Photo: Paul Rudderow
Game time: Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV: The Comcast Network
Philadelphia Union gets the chance to shake off the doldrums as a no-name Chicago Fire team stumbles into town Saturday.
Chicago (1-3-5) has played to four straight draws and features a starting lineup full of guys even most longtime Major League Soccer fans haven’t heard of. The guys we have heard of all have interesting connections to the Union. Goalkeeper Jon Conway has been starting lately, and his local ties (FC Delco, Rutgers) should put a few of his fans in the seats. Athletic center back Cory Gibbs was playing for New England last season when he cut Eduardo Coudet’s season in half with a hard tackle that probably put an indirect end to Coudet’s stay with the Union. Dominic Oduro was with Houston when now-departed Union defender Michael Orozco Fiscal made the defensive play of the year last year.
Yes, this is what we must to resort to with Chicago — anecdotes about Philly ties.
The fact is that Chicago is a shadow of the club they were two years ago. Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Brian McBride, Jon Busch, Wilman Conde and others are gone, replaced by left midfielder Marco Pappa and a cast of nobodies. One of those nobodies is forward Diego Chaves, one of the best signings in the league this year with four goals in nine games at under $50,000 in salary. Pappa is a very good wide midfielder who gave the Union trouble last year, and Oduro is fast, at least. But most of the rest? Your guess is as good as mine.
The Union (4-3-2) sit in second place still, largely because the league’s best teams (except New York) are in the Western Conference. Many have gotten down on the Union after a few bad outings, but don’t forget this is still a team with a winning record and what has been one of the league’s defenses this year. Goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon is listed as probable for the game, with a groin strain. He’s had a week since the Dallas game to heal up, but anyone who watched how his limitations hurt the Union that game might hope the Dragon gets a rest so he can come back at full strength.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s offense continues to struggle, with just six goals in nine games, only four of them coming in the run of play. Forwards Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga showed flashes of last year’s form in the first half against Dallas last week, but that evaporated in the second half once Carlos Ruiz and Jack McInerney came in to put four strikers on the field. The mainstream media are jumping on the anti-Ruiz bandwagon started here at PSP, and the question is how much longer Union manager Peter Nowak will push this experiment. (My guess? Much further.)
What better week for Ruiz (and Le Toux) to answer the critics than against Chicago, which has given up 15 goals in nine games, the second worst rate in the league?
Goalkeeper: Faryd Mondragon
Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams
Midfielders: Keon Daniel, Amobi Okugo, Brian Carroll
Forwards: Carlos Ruiz, Danny Mwanga, Sebastien Le Toux
Goalkeeper: Jon Conway
Defenders: Gonzalo Segares, Cory Gibbs, Yamith Cuesta, Jalil Anibaba
Midfielders: Marco Pappa, Gaston Puerari, Dan Paladini, Corben Bone
Forwards: Diego Chaves, Dominic Oduro
Injuries and suspensions
Philadelphia: OUT: GK Thorne Holder (concussion); MF Zach Pfeffer (appendectomy); DOUBTFUL: MF Stefani Miglioranzi (R groin strain); QUESTIONABLE: DF Juan Diego Gonzalez (illness); PROBABLE: GK Faryd Mondragon (R groin strain); MF Gabe Farfan (L hamstring strain); FW Danny Mwanga (R shoulder strain)
Chicago: OUT: MF Mike Banner (L Achilles tendinitis); DF Steven Kinney (R Achilles repair); MF Patrick Nyarko (concussion symptoms); MF Michael Videira (concussion symptoms); DOUBTFUL: MF Marko Maric (L deltoid sprain/talar contusion); QUESTIONABLE: MF Pari Pantazopolous (L quad contusion); DF Josip Mikulic (L shoulder injury); PROBABLE: GK Sean Johnson (R quad strain)
The Union win 1-0. An ordinary opponent, a trip back home, and more of the same to be expected at forward with Ruiz clogging up the middle. But let’s not forget that the Union are a pretty good team, the Ruiz mess notwithstanding. Not a great one, but a good one.