MLS First Kick: Match #1 Preview: Union at Dynamo

Setting: Saturday, March 19 at Robertson Stadium in Houston; kickoff scheduled for 8:36:30 PM Eastern

Broadcast Information: 6abc HD (J.P. Dellacamera, Taylor Twellman, Bob Rigby), coverage starting at 8:00 PM with a pre-game show and concluding with a post-game show heading into Action News at 11:00 PM / KHOU 11.2 and FOX Sports Houston (Glenn Davis, James Clarkson), KPRC 950 AM (Jonathan Yardley) and La Ranchera 850 AM (Daniel Mejia, Alex Parra) in Houston

Houston's Record: 9-15-6, 33 points, 7th in West (2010)

Philadelphia vs. Houston Last Season: 1-0-1 (Philadelphia 3 @ Houston 2 on May 29, the Union's first ever road victory; Houston 1 @ Philadelphia 1 on October 2)

For the Houston Perspective, Visit Dynamo Theory

Can you believe it? The Union's second season is almost upon us. After a busy (and long) offseason that saw impressive additions, disappointing and unexpected subtractions, and a two week trip to Greece, the Union is ready to begin their 2011 fixtures with the hopes of making the expanded MLS Cup Playoffs.

For more detail on what you can look forward to from the Union this season, check out our Scott Kessler's excellent preview for SBNation Soccer, but suffice to say, the main cogs up front in Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga are back and will now be joined by Carlos Ruiz, and the club's depth in back has been significantly strengthened with the additions of Brian Carroll, Carlos Valdez and Faryd Mondragon, despite the controversial seemingly last-minute loss of Michael Orozco Fiscal.

The Dynamo, too, come into Saturday's match with expectations for a better season. The club finished 2010 tied with the Union for the second-most goals against in the League, conceding 49. Dominic Kinnear responded by rebuilding the club's defensive corps, choosing younger and faster options over older (albeit more experienced) ones. Off the pitch, construction of the team's new stadium has begun and the project is now full-steam ahead, with an opening scheduled for sometime during the early part of the 2012 season. For a more in-depth look at the revamped Dynamo, take a look at Dynamo Theory's Zach Woosley and SB Nation Houston's Jordan Wise's club preview.

Projected starters and up-to-date injury reports (including the status of Dynamo star Brian Ching) after the jump...

Likely starters:

Philadelphia: Mondragon; Williams, Califf, Valdes, Harvey; a midfield diamond with Le Toux on top, Mapp and Miglioranzi in the middle and Carroll on the bottom; Danny Mwanga, Carlos Ruiz

Houston (4-4-2): Hall; Freeman, Taylor, Boswell, Sarkodie; Davis, Cameron, Palmer, Ashe; Garey, Bruin

Injury updates:

For Philadelphia, the report is almost clean, which is exactly the way you want to start the season. Juan Diego Gonzalez is considered questionable with a left hip flexor sprain, while Sebastien Le Toux is "probable" with a left ankle sprain.

For Houston, things are not as great health-wise. Colin Clark and Francisco Navas Cobo have been ruled out with continued rehab for his left knee ACL tear from last August and a right hamstring sprain, respectively, while the invaluable Brian Ching is listed as "doubtful" with his right hamstring sprain.

Of note:

  • If defender Kofi Sarkodie does indeed start for Houston tomorrow, he will become the youngest player in franchise history to start a match. If either or both Sarkodie and Will Bruin start tomorrow, they will become the first Dynamo rookies to ever start an Opening Day match for the club.
  • Philadelphia forward Carlos Ruiz has three goals in nine regular season and playoff matches against Houston, as well as 30 fouls committed and 21 suffered.
  • Two of the three goals conceded by the Union to Houston last year were off of set pieces. The moral of that story is either to tighten up your markings and get the wall setup quicker and more efficiently (goodness knows that was a problem for the Union at times last year -- looking at you, Roger Torres) ... or simply to not let Houston get far enough into the middle of the pitch in your third where you're forced to make dangerous and questionable tackles.
  • Abbey Okulaja will be the match referee tomorrow night. In 103 MLS matches, an average of just over 27 fouls have been called per match, an average of just over three yellow cards have been given per match, sixteen red cards have been issued and 24 penalties granted. So it sounds like the Union would be best not to try their luck on conceding a penalty kick.

Given their subpar finishes last year, you can be assured that both teams will want to get off on the right track this year and have good starts to the season, which should make for an excellent affair down south. For the Union, this is about establishing some road momentum for the first time in club history, and for the Dynamo, it's essential that they do their part to generate a home-pitch advantage right off the bat. Join us tomorrow night for our first live game thread of the season; it should be a lot of fun.

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