal against Chivas on Wednesday, a game in which Orozco looked much better once moved to center back, where he has played most of his career. Juan Diego Gonzalez and Danny Califf have been up and down of late in the center. Both are strong, smart quality center backs who nonetheless lack the speed to handle quick attacking midfielders one on one.

Edge: Even

Philadelphia midfield vs. Kansas City midfield

Kansas City coach Peter Vermes sends out a five-man midfield that creates a formation alternately described as 4-5-1, 4-2-3-1, or 4-1-4-1, depending on who’s looking. The key players here are Auvray and Smith, both in their first season with the Wizards. Auvray, who spent most of his career in France, is the engine that makes this midfield churn. Smith is the brilliantly talented 23-year-old midfielder who was unappreciated in England but has blossomed once given playing time in MLS. The rest of the midfield is stacked with talent too, including Davy Arnaud, who played for the U.S. national team in the Gold Cup last year; Bunbury, who is seen as a future Canadian international; Craig Rocastle, a solid if unspectacular central midfielder, and Wolff, who may be out of favor but has been one of the league’s best for years.

For the Union, it’s anybody’s guess who starts Saturday. In a way, it’s a question of age. If manager Peter Nowak starts who he’s started most of the summer, then expect a lineup of Fred, Eduardo Coudet, Stefani Miglioranzi and, well, you’re guess is as good as mine. But if he goes with the hot hands (and youth), then it could be Justin Mapp, Roger Torres, Sebastien Le Toux and either Andrew Jacobson or Amobi Okugo at a holding midfielder spot. The latter group has played very well over the last two games, showing the width and attacking prowess that had been lacking under the former group. For now, we’ll expect the old hands, until we see differently.

Edge: Kansas City

Philadelphia forwards vs. Kansas City defense

Jimmy Nielsen has eight shutouts this year for Kansas City, and he was good enough to force (and justify) the trade of Kevin Hartman, who was player of the month in August for his new team, FC Dallas. In front of him, Jimmy Conrad has continued to play solid ball, flanked by a good left back in Honduran international Roger Espinoza. Thomas was an absolute disaster in his one game for the Union and never saw the field for them again after that, but he has been a starter since the Wizards acquired him. Right back Michael Harrington is better known for his bizarre April Fools Day video than his play, but he’s actually a pretty decent player.

Other teams figured out how to stop the Union defensively, particularly when Le Toux is playing up top. Simply close down the middle, track Le Toux, and you stop the offense. Le Toux’s push out to right midfield tends to open up spots for the forwards to work and allows him a lot of freedom to go wide and create. He could start at forward or right midfield. Danny Mwanga is the other starter, having shown excellent finishing but little ability to create his own shots outside the box. Jack McInerney is the wild card, having scored in his last two games and shown great touch and creative daring all season long. If he starts, look for Le Toux at midfield and a much more interesting game.

Edge: Even

Individual match-up to watch

Ryan Smith vs. Michael Orozco Fiscal

Smith is the creative key for Kansas City and someone who’s very fun to watch. Orozco is an excellent defender who has struggled to adjust to an outside back role, but it doesn’t change the fact that he is very good at locking down opposition attackers.

Prediction

If the Union go with the grown-ups, they lose 2-0. If they play the kids, then this one’s a coin toss.

(Photo: Paul Rudderow)

4 Comments

  1. I like Seitz, but is it wrong with wanting to see Nowak ride the hot-hand and start Knighton in this game to see if he can keep-up the production that he had last night against Chivas?

    It has to be a tough decision, because Seitz was also the one who created the scoring chance that led to us winning the Revs game last weekend.

    Either way, I feel like this team should be able to beat the Wiz in PPL.

  2. Salinas upgraded to questionable.

    BOO YA!!!

  3. We should win this game because besides having a team to field the kids from Hogwarts in Kansas that play in a shitty baseball stadium are an embarrassment for the MLS. But in reality Torres Mapp and Mcinerney all should be in the line up tomorrow. It does not have to be stated how well they are doing together.

    • Totally agree.

      KC will have a nice stadium next year though. 😉

      And also, re: Sully — It wouldn’t surprise me if Knighton got a start after his performance Wednesday.

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