The Union (4-3-2), who still sit in second place in the Eastern Conference, host the Chicago Fire (1-3-5), a team Peter Nowak helped lead to an MLS Cup as a player, this evening at PPL Park (8PM/Comcast SportsNet).
Chicago has not won a game since March 26, which helps to explain why they are currently the eighth place team in the East. Amazingly, they've played four consecutive ties. An even scoreline tonight against the Union would tie a single season MLS record for consecutive draws.
The U have had a rough go of it lately, going winless over their last three games (loss at Portland, tie at home against the Galaxy, and last week's 2-0 loss at FC Dallas). True, the loss at Dallas was their third game in ten days, but for the first time all season they were way too loose in the back.
Uncharacteristically, the marking was poor. Sheanon Williams either
completely lost sight of Brek Shea, or felt he had to provide some cover
to the middle of the box on the first Dallas goal. It was one of the
few times all season where the Union were caught scrambling in the back.
It looked like the type of goal they gave up all too often in 2010.
Then, for the first time all season, they conceded a second goal when Fabian Castillo (who set up the first Dallas goal) slipped between two Union players and headed home the knockout punch past Faryd Mondragon. Tonight they'll have to focus the bulk of their attention on Marco Pappa and Diego Chaves, who are tied for the team lead in goals with four apiece.
On the flip-side, the Union offense looked downright dangerous the first 25-30 minutes of the game. Justin Mapp was playing out of his mind early on, running at and past people, beating his man to the endline, cutting towards the middle a la Arjen Robben (For the record: no I am not comparing Mapp and Robben. I am simply saying Mapp made a few cutting runs towards the middle of the box in much the same patented way Robben does).
Even Brian Carroll got forward. Perhaps they were so caught up in their discovery of actual positive play that the end result was an uncharacteristically lax defensive effort.
Despite looking so threatening early on, the Union were unable to actually put a ball past Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman. Even their lineup coming out of halftime, Carlos Ruiz, Jack McInerney, Roger Torres, Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux (by far the most attacking lineup I've ever seen Nowak trot out) was unable to solve Hartman.
It's somewhat interesting that right now the Phillies and Union have to play similar styles in order to win games. They have to be clean defensively and just grind out the offense in the hopes that they can somehow scratch across a run/goal. It's not the prettiest thing to watch, but to date both teams have found a way to get results. If either team could get their offense and defense to click at the same time it'd be scary.
Here’s the lineup I hope we see tonight: Mondragon, Harvey, Valdes, Califf, Williams, Daniel, Torres, Carroll, Le Toux, Mwanga, McInerney (yes, I am still beating the Jack Mac drum).
Final Score Prediction: Offensively Chicago just isn't all that threatening. Unfortunately, the same can be said about the Union. However, playing at home will make all the difference as the Union win it 1-0.
The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely To See Red: Brian Carroll. I have zero basis for that prediction. Honestly. None whatsoever. Just go with it.