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Match Preview: Dynamo vs Union

Where:  Robertson Stadium, Houston, TX  When:  Saturday, March 19  Time: 8:30 EST

Welcome to the 2011 MLS season, finally.  I know that there was a game on Tuesday, but Union weren’t involved, so it doesn’t count.  Union begin their 2011 odyssey against a club they have not lost to, having earned a win and a draw last season.  The road side will look to continue this modicum of success with their retooled roster against an opponent in a similar position.  Dynamo have also turned over several of their starters, including their keeper (Pat Onstad retired, the 2 guys Union had last year, um, yeah….).  It promises to be an entertaining affair, as the strength of both teams is in offensive play and both lack quality and depth in their respective back lines.  A baseball-esque scoreline, anyone?

Offense:  Returning goal scorers Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga will be joined by former MLS MVP and golden boot winner Carlos Ruiz (Choooooooooooooooooch!!!).  Nothing has become official as of this posting, but it’s a safe bet that Ruiz is up top with Mwanga in Coach Nowak’s 4-4-2.  Le Toux will get to settle into his “midfielder who covers half the stadium” roaming roll, free to attack wherever he pleases.  The addition of an accomplished striker is something that will only benefit a Union side who stands to concede many goals.  I fear that they may need to score 3 goals most games to win, as I do not foresee many clean sheets.  Justin Mapp will also be in his first full season with the club, and his deft ball controll and passing will be critical in keeping teams from defensively keying on Le Toux, as well.  The central midfielders, well, I could analyze them if I actually had any idea who Nowak is going to put there.  Brian Carroll will be one of them, but the other?  Not a clue.  I’d prefer to see Roger Torres for his offensive spark, or Amobi Okugo for his defensive tenacity.  That means that Stefani Miglioranzi is the likely starter, because, …. I don’t know.

Defense:  Dan K.’s favorite player (and I mean that in the most sarcastic way possible), Jordan Harvey, will feature in a slightly re-tooled back four.  Also returning will be Danny “Cap’n Ink” Califf, and Sheanon Williams.  The newcomer at center back is Carlos Valdes, the Colombian also signed at the same time as veteran goal keeper Faryd Mondragon, in what seemed to be a Colombian buy-in-bulk deal.  The rule of thumb in sports is that your defense must be strong up the middle, and Union have a new ‘keeper, center back, and defensive holding midfielder.  The Union faithful hope Nowak is right with his choices.  I’m a bit skeptical, so I don’t expect many clean sheets, but hopefully more than the Flyers have this year (yikes!).

Reserves:  Jack McInerney and Chris Agorsor played well in the preseason and seem to be the go-to guys Nowak will deploy when needing a goal late in the game.  This blog unabashedly loves Jack Mac, and would prefer to see him starting at left midfield, but we can rant about that later.  Agorsor, also new to the squad this season, hopes to impress and earn starts along the course of the season to spell one of the strikers.  Union still have a glut of central midfielders, so many in fact that some of them have taken shifts playing defense as well.  Union just signed Gabriel Farfan, midfielder and twin brother of 2011 2nd-round pick Michael Farfan, as depth at left back.  Amobi Okugo has spent time as a central defender in his Generation Adidas and U.S. U-20 time, so he has continued that work with his club side.  Maybe Nowak loves midfielders so much he wants to put 11 of them on the field at the same time.  Who knows?

The opponent and outcome:  Houston, as previously mentioned, has also undergone significant turnover.  Their keeper retired, they’ve got 2 new starting defenders, and their best-known player, Brian Ching, is out with a chronic hamstring pull.  Unfortunately, this does not leave them shorthanded.  They play an aggressive style under Dom Kinnear, pressing for goals every minute.  Last season, this was an inter-conference match, but Houston was realligned to the East for 2011.  The benefit for Daynamo is that the West has five of the league’s six best teams, so their chances at one of the three Eastern Conference playoff spots are much greater.  The players to watch are brand new to the league.  Draft picks Will Bruin, forward, and Kofie Sarkodie, defender, have played themselves into the starting XI during the preseason.

My prediction is that this match will end in a 2-2 draw.  A hard-fought road point for Union would be an excellent way to begin a run towards the MLS playoffs.

-Nick Y., the other .5 of Unholy Union

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