When: Friday, May 6, @ 10:30pm EST. Where: JELD-WEN Field, Portland, OR
First off, I had to wikipedia why the stadium has such a strange name. The naming rights were sold to the Jeld-Wen Corporation, a manufactuer of building supplies. The team has built quite a reputation in a short time in Major League Soccer (like what I did there?). They were undefeated at their oddly-named home stadium prior to this week, and are probably looking to rebound after losing to San Jose, the team that Union beat last week playing down a man for 50 minutes (that’s right, you suck, San Jose).
Portland features 3 players with mulitple goals on the season: Kenny Cooper, Jack Jewsbury, and Jorge Perlaza. So, those are the 3 guys that will get shut down by Union’s back line Friday night, even though they will be without the services of Jordan Harvey. I expect Michael Farfan to get the start at left back, and he should do a fine job. Cooper is somewhat of a concern because of his height. At 6’3″, he’ll have to have the full attention of Union’s D when around the box. Kalif Alhassan seems to be their most threatening playmaker, with 4 assists on the season. He plays left wing midfield, which means Sheanon Williams will shut him down, then awe him with the distance he gets on his throw-ins.
Now, for the stuff we care about. Union will be without Jordan Harvey, as they will not appeal the suspension for his red card, undeserved as it was. Michael Farfan linked so well with Keon Daniel on the left side of the field that I don’t foresee any trouble with having Farfan get this spot-start. That may be the most exciting part of the lineup, though. I fully expect there to be 2 defensive midfielders in the lineup to start, some combination of Brian Carroll, Stefani Miglioranzi, and Amobi Okugo. I’m not exactly sure what failed experiment Nowak’s going to try at right wing this week. Roger Torres is not a winger, so he’s out. The heck with it, just keep Le Toux there, and play Mwanga and Ruiz up top to start.
The concerning part for Union is that Danny Califf is not guaranteed to play due to illness. We may find out whether or not Juan Diego Gonzalez is, in fact, still with Union. Either way, though, Daniel can probably play it because he seems to just be that good, and Okugo played centerback for the Generation Addidas team. That situation bears some monitoring. We all should continue to have faith in Faryd Mondragon to keep whoever is in front of him coordinated and playing the right way. The games are the same night, but I think the Flyers could really use The Dragon in goal. There is no way he would have let Chris Versteeg be skating around in la-la land while Zdeno Chara winds up a wide-open slap shot for a goal. What would have happened is that Mondragon would have made the save, held the puck for a faceoff, then spent the next 20 seconds bitching Versteeg out for being defensively irresponsible. From watching him, he seems like a very intimidating guy, so he probably would have made Versteeg cry. And at that point, Mike Richards would have just skated over, ripped the “C” off of his sweater, and handed it over to Mondragon. I don’t think, even in my side tangent fantasy land, that it’s a stretch to say that Faryd is the best captain in Philadelphia sports. He will be the reason Union earn a point on this trip, and I predict a draw, 1-1. Union score in the first half on a counter attack, and will concede in the last 15 minutes after a bad call by the ref gives Portland a free kick from a dangerous area, and we will spend the rest of the weekend hating MLS officials, again.
Nick, the other .5 of Unholy Union
The Philadelphia Union facebook page posted the statistic that the Union back line has a .50 GAA over the last six matches in all competitions. In other words, they’ve had 3 goals scored against them the last six matches. That’s what good teams in soccer do, but we, as Union supporters, have not become accustomed to with our side. There are three factors that have transformed this group from weak and flawed to solid and reliable.
The Goalie Switch: Chris Seitz was a victim of poor marking in front of him, but his panicked decision-making made him an easy whipping boy. Supporters lashed out at him for misplaying crosses, leaving rebounds, poor positioning, the slumping economy, etc, etc. It wasn’t entirely his fault, but he made enough mistakes that the switch became possible. Enter Brad Knighton, who played against non-MLS teams and played well, but I roasted him for tackling Brek Shea, earning a red card, and putting his team down a goal in his 23rd minute of Union league play. His subsequent performances have been exactly what the team has needed this whole season; communication and decisiveness. The most poignant play came early in this past match, where a Chivas player had a cross played onside well behind the Union back line. Knighton opted to try to beat him to the ball, and did so narrowly, only after a foot-first slide. That is a shot on goal, and likely a goal, if Knighton either decides that he can’t get the ball and stays in the net, or if he leaves a split-second later. I’m not able to ascertain if his communication with the defenders is better, but it seems clear that he is part of the solution, moreso than part of the problem
Square Peg No Longer: Michael Orozco Fiscal has been a consistent performer all season. He’s even scored a goal off of a corner kick. He’s played wherever Nowak has asked him to play. However, he has played too much of this season out of position. MOF’s athleticism gave birth to the experiment at right back, instead of the center back position he is used to. He seemed so out-of-sorts there at times that he was seen as completely replaceable by many, including yours truly. The injury to Juan Diego Gonzales allowed for MOF to return to his true position, and the results have, statistically, been spoken for. Again, communication could be a factor, or that MOF is the right player to be alongside Cap’n Califf. Those two got Chivas flagged for offsides with well-timed and coordinated steps forward. It’s a partnership that should remain even after Gonzales is healthy.
The New Kid on the Block: Sheanon Williams has been a breath of fresh air at right back. He possesses great speed and defensive instincts, and this changes things for Union on multiple levels. First, he’s not MOF playing out of position. Outside backs need to be able to compliment the offense while still being able to retreat to their defensive position. MOF had trouble finding times to come forward, and Jordan Harvey has trouble getting back once he is forward (more on Harvey in a moment). Williams has effectively blended both disciplines in a manner that makes me wonder why someone else hadn’t picked up on this guy. His speed allows him to get in behind defenders to get to through-balls, where he has shown decent ability in serving crosses. The side effect of his going forward means that Jordan Harvey can be less needed in offensive support and he can focus on locking down his side of the field. He has done great work in that department during this back line transition. This also bodes well for Shea Salinas getting a chance, at some point, to play midfield instead of defense (unless they remove Harvey from the lineup in Salinas’ favor).
So, that’s 3 good things that come from Sheanon. And he can throw the ball really far for throw-ins. I’m really looking forward to Wednesday night’s match in Colorado to see the further melding of what hopefully will be the Union’s backline for a little while.