PPL Park will be packed late this afternoon as the Union host Colorado in the 2012 home opener (4PM/NBC Sports Network). The Union, who have never beaten the Rapids, look to rebound from a season opening 3-1 loss at Portland on Monday night. Their performance in Portland provided few answers and raised a number of issues which bear monitoring against Colorado.
Matchday 2: The Home Opener
March 18, 2012, 7:04 am
First, the positive. Lionard Pajoy had a very strong first half before running out of gas and service. In one half he provided the Union with the best back to goal forward presence in its short history. He shrugged off challenges, won 50/50 balls, and held up play. He was physical and intelligent in his runs. For my money he was the best Union player over the first 45 minutes.
It may sound strange to laud the performance of a goalie who conceded three goals - including an absolute mess of a first goal - but I thought Zac MacMath played fairly well. He was incredibly aggressive. I think he came off of his line more in one game than Faryd Mondragon did all last season. I am obviously exaggerating, but MacMath was confident and decisive in dealing with crosses. Importantly, he did not shrink after spilling that awful first goal. He had no chance on the Kris Boyd header and was beaten on a misfired cross for the third and final goal. Going forward, I am not too concerned with MacMath.
The rest of the team? Well, that's a whole other matter. The Union failed to create anything from the run of play. The midfield was completely overrun. The outside backs were undressed all night. New acquisition Porfirio Lopez struggled mightily. He was turned inside out for 90 straight minutes.
Now, I say all of this recognizing that Portland is an incredibly difficult place to play. I did not expect them to get a result, but I did expect them to play better. They played as if they'd never taken the field together before. Which, when you consider the fact that Gabriel Gomez, Josue Martinez, Lopez, and Pajoy were making their Union debuts, wasn't too far from the truth.
So, what do the Union need to do today to pick up the three points against Colorado? Defending set pieces would be a good place to start. Portland caught the Union on a quick restart for their third goal. Yes, it was a wayward cross that ended up in the back of the net, but the Union were not in a position to shut down that service.
Some possession would also be nice. The Timbers enjoyed a 55.6% to 44.4% advantage in possession. Further, there was not a consistent link between the Union back line and Pajoy. Too often the midfield was either completely bypassed or too easily gave up possession. To that end, Roger Torres, who did not play on Monday, should be in the lineup today and will no doubt help with possession.
Two players who will not be available for the Union are Freddy Adu and Amobi Okugo, who are with the US U23 team as they prepare for Olympic qualifying.
Colorado brings a balanced team to PPL Park. In Marvell Wynne and Kosuke Kimura they have two supremely fit backs who can run all day. The holding midfield pairing of Jeff Larentowicz (a Chestnut Hill Academy alum) and former US international Pablo Mastroeni provide a sturdy presence in the middle of the park. Omar Cummings, who had a down 2011 season, scored 14 goals in 2010, and has the sort of pace that can give the Union back line trouble.
MLS did not do the Union any favors by having them open the season on the road at Portland. Facing Colorado in the home opener isn't any easier a task. I think most fair-minded Union supporters assumed it'd take this team some time to gel. They'll have needed to sort out a number of issues in a short period of time in order to avoid starting the season 0-2.
Starting Lineup I'd Like to See: MacMath, Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Lopez, Gomez, Brian Carroll, Torres, Michael Farfan, Danny Mwanga, Pajoy.
Final Score Prediction: As mentioned, Colorado is a very sound, balanced team. I am not convinced the Union are a cohesive side capable of putting 90 minutes together. Colorado wins it 2-1 as the Union falls to 0-2.
Photo Credit: Scott Olmos, US Presswire