Match previews / Union

Match Preview: Union at Portland Timbers

Photo: Earl Gardner

Time: 9:30pm ET



Referee: Baldomero Toledo (or “Baldmero,” as he’s known in the Portland media guide)

Is it really time for the 2012 season to begin? It seems like only yesterday Peter Nowak was bullishly defending his third straight experimental lineup as the Houston Dynamo celebrated. Oh, how time flies (like a goal-scoring Frenchman on the red-eye to Vancouver).

The 2012 Union are a much different outfit than the one that took the field in late 2011. The shortage of outside backs has been addressed (though depth in the middle didn’t materialize), the strike force is newer, deeper and currently leaderless, and, best of all, Keon Daniel is back!

Change is good… right?

Rolling in the wholesale changes after year one was expected. Making a second trip to the remodeling department in two years? Didn’t know that was in the cards. It may turn out well or the front office may end up with egg on their face, but all the offseason moves are nothing if not intriguing.

Gabriel Gomez and Porfirio Lopez are the new faces most likely to make the first eleven. Gomez should help the Union deal with Jack Jewsbury, who was hard to contain last year from his deep-seated, distributive role. Lopez gives the Union a left back with experience at the position. While the speed at which Gabriel Farfan adapted to the back line deserves nothing but praise, it was important for the Union to bring in someone with years of experience to complete the already-strong defense.

Gomez, Lopez, Josue Martinez and Lionard Pajoy could all see significant minutes against Portland, and this speaks to how little we know about Philadelphia’s prospects this year. Once again we are putting our trust in Diego Gutierrez’s fantastic scouting record and hoping that the manager will show the tactical acuity to put the new pieces in good positions.

Key areas to control

If they want to put their stamp on the game the Union must control the middle twenty yards of the pitch, and they must force Portland’s defense to play the ball.

Last year Philadelphia would often cede the middle twenty yards of the field. They wouldn’t exactly give it away, but with a roaming central midfielder in front of a very deep Brian Carroll, opposing teams often found a soft spot by passing around Le Toux in the back, then playing short passes through the middle.

If Portland finds such a soft spot, they have Kris Boyd to finish off a passing move. Boyd is a fairly good player, but he excels as a finisher. And 2011 Goal of the Year winner Darlington Nagbe will be following him in to pick up any scraps.

Gomez and Carroll are mobile enough to play reasonably high without getting caught out. They will need to pressure in the middle third to prevent Jewsbury from running the game and to close the gaps that will form behind their offensive-minded wide partners.

Freddy Adu is penciled in on the right and Keon Daniel may see his name scratched onto the opposite flank. Both Keon and the other possible starter, Michael Farfan, are quite good at covering their defensive responsibilities. Freddy Adu, on the other hand, is more of a gunslinger. He likes to sit high up the pitch and make the guilty spring back only at the last possible moment. Lucky for him one of the league’s best cover corners has his back.

The other key area the Union have to win is the first line of defense. Sebastien Le Toux’s ability to pressure had a lot to do with the quality of attack the Philly defense saw in the past. Without him, the strikers have to play smart and work together to force long balls out of the back. Portland isn’t blessed with a center back who can distribute like Carlos Valdes (on a good day), so making them work around Jewsbury and Chara is key to controlling pace and possession.

Key matchups: Goalies and set pieces

Ah, Troy Perkins. The man with the ignominy of being on the other end of the Union’s first win as a franchise, and that after having the Union trade away the right to select him when he returned from abroad.

Mr. Perkins has resurrected his career in Portland and will be looking to outplay second year pro Zac MacMath. Taking the reins from Faryd Mondragon, MacMath has big shoes to fill. Both he and Perkins will have to be in top form because early season mistakes, as Vancouver’s win over Montreal proved, will happen in front of them.

The other place the Union have to come out ahead is on set pieces. Specifically, those of Portland. With a big center back pairing, 6’1″ Kris Boyd and potentially 6’1″ behemoth Bright Dike rolling through on free kicks, it is imperative that Philly be in midseason defensive form. Jewsbury did a dangerously good Brad Davis impression over set pieces in 2011, so the balls in are likely to be good. It will be a big task for MacMath to organize on free kicks; he will need his teammates to listen the way they would when The Dragon was talking.

Biggest Question 

For Portland, it’s whether 2011’s number two SuperDraft pick Darlington Nagbe is healthy and motivated. Nagbe has a knack for goalscoring but, if recovered from an ankle knock, he is likely to find himself on a wing feeding Boyd and Jorge Perlaza. He has enough talent to occupy two players, so finding Nagbe in a threatening mood will create the space Portland needs to control the game’s tempo.

The Union, on the other hand, need to scare the Timbers early. Everybody agrees that Philly is loaded with offensive potential. Turning a bit of that potential into an early opportunity or two is essential to the confidence of the offensive unit and, in particular, the ever-spotlighted Danny Mwanga.

What to watch for

The Sebastien Le Toux trade was a forceful announcement that the Union do not intend to live and die by the counterattack anymore. In their first match of the new season, the team has to show that it can control the tempo for extended periods of play. The Timbers will not be a paragon of defensive shape, and the gaps they leave can be exploited by a calm, patient attack.

Robin van Persie’s emergence as one of the best center strikers on the planet is the convergence of many things: Talent, health, and formation just to name a few. Some argue that RVP’s willingness to leave build-up play to his midfielders and concentrate on being in the right position to make a killer finish has also contributed to the Dutch marksman’s success. How will Danny Mwanga handle the center striker role? And how will the Union set up around him? In a high-pressure, nationally-televised road match, the spaces where Mwanga tries to receive the ball (and whether he wants it with his back to goal or on the run) will dictate the flow of the Union’s offense. Keep an eye on where Mwanga’s sweet spots are, and how the team shapes up around him.

Finally, getting chances within the opponent’s eighteen-yard box is essential. Settling for shots from distance is not acceptable with so many dynamic offensive players on the pitch. If the combination of Freddy Adu, Gabriel Gomez, and Michael Farfan can’t get someone in behind the defense, the only conclusion to draw is that the team was unprepared for the start of the season.


  • Scoreline: 1-2 Union double up the Timbers on a late winner (The Union don’t broadcast preseason games, so nobody has the faintest what they will look like out of the gate; it’s better to be optimistic when you know you’re ignorant.)
  • 7 yellow cards
  • 2 Waved-off penalty calls
  • 1 Le Toux spotted in the stands (he’s only 5.5 hours away!)
  • 0 Carlos Ruiz dives unpunished defensive infringements



  • Out: Futty Danso (foot) David Horst (Hip), Eddie Johnson (concussion), Steve Purdy (hamstring), Sal Zizzo (ACL)
  • Questionable: Franck Songo’o (knee)
  • Probable: Kris Boyd (ankle), Darlington Nagbe (ankle), Jorge Perlaza (achilles)


  • Out: Torres (ankle)
  • Probable: Chris Albright (groin)


Portland (flat 4-4-2)

  • GK: Troy Perkins
  • DEF: Lovel Palmer, Hanyer Mosquera, Eric Brunner, Rodney Wallace
  • MID: Darlington Nagbe, Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara, Eric Alexander
  • FWD: Jorge Perlaza, Kris Boyd
  • Subs: Kalif Alhassan, Bright Dike

Philadelphia (flat 4-4-1-1)

  • GK: Zac MacMath
  • DEF: Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdes, Danny Califf, Porfirio Lopez
  • MID: Freddy Adu, Gabriel Gomez, Brian Carroll, Michael Farfan
  • FWD: Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney
  • Subs: Josue Martinez, Keon Daniel, Lionard Pajoy
  • Portland (0-0-0) vs. Philadelphia (0-0-0)
  • Portland went 9-5-3 at home last year. The Union went 4-7-6 on the road. One of Portland’s wins was a 1-0 victory over Philadelphia, featuring a Futty goal off a dead ball delivery.
  • Both teams traded away their leading goal scorer from last season and both players scored in Week 1 MLS action
  • Portland has yet to lose a preseason game since joining MLS (6-0-9 overall)
  • The Union have yet to televise a preseason game since joining MLS
  • The Media Guide calls the Union’s pushing-shortened game against Belen “a fractious contest.”
  • Peter Nowak recently said, “I think we got generally bigger this year with Porfirio Lopez and Gabriel Gomez. They’re a couple of guys who can (defend set pieces).”
  • Don’t forget what Danny “Bring Danger” Mwanga has on his mind in 2012: “I’m pretty confident I’m going to be one of the guys out there that will bring danger to the opposing team, but I know for sure it’s not going to be a one-man show.”
  • Neither team lost when leading at halftime last season
  • Each team scored more than one goal nine times last season. Philly never lost when scoring two or more goals. Portland was 5-2-2.


  1. PhillyHotSpur says:

    A new LB and CM in the fold………

    Where is Roger Torres ??????????

  2. PhillyHotSpur says:

    Ooooooooops……..Out w/ an Ankle injury. now i see…….

    I feel just fine about our BL and MF……

    Really, its that FL and replacing all that productivity that came from Letoux……..

    Btw , who scored 4 minutes into this young season……….

    I think it was a very bad decision by the club to move their best player and the face of their franchise for basically nothing…….Let him play one year and leave Philly in style.

    Either way, lets home Jacky Dimes and DannyBoy are up to the task……..its a tall one.

  3. PhillyHotSpur says:

    And one more thing – I’ll miss Mondragon, but he clearly fizzled out in the 2nd half of the year. Lots of press, but his production was definitely suspect was all was said and done..

    Zack proved me a believer towards the end of last year –> Lets hope it continues. He will be crucial to our success. Cuz if it all goes wrong w/ that potential, were doomed from the start (IE. Seitz, Seitz,Seitz,Seitz,Seitz, Seitz……..EVERYBODY)….A good song……a tragedy tween the woodwork.

  4. PhillyHotSpur says:

    And I’m ready for “City are Heroes, Spurs are Zeros” poster to pop on w/ his usual drivel….

    “Letoux was over-rated…..Good Riddance on his departure”

    Dude is a total Nitwit.

  5. Josh of Kensington says:

    Can’t wait for tonight. I like your prediction, though I personally am feeling Mwanga scores his first hat trick, and Gomez adds one, for a 4-1 romp. And Philly Spur- looks like there was some trouble at Goodison. Don’t look back, but after today, Gunners are one point behind.

    • I expect Mwanga to have a big night especially if Baptiste is starting at CB.

    • PhillyHotSpur says:

      A Goon ? Sweet…….

      Yes, I’ve very nervous now……I still think we’ll be just fine for the top4, but if we can’t finish ahead of AFC this year, then we might never……..

  6. Lovel Palmer will always be an asset at big games…lookout!

  7. MikeRSoccer says:

    3 predictions about the game tonight
    1: Someone, most likely JackMac, will be played horribly out of position
    2: We will be deploying at least 2 CDM’s
    3: There will be at least 1 half time substitution

    • “at least 2 CDMs”

      The implications of the “at least” are… wow.

      • MikeRSoccer says:

        I have no doubt in my mind that at some point this season we will see Carroll Gomez and Okugo on the field at some point.

  8. CityHeroesSpursZeros says:

    What has Jackmac ever done to deserve so much praise? Guy has tons of potential, but potential doesn’t mean anything until its converted to production.

  9. Martinez: the Nowak surprise!

  10. I like our away kits. I didn’t at first, but they actually look sharp IMHO.

  11. Adu is worthless.

  12. PMM – Read as consecutive thoughts, your last two posts are fantastic.

  13. It’s gone be a long season mates!

  14. Well…3 to 1. Same team different players. Until there is a change in management and they spend money on striking power nothing will comeof this team. Inexperience in the net and lack of goal scoring ability. The off season mistakes are glaring. The second half is especially terrible. As always Nowsk has thrown in everything and the kitchen sink. Too bad. The real change needs in management and willingness to spend money on the team.

  15. macmath- 5
    valdez- 5

    • Good, but I would put Lopez at like a 3 or 4. He was beyond miserable. They went after him from the beginning and he never looked capable of stopping anyone. I don’t remember Myrie’s performance, but I can’t imagine it being much worse.
      And I would honestly give MacMath a 6. Blunder, yeah, but before and after that he was good. You can’t blame him on the other two goals and for most of the 2nd half he was getting bombarded like it was WW2 all over again.

    • 6’s and 8’s is a stretch for any player on the field last night. Adu and Farfan were a 3 at best. Getting rid of Le Toux for the benefit of keeping Adu was an awesome idea that should result in the coach getting fired…..

    • DarthLos117 says:

      @Dave. You are far too kind. Much too kind.

  16. Are you sure the theme for the week wasn’t simply AWESOME ??! This is such a beuiauftl image, Val. I’m so looking forward to meeting up with you and getting to know you in person! We’ll have a lot to talk about!

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