Featured / Local

Preview: Union at FC Dallas

What: Union at FC Dallas

When: 8:30pm ET

Where: Dallas

TV: Comcast Network

Update: Zac MacMath has been ruled out of Saturday’s match with a recurrence of concussion-like symptoms. 

It’s hard to believe the Union have time to play soccer with all this drama going on, but the team is on its way to Dallas with an eye towards breaking a three game losing streak. FC Dallas has lost three straight as well and is on a winless stretch going back six games.

Finding a tougher game to predict would be quite the challenge. The Union are missing Freddy Adu through suspension and Danny Califf through sale, while Dallas is missing everyone you’ve ever heard of who plays for Dallas. Brek Shea and Zack Loyd are suspended, and David Ferreira and Bobby Warshaw are injured. Kevin Hartmann has finally returned to the lineup, but he’s propping up a back line that hasn’t posted a shutout since April 5.

Doddering Dallas defense

The Dallas defense truly has little to recommend it. Having given up two goals in every May contest, they will see Philadelphia’s arrival as the perfect chance to restore honor to their names. Indeed, having the Union score more than one goal on you is so embarrassing that it forced the Red Bulls to send the most promising young US striker to Chivas for defensive help.

How should the Union attack a troubled defense? Here’s a hint: Two strikers.

Lionard Pajoy’s revelatory two-goal showing last weekend was notable for two reasons: 1) Lionard Pajoy scored goals, and 2) It made clear that Lionard Pajoy is no holding striker. He simply does not play the role well. Alone, Pajoy cannot play with his back to goal, he cannot move defenders to open gaps, and he might not even win a footrace with himself.

But, in true poacher form, he can pop up in the right place at the right time if someone else will do the dirty work like pulling a defense around. Danny Mwanga played the role admirably against New York. Off the ball movement is something college strikers have to learn on the fly in MLS because they are used to being the number one target every time a teammate looks forward. Finding the ball in MLS is a different sort of challenge.

More from Mwanga

Mwanga did well to create space last weekend, so his next challenge is getting on the end of a move. Once he moves out of an area, he has to read a play and put himself in a good spot to finish a move off. Put simply, his runs must be incisive, decisive, and powerful. Strikers often assume they should wait to see where a ball is played before making a run. They should not do this. If a midfielder looks up and sees a run in progress, it cuts down his decision-making time significantly. And it tells him he’s delivering the ball to a confident striker.

Shake up their shape

New York has horrible defensive shape, particularly with Rafa Marquez in the lineup. When any of the Union’s skill or speed players were on the ball, they created space for themselves with little trouble. A team with bad defensive shape will allow the ball to move into dangerous positions upfield with less resistance.

Finding the same gaps as last week is key for the Union offense, especially with Freddy Adu out. Freddy spent a lot of the first half cutting inside and occupying the space between Gabriel Gomez and the strikers. This was made possible by Danny Mwanga’s clearing runs, and it opened space on the wing for Michael Farfan. With Adu out, it may fall to Farfan to play an aggressive, free role in the midfield.

Dallas center mids Daniel Hernandez and Andrew Jacobson are defensively responsible, but they are also ballhawks. Pulling them out of position by introducing new players to their zones will create the kind of chaos needed to put pressure on Dallas.

Solid up the center

With Sheanon Williams marauding up the right and Danny Califf in the middle… gotcha! Califf is off to man the middle in front of a different talented, young goalie, and Sheanon Williams’ marauding days are behind him (for now). Not that playing in the center means Williams can’t get forward, but considering the amount of time Carlos Valdes spends up there, it’s probably a bad idea.

Even with Williams out of his preferred right back position, the Union have a back line they should be able to count on. Carlos Valdes must continue to grow into a leadership role, and that primarily means taking control of the offsides line. The first goal Philly gave up to New York found the defense scattered at various latitudes, a sight rarely seen with Califf in the middle. Despite having two players on the new position learning curve and Ray Gaddis on the new league curve, the Union can boast an intelligent, athletic back four that can still establish itself as one of the top defenses in the league.

Sealy, Perez, Castillo… oh my!

Nothing brings a defense together like a good punch to the face, and that’s what this crew is going to get from the Dallas front line on Saturday. Fabian Castillo and Blas Perez are dangerous the moment they get on the ball, so someone has to be up their backside all night. The Union should not need any reminders about what Castillo is capable of, but Perez is no slouch. He has three goals and three assists on the season and drew the fouls that led to three set piece goals. That’s 9 of the 11 FCD goals this season.

Playing a full 90

Dallas and Philly have given up 30 goals combined. Fourteen of those (almost half!) have been surrendered between the 61st and 75th minutes of games, with another five coming in the next and final fifteen minute segment. That means 2/3 of the goals these teams give up come in the final 1/3 of games. In fact, Dallas and the Union have given up a combined five goals in the first halves of games this season.

In other words, this game will be decided when legs are tired. Dreams of Steven Lenhart and Kenny Cooper should be dancing in the heads of Union players tonight as they prepare to break out of this mini-slump. If the Union can put together a solid 90 in the back, there is no reason they can’t waltz out of Texas with three points under their belts.

Going with movement up top

Have I mentioned that it makes complete sense to start Jack McInerney tomorrow? Challenging George John in the air is probably not the best offensive strategy, particularly when one of your best crossers is suspended. McInerney can get the Dallas defense backpedaling and reacting to plays rather than reading them.

Though I advocate Jack Mac, a strong argument can also be made for Antoine Hoppenot, who has excelled at everything he’s been asked to do this year. Keon Daniel and Michael Farfan can man the wings, with both looking to take Dallas defenders on at every opportunity. Freddy Adu’s absence means Gabriel Gomez must once more take it upon himself to join the offense with regularity, stepping into the holes that Adu filled against New York.

Seasons can slip away

This is a huge match for both teams. Beating Dallas and Toronto would be a huge momentum boost for the Union as they prepare to face two of the top three teams in the East (DC and SKC). For Dallas, three of their next four matches are against Eastern Conference opponents. In a tightly packed and talented west, these are the points teams like FCD need to take if they want to be in the mix for a playoff spot.

The Philadelphia Union without Danny Califf feel like a different club, but the talent and shortcomings remain. If Califf is yet another chance for Peter Nowak to say he is looking to build for the future, now is the time to show it. This is officially a season to let young talent emerge or fade on the pitch. The long-term future of this club has been on the bench too long. Let’s see what it can do.

Probable lineups


  • GK: Kevin “Valentine” Hartmann
  • DEF: Carlos “El Jackal” Rodriguez; George “Everyone else gets a Z in their name” John; Hernan “Dez” Pertuz; Jair “Jordan” Benitez
  • MID: “Janet” Jackson Goncalves; Daniel “Boone” Hernandez; Andrew “Jacob Andrewson” Jacobson; Fabian “Remember me?” Castillo
  • FWD: Scott “The Mattress” Sealy; Blas “Loblas” Perez


  • GK: Chase Harrison
  • DEF: Raymon “The Raymuda Triangle” Gaddis; Sheanon “Sheanomenon” Williams; Carlos “El Kaiser” Valdes; Gabriel “Ankleshark” Farfan
  • MID: “Neon” Keon Daniel; Gabriel “Gavilan” Gomez; Brian “I should be ankleshark” Carroll; Michael “Stenmark” Farfan
  • FWD: Lio Pajoy; Danny “Please shoot the ball” Mwanga



  • OUT: MF David Ferreira (R foot surgery); MF Ricardo Villar (R foot strain); MF Andrew Wiedeman (sports hernia repair); MF Bobby Warshaw (R foot fracture); DF Ugo Ihemelu (concussion symptoms)
  • QUESTIONABLE: MF Carlos Rodriguez (L elbow dislocation); FW Fabian Castillo (L ankle sprain)
  • PROBABLE: MF Brek Shea (L foot turf toe)


  • OUT: MF Roger Torres (L knee surgery recovery); FW Krystian Witkowski (concussion);
  • PROBABLE: DF Chris Albright (L big toe sprain)



Zack Loyd; Brek Shea


Freddy Adu

Suspended next caution


Gabriel Gomez


  • Goals for: Dallas 11-7 Union
  • Goals against: Dallas 18-12 Union
  • Goals from crosses: Dallas 0-1 Union
  • Goals given up on crosses: Dallas 4-4 Union
  • The Union are 0-6-1 when tied or trailing at the half
  • Dallas is 1-4-0 when giving up the first goal, the Union are 0-5-0
  • Dallas has scored more than 1 goal in 1/6 of their matches, the Union have scored more than 1 in 1/9 of theirs (once… in nine games)


  1. DarthLos117 says:

    Union win. Not because of Nowak but because Dallas is a mess.

  2. I WANT TO SEE MARTINEZ!!!! I was at the Schalke game and he looked amazing up with Mwanga. Two speedsters had the German side in trouble all night. He was hyped up before the year let’s see him play.

  3. macmath is out

  4. Nowak needs to start winning, period.

  5. Just watching the match… I also watch Champion’s League final today… Are these guys, both Dallas and Philly, professionals? They are all just running around the field, and hacking at the ball. When is MLS game quality going to improve?!

  6. Well that was some game. Its a shame our guys are putting their bodies on the line for a goal. They are doing their best. If only they had the best leadership. Fire Nowak.

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