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Preview: Philadelphia Union at San Jose Earthquakes

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Game time: Saturday, 10:30pm

TV: Comcast SportsNet

Going into this Saturday’s showdown between the Union and Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium in San Jose, the big news surrounds starters that will be missing for both sides. For the Union, the backline will begin life after Jordan Harvey. They will find their task made more palatable by the suspension, due to yellow card accumulation, of Steven Lenhart, San Jose’s imposing striker who torched the Union for two goals last season while playing for the Columbus Crew. In the home leg against the Quakes, Carlos Valdes did well to marshal Lenhart. Still, his aggressive play and gamesmanship asked a number of questions of the Union defense and his deletion from the lineup card is a weight off the minds of the men who protect Mondragon’s cage.

San Jose is currently riding a four game winless streak with two points from a possible twelve, managing draws against New York and the LA Galaxy at home, while suffering road defeats to Kansas City and Chivas USA. The return of Chris Wondolowski to the lineup against New York will be a comfort to Quakes fans, but he has failed to tally a goal since his return from an unimpressive Gold Cup. He should continue to struggle against the pair of Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes, who will be free to give him their undivided attention with Lenhart banished to the bleachers.

In the Union camp, speculation over Harvey’s replacement is buzzing, with three immediate suitors, Michael Farfan, Gabriel Farfan and Keon Daniel, being discussed. While Michael Farfan has spent time at left back, he is a right-sided player who looked out of his depth in the role. Keon Daniel deputized well when called upon, but his value to this Union team lies further up the field, holding the ball and maintaining midfield possession. As a natural left footed player with truer wing tendencies than most on this roster, Gabriel Farfan represents the most realistic option to play both this weekend and in the future for the Union.

In the midfield, the Union will likely have to cope without Veljko Paunovic whose hip strain has been downgraded to doubtful for Saturday’s contest. This injury opens the door for Amobi Okugo’s return to the starting lineup as Peter Nowak will likely revert to a more defensive look in the center of the park where midfield-forward tweeners, Simon Dawkins and Khari Stephenson, represent a stout challenge.

The rest of the lineup that featured against DC will likely earn a run out as Nowak continues to settle into a preferred formation. Look for Danny Mwanga to earn a rare second consecutive start alongside the in-form Carlos Ruiz. Sebastien Le Toux and Justin Mapp round out an attacking group who, despite having created numerous chances, will feel that finishing is the be-all and end-all this weekend. An early goal from the Union could set the tone for a Union victory as San Jose should struggle to maintain possession in the attacking third with Brian Carroll and Okugo setting up shop in the middle of the park.

Key Matchups

Califf-Valdes vs. Dawkins-Wondolowski

If the big Union defenders can stay close to the Quake attackers, advantage Philadelphia. Neither Dawkins or Wondo have particularly impressive physical attributes and they will need to make runs in behind the Union defense if they are to have any chance to get on the board. Khari Stephenson will use his big body to mix it up, but the aerial battle should still be dominated by the Union.

Jason Hernandez-Chris Leitch vs. Danny Mwanga-Carlos Ruiz

Hernandez has been a rock for San Jose, especially given the injury to Ike Opara, but he stands only 5′-10″. Leitch himself is only 5′-11″. The Union must take advantage of this height deficiency early and often with Mwanga’s strength and Ruiz’s gritty back-to-goal approach. Hold up play will be critical from the Union forwards and winning the physical battle in the box will go a long way toward freeing up space for the onrushing Le Toux and Mapp.

Probable starters

Philadelphia

Goalkeeper: Faryd Mondragon

Defenders: Gabriel Farfan, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams

Midfielders: Justin Mapp, Amobi Okugo, Brian Carroll, Sebastien Le Toux

Forwards: Carlos Ruiz, Danny Mwanga

San Jose

Goalkeeper: Jon Busch

Defenders: Steven Beitashour, Jason Hernandez, Chris Leitch, Ramiro Corrales

Midfielders: Sam Cronin, Brad Ring, Khari Stephenson, Ryan Johnson

Forwards: Chris Wondolowski, Simon Dawkins

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia – DOUBTFUL: MF Veljko Paunovic (L hip strain); PROBABLE: DF Danny Califf (rib strain).

San Jose – OUT: MF Bobby Convey (L knee contusion); MF Andre Luiz (L knee injury); DF Ike Opara (L foot injury) SUSPENDED: Steven Lenhart (yellow card accumulation)

Prediction

Union 2–1 Earthquakes. Lenhart’s loss will be felt by a small San Jose team who were already technically inferior to the visiting Union. Both teams look set to take a Route One approach to the proceedings, but in doing so, the Union should find themselves more physically up to the task. While Jordan Harvey’s absence will result in a miscommunication leading to a goal somewhere along the line, the Union will still be too good going away.

One Comment

  1. John Shields says:

    Jordan Harvey was pretty solid in the back, but lacked any motivation to move forward at all. His first tendency is to turn and pass the ball backwards. My great hope is that (G/M) Farfan will take advantage of the opportunity and join the offensive fray, just like Sheannon does on the right. The Farfans are young enough to get back into place, so endurance shouldn’t be an excuse.
    This could be the first game we see of true offensive pressure for all over the pitch. (Toronto doesn’t count. Everyone scores on them.)

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