The Union are finally back in action today after agreeing to reschedule last week's match with Real Salt Lake (who lost a heartbreaking CONCACAF Champions League Final to Monterrey). San Jose visits PPL Park (4PM/6ABC), where they picked up a 2-1 win last season.
The time off provided Peter Nowak's club a chance to get healthy and to hopefully figure out a way to jump-start their struggling offense. Brian Carroll, who has been nursing a hamstring injury, is listed as probable and should return to the starting lineup. Whether the offense can finally get things going remains to be seen.
San Jose sits at the bottom of the Western Conference with just five points from six matches (1-3-2). The Earthquakes have dropped two straight, including a 2-1 loss to Chivas last week.
Chris Wondolowski, who won the 2010 Golden Boot, has scored three of San Jose's six goals this season. Wondo scored San Jose's lone goal last week, a header from a difficult angle following a corner kick.
Penn Charter product Bobby Convey returns to his hometown fully fit, having played in every minute of every game this season. Convey picked up 10 assists last season, good enough for fifth in MLS, en route to winning the 2010 MLS Comeback Player of the Year Award. His ability to provide service from the wing will pose a challenge for Sheanon Williams on the outside.
San Jose, which is in the midst of a four game winless streak, may mix things up a bit today. Head coach Frank Yallop promised changed following their loss to Chivas, saying "… I need to shake it up now, because that ain’t good enough. Not even close. ... There might be a few [new] guys starting. We’ll see."
The Union, who after the week off sit in third place in the East with ten points (3-1-1), need to figure out a way to generate more offense. To date they've gotten results thanks to a vastly improved defense. However, plodding along at a goal a game pace is not going to cut it if they hope to make the playoffs.
How can they improve the attack? Well, playing Roger Torres a bit more would certainly help. He's really the only creative midfield presence on the roster (which is one of the reason I was clamoring for them to claim Benny Feilhaber). Torres has bailed them out off of the substitutes bench all too often thus far. Why not plug him into the starting lineup? Whatever deficiencies he has defensively should be covered up by the return of Carroll.
It would also help if Carlos Ruiz, Sebastien Le Toux, and Danny Mwanga could figure out a way to play together. They've combined to score just two goals this season, and Ruiz has both of them. Now, if you would have told me before the season started that the Union would be 3-1-1 with neither Le Toux nor Mwanga scoring a goal I'd of said no shot. It's a obviously a credit to their defense, but they need to get those two going.
Unlike San Jose I can't imagine Peter Nowak will tinker with his starting lineup too much. I expect we'll see Mondragon, Harvey, Califf (aka "The Sheriff"), Valdes, Williams, Mapp, Carroll, Miglioranzi (although I wish Torres would start here), Daniel, Le Toux, and Ruiz.
Final Score Prediction: The Union miraculously score two (count 'em two!) goals and take home the three points with a 2-1 win.
The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely To See Red: Thanks to the Union being all "disciplined" (air quotes) I am fearing it may be time to retire this bit, but I'll go with Justin Mapp, who is the most likely player on the team to hit the fourth official with a wayward cross and be sent off for making contact with an official.
Photo Credit: Some really dedicated Califf fans who sat near me at the Union/NYRB game. Oh, and Califf tossed them his sweaty jersey. Cheers!