What: Philadelphia Union at Chivas USA
Where: Home Depot Center, Carson, CA
When: 10:30pm ET, Saturday, April 21
TV: The Comcast Network
With their first three points in the bag, the Union head to the west coast with hopes on beginning their first winning streak of 2012. Winners of half of their six matches thus far, Chivas USA now represent more of a threat than they did in either of the Union’s first two seasons. The Goats have never beaten Philadelphia, with the Union winning two and drawing two matches against LA’s other club. But, closer examination suggests that despite Chivas USA’s nine early season points, this may not be the match for them to break their duck against the Union. With all three victories coming on the road, Chivas USA has yet to score a single goal at home this season, losing matches to Houston, Vancouver and Kansas City by 1-0 margins.
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With a maximum capacity of 27,000 at the Home Depot Center, Chivas USA has taken to covering sections of stands behind both goals in an effort to shrink the size of the stadium and increase density among the fans who do venture out to support them, bringing the maximum capacity for any of their matches down to 18,800. Still, even with these measures, the Goats have failed to fill the smaller stadium, bringing in a paltry average of 11,853 fans for each of their three home games. With zero points from three matches at home, captain, and former Union player, Alejandro Moreno cited of the sparse crowds as one of the reasons his side has failed to translate their strong road form into home success, saying:
“For whatever reason, we seem to focus and engage into the game a little more on the road than at home…When you come to a place like Salt Lake or Portland, the environment forces you to be engaged for 90 minutes, and your mind is not allowed to wander. At home at times, we’re not able to gather the support that is important for us.
“We encourage fans to come out and give their best effort so we can put our best effort forth as well. We appreciate our fans, and we encourage those on the fence to come out and support us as well.”
Where the goals will come from?
Between the two sides, eleven matches have been played, with an anemic seven goals being scored between them, 3 for the Union (0.6 goals/match) and 4 for Chivas USA (0.66 goals/match). For Chivas USA, their four goals are spread over four different players, with no one player looking capable and/or motivated enough to shoulder the majority of the offensive burden.
After finishing last season in roaring form, having scored 7 times in the final 9 matches, Juan Pablo Angel has only featured once in 2012 following a concussion suffered during a preseason clash of heads with Portland’s Eric Brunner. While Angel has targeted this Saturday’s match for his return, he remains questionable and would seem a surprising starter, with Chivas USA riding a two-game winning streak.
With Alejandro Moreno likely to lead the line alone for the Goats, it is hard to imagine Chivas finding their offensive rhythm against the suddenly stout Union defense, who have returned to their stingy ways of 2011 over the past three matches, allowing only one goal past Zac MacMath.
For the Union, Gabriel Gomez has netted twice from set pieces, with Lionard Pajoy accounting for the Union’s only other goal. While Pajoy has been the only forward to get himself on the score sheet, he has also consumed the lion’s share of the minutes, playing 449 (or all but 1) minutes so far. With only 2 shots on goal over 5 matches, Pajoy was most recently canceled out against Columbus in a match where the Union midfield finally began to click, providing the big Colombian with plenty of service, only to see him fail to direct a shot on Andy Gruenebaum’s net.
Keep it simple
The Union did a lot of things right against Columbus, and it would behoove Peter Nowak to recognize these successes and continue to build on the Columbus victory as the Union march forward. With all signs pointing to another missed match for captain Danny Califf, the backline should see no changes, especially with Chivas USA likely to bring only one forward to the party. Moreno is obviously a known quantity to the Union and with his side managing only 3 shots on goal/match, they are hardly the offensive juggernaut to keep the Union boss up at night.
In midfield, Nick LaBrocca is the danger man, setting up another tough one-on-one matchup for Brian Carroll. After the manner in which he took Milovan Mirosevic out of the game against Columbus, it is not hard to imagine Carroll making it two No. 10s in two weeks. Regardless of LaBrocca’s merits, he is not exactly surrounded with offensive fire power. With Gaddis more than capable of matching Ryan Smith’s pace on the left and the 21-year-old Miller Bolanos still proving his merits in MLS, LaBrocca and Co. will find the Union defense a far more daunting challenge than either the Portland or Toronto defenses they have seen in recent weeks.
Battle of the day
Gomez vs. Minda. Brought in to provide midfield solidity and aggression, Oswaldo Minda has done just that. Which is a lot like how the Union might describe the impact of Gabriel Gomez thus far in 2012, though with the added bonus of a flair for the attack. With Carroll restored to his role as lone defensive midfielder against Columbus, Gomez was given the nod to advance, driving the offense and creating scoring chances. On Saturday night, that means entering into Minda’s territory. In his brief stay with the Goats, Minda has “cut an imposing figure with his hard challenges and willingness to use his physical tools to stop opposition attacks. Sounds like a perfect combatant to oppose Gomez, though both will need to be wary of their rapidly accumulating caution counts, with both players having been awarded the same number of yellow cards as their respective teams have scored goals.
Only one change
Danny Mwanga in, Lionard Pajoy out. That’s it. The striker carousel has turned for all of the Union’s young forwards and it is time for Pajoy to step aside to let another player have a shot. Or maybe two.
In the last two matches where the Bonjour-Demerit and Gehrig-Marshall double bills have overwhelmed Pajoy, the Union striker has failed to show the physicality required of a lone striker. Not only in the air, but running with the ball at his feet, Pajoy is too easily knocked off of possession, which is, conveniently, a point of strength for Mwanga. And with a less than enormous center back pairing this weekend—Rauwshan McKenzie stands 6’1″ while Heath Pearce, a converted fullback, is only 5’11″—Mwanga’s speed and ability to shield the ball while attacking with pace gives the Union the best opportunity to convert, especially if the midfield foursome of Adu, Gomez, Marfan and Daniel continue to serve up the chances the way they did against Columbus.
- GK: MacMath
- DEF: Gaddis, Williams, Valdes, Garfan
- D MID: Carroll
- MID : Adu, Gomez, Marfan, Daniel
- FWD: Mwanga
- GK: Kennedy
- DEF: Riley, McKenzie, Pearce, Jazic
- MID: Bolanos, Minda, Zemanski, LaBrocca, Smith
- FWD: Moreno
- OUT: FW Krystian Witkowski (concussion); MF Roger Torres (L knee MCL sprain);
- QUESTIONABLE: DF Danny Califf (L hamstring strain)
- PROBABLE: DF Sheanon Williams (lip laceration); DF Carlos Valdes (R calf Strain)
- OUT: MF Marvin Iraheta (L knee ACL);
QUESTIONABLE: MF Pete Vagenas (rib contusion); FW Juan Pablo Angel (concussion symptoms)
PROBABLE: DF Michael Lahoud (R hamstring strain); MF Ben Zemanski (R knee MCL sprain)