You want storylines? I’ll give you storylines. How about two teams, each winless over their last six games, facing each other? Check. A rookie keeper, drafted #5 overall, thrust into the starting lineup for the first time due to an injury to the team captain and lone MLS All-Star? Check. A rescheduled game being played mid-week thanks to a hurricane? Check.
All of these stories are in play as the Union host New England tonight at PPL Park (8PM/The Comcast Network). Oh, and as if all of those storylines aren’t enough it’s the first ever Dollar Dog Night at PPL. Adding processed meat in tube-form into the equation can only add to the intrigue.
Speaking of intrigue, how will rookie goalkeeper Zac MacMath fare stepping in for the injured Faryd Mondragon? Stepping in for Mondragon, who is out 2-4 weeks with a broken right ring finger, is a near impossible task. The Colombian keeper has made a seamless transition to MLS. His skill and experience enabled him to step right into a starting role, assume the captain’s armband, and become a team leader.
MacMath? Well, many are surprised that he’s even on the Union roster. Leading up to the MLS Super Draft many Union fans hoped the team would select an offensive-minded player to help jumpstart the struggling attack. Instead , despite rumors having surfaced that the team was set to sign Mondragon, the Union opted to select All-American out of the University of Maryland.
There’s no questioning MacMath’s pedigree. He was an All-American and All-ACC player for a reason. At just 20 years old he’s got plenty of time to fill out his 6’2” frame. However, it’s asking quite a bit for a rookie goalkeeper to step in and help right the ship of a side struggling to stay in playoff contention.
If he has any hope of succeeding he’ll need his back line to step up and return to early season form. As the MLS game notes point out, after allowing a season-high two goals just five times in the opening 22 games of the season, they have now allowed two goals in each of the last three.
You’d think New England would be an ideal opponent for MacMath to face in his first ever MLS start. They are tied with Toronto for the fewest goals scored (26) in MLS. However, Rev’s head coach Steve Nicol will likely pair a couple of 6’2” forwards at the top of his formation. Designated Player Milton Caraglio and Rajko Lekic provide nice target options for Benny Feilhaber and Shalrie Joseph.
The combination of the Argentinean Caraglio and the Danish Lekic will pose challenges for the center of the Union back four. Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes (back from a yellow card suspension) will need to be decisive in front of MacMath. They cannot afford any miscues or miscommunication with a rookie keeper behind them.
Offensively, the Union continue to struggle. It certainly was nice to see Sebastien Le Toux finally score from the run of play – as he did on Saturday in Salt Lake. Peter Nowak has to hope that the volley Le Toux picked out of the air and sent into the back of the net gives his most complete player a confidence boost.
Freddy Adu, who has come off the bench the last two matches, is getting closer to being able go the full ninety minutes. Earlier in the week he alluded to the fact that he continues to work on his fitness and conditioning. It’s easy to forget that Adu, aside from a few appearances in the Gold Cup, had not been training regularly since the end of his club season in Turkey. Lord knows the Union are desperate for a player like Adu to inject some creativity into the offense.
Danny Mwanga is another player who needs to get things going. He never seems to find himself in dangerous goal scoring positions. Perhaps frustrated with a lack of service he’s constantly checking back to the midfield to pick up the ball with little options in front of him.
To be honest, Veljko Paunovic has seemed more willing than Mwanga to pay the price to get into those danger areas.
A number of you have complained about Nowak’s insistence on playing two holding midfielders – feeling that he’s sacrificing too much offensively. Well, I think you’re out of luck tonight if you hope to see him change that. With MacMath in net I’d imagine Nowak wants to provide as much cover as possible for his rookie keeper.
Here’s the lineup I hope we see tonight: MacMath, Williams, Califf, Valdes, G. Farfan, Mapp, Carroll (there are conflicting reports as to his health/availability, but if he’s healthy I’d start him), Okugo, Adu, Le Toux, Paunovic.
Final Score Prediction: The winless streak for both teams moves to seven as this one ends 1-1.
The Toni Stahl Memorial Player Most Likely To See Red: Califf, who may be too aggressive in seeking to protect his young keeper.