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Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Colorado Rapids

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Game time: Friday, 7:30pm

TV: Fox Soccer Channel

As perhaps the only MLS team to gain in confidence during a week of midseason friendlies, the Union must maintain the momentum gained against Everton and Real Madrid as they enter a stretch where they will play three matches in eight days.

First up, defending MLS champions, the Colorado Rapids.

Any matchup with Colorado is due to be a slugfest as the Rapids boast the league’s most combative central midfield tandem in Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz. But the third thuggish musketeer, Conor Casey, will miss the trip to Philadelphia—and likely the rest of the season—with a torn Achilles tendon. Casey’s injury had all the makings of a season-killer, yet Colorado has missed his presence as much as initially anticipated given that without his hulking frame slowing down their attack, the Rapids are no longer forced to simply pound balls into the box for the human rhinoceros to lumber over the goal line. With Caleb Folan’s emergence in MLS (four goals since his arrival) and the return from injury of the blazingly fast Omar Cummings, who despite being listed as a midfielder will operate high up the pitch, Colorado has a one-two punch that provides a diverse threat that Casey’s constant Route 1 approach did not offer.

Union faithful will remember the hard fought 1-1 draw earned at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, when Pablo Mastroeni’s embarrassing dive won a penalty in the 63rd minute before Danny Mwanga leveled for the visitors only three minutes later. With the scene shifting to Philadelphia, the Union will look to atone for a match in which they were largely outmuscled and outplayed by the reigning champs. This will likely mean Kyle Nakazawa  partnered with Brian Carroll in an effort to gain the upper hand in the middle of the park. Despite his wonder goal against Real Madrid, Michael Farfan will likely remain on the bench as Peter Nowak names an unchanged midfield from the Union’s last league match against New England.

Up top, Nowak will look to turn Danny Mwanga’s recent run of good form into goals, partnering him with 2010 running mate Sebastien Le Toux. Despite having played every minute of the season without a goal scored from the run of play, Le Toux has looked dangerous of late. The exclusion of Carlos Ruiz will likely continue to fuel transfer rumors about the Guatemalan. Against Colorado, Mwanga and Le Toux will have renewed focus against the pairing of Marvell Wynne and Scott Palguta. Wynne, a converted outside back, has excellent track speed but his lack of agility proved detrimental to playing against the speedy wingers of MLS. Palguta is not the first choice centerback, but has been thrust into the role due to regular starter Tyrone Marshall’s recent dip in form. With the solid, if not spectacular, Kosuke Kimura and Drew Moor manning the fullback positions, the Union will do well to focus their assault on the centerbacks. This will exploit their lack of quickness and force Mastroeni and Larentowicz to sit deeper in support.

Key Matchups

Brian Carroll – Kyle Nakazawa vs. Pablo Mastroeni – Jeff Larentowicz

The center of the midfield is never as violent and aggressive as when the Rapids come to town and it seems probable that Nowak will again deploy Kyle Nakazawa alongside Brian Carroll given his toughness and defensive inclinations. Colorado’s workmanlike brand of soccer stems directly from the work done in the engine room and shutting them down will be the Union’s number one priority. This is made especially difficult given Colorado’s new formation which brings Nyassi off of the wing and into the center of the field looking for work. In the first match of the season, Carroll and Nakazawa played the man-to-man game far too deep in their own territory, allowing Colorado too much room to move into the Union’s defensive third to wreak havoc. While Colorado’s speed will inevitably cause problems for the defense, it is essential that the two men in the middle allow the defenders to do their jobs (including allowing Valdes to bump up on Nyassi) and not collapse too deep and cede the middle of the pitch to Colorado.

Union back four vs. Omar Cummings – Sanna Nyassi

Nyassi is fast, Cummings is faster. Both have shown themselves to be exciting players who can dominate an MLS defense. While Sheanon Williams has been proving his worth all season long, Colorado represents the first real challenge for Gabriel Farfan at left back and his ability to track the pace of both players will be crucial to the Union’s success. Watch Garfan to see if the added stress takes away from his composure on the ball, ability to get up the field and his excellent ability to use the full width of the pitch. If he can keep these three things going, he and the Union will be just fine.

Carlos Valdes must shake off a poor performance (by his high standards) against Real Madrid and come at Colorado with renewed focus. After having scored his first MLS goal in New England, Valdes looked far too eager to join in the attack in both friendlies and will need to settle back into the rock solid partnership he has forged with Danny Califf in the first half of the season.

Probable starters

Philadelphia: 4-4-2

Goalkeeper: Faryd Mondragon

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

Midfielders: Justin Mapp, Kyle Nakazawa, Brian Carroll, Keon Daniel

Forwards: Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Mwanga

Colorado: 4-2-3-1

Goalkeeper: Matt Pickens

Defenders: Kosuke Kimura, Marvell Wynne, Scott Palguta, Drew Moor

Midfielders: Wells Thompson, Jeff Larentowicz, Sanna Nyassi, Pablo Mastroeni, Omar Cummings

Forwards: Caleb Folan

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia – QUESTIONABLE: FW Levi Houapeu (L ankle strain); PROBABLE: FW Veljko Paunovic (L hip strain)

Colorado – OUT: FW Conor Casey (L achilles tear); PROBABLE: GK Matt Pickens (R groin strain); MF Brian Mullan (lower back spasms); DF Anthony Wallace (R quad strain); FW Omar Cummings (R ankle sprain); MF Jamie Smith (R hamstring strain); FW Macoumba Kandji (L knee ACL tear)


Union 2–1 Rapids. Momentum is momentum and right now the Union have it. Colorado has been scoring goals, but they’ve been leaking them, as well. While the partnership of Cummings and Folan got off to a positive start against New England, it’s New England. Colorado will huff and puff early because they are aware of their defensive frailties. If the Union can hold down the fort—and I believe they will—then they can march forward to secure an important three points, though they may require some more of Danny Mwanga’s late game heroics to do so.


  1. and by
    New England: 4-2-3-1 you meant:
    Colorado 4-2-3-1

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