Setting: Monday, March 12 at JELD-WEN Field in Portland; kickoff scheduled for 9:55 PM Eastern
Broadcast Information: ESPN2 (Adrian Healey, Taylor Twellman, Monica Gonzalez) and ESPN Deportes (Richard Mendez, Giovanni Savarese) nationally with coverage beginning at 9:30 PM Eastern / 750 AM The Game KXTG (John Strong, Adin Brown) and La Pantera 940 AM KWBY (Fernando Sobrevilla, Edison Mosquera) in Portland / WatchESPN.com/WatchESPN app in the U.S. and MLS Live in Canada
Portland's Record: 11-14-9, 42 points, sixth in West (2011)
For the Portland Perspective, Visit Stumptown Footy
After an offseason that was hardly quiet or restful, the Philadelphia Union open their third season in franchise history on the West Coast in a nationally televised match against the Portland Timbers. You could wax poetic for days about the last three months, but to put it lightly, some high-profile players in, some very high-profile players out. You could be easily be optimistic about the changes, or easily be pessimistic about the changes, but until tonight, it's all been speculation. Heck, we don't even know all that much about how the guys in blue and gold have looked in their preseason training, except that they haven't lost their physicality. You can't really draw conclusions one way or another from preseason friendlies, but fans of teams that participate in the annual Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic can at least see how their side is warming up and get a feel for new players. For all but a handful Union fans who made the trek down to training in Florida, outside of a couple of YouTube highlight clips, tonight will literally be the first time they've seen their team compete since November. And there are a lot of questions to be answered.
Can Freddy Adu become a more integrated part of the Union? Due partially to his late arrival, and partially to a nagging injury, Adu never quite seemed to fit in and find his role with the team. Can Danny Mwanga and Roger Torres take the next step in their development? There is surely increased pressure this season on Torres, in whom the team invested significant resources this offseason to fully purchase his contract from América de Cali. How will 20-year old Zac MacMath handle the #1 goalkeeper position? And, of course, how will the team's acquisitions fit in? Josue Martinez and Lionard Pajoy will be counted on from day one to help fill the huge gap in scoring left by the loss of Sebastien Le Toux. Panamanian national team captain Gabriel Gomez is expected to form a shutdown tandem in midfield with Brian Carroll, while Porfirio Lopez is expected to slot into a starting spot on the team's backline.
But none of those questions will be truly answered for some time. Instead, we can look at the Timbers, who on the other hand did have much of their preseason in the public eye. They played in seven organized matches, in which they were unbeaten, grabbing four shutouts and outscoring the opposing clubs 11-3. That last statistic has to be particularly encouraging for Portland, who scored just 40 goals in the regular season and gave up 58, placing them towards the bottom of the league in both categories. They've added substantial defensive depth in Hanyer Mosquera and substantial scoring in designated player Kris Boyd, both of whom have the potential to be impact players for Portland and possibly All-Stars come July 25 at PPL Park. If his preseason success is any indication, look out in particular for Boyd tonight, who will likely be all over the place. Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes will have their hands full dealing with the Scottish Premier League's all-time leading scorer, which could open the door for Jorge Perlaza and Diego Chara to slip in behind the fracas.
Projected starters, injury reports and assorted notes after the jump...
Philadelphia: MacMath; Lopez, Valdes, Califf, Williams; Gomez, Carroll; Adu, M. Farfan; Mwanga, Pajoy
Portland: Perkins; Wallace, Baptiste, Brunner, Palmer; Alexander, Chara, Jewsbury, Alhassan; Boyd, Perlaza
For Philadelphia, defender Chris Albright is listed as doubtful due to a left groin strain. Roger Torres did not travel with the team to Portland due to ankle injury suffered during the club's preseason training in Costa Rica that manager Peter Nowak characterized as "not a huge injury".
For Portland, David Horst (right hip surgery), Eddie "No, Not That Eddie Johnson" Johnson (concussion) and Sal Zizzo (left ACL surgery) are unavailable. Futty Danso (right foot contusion) and Darlington Nagbe (right ankle sprain) are considered doubtful, though it's important to note that Danso, who scored the lone goal in Portland's win against Philadelphia last year, didn't participate at all at practice on Saturday. The highly-heralded defender Mosquera may not be eligible to play in tomorrow's match since, at least to this point, his International Transfer Certificate hasn't yet been received by the Timbers and MLS. Timbers owner Merritt Paulson says there's a "75% chance" the paperwork will be in by First Kick, though. If the paperwork does make it in time, Mosquera would replace Baptiste on Portland's backline.
- Baldomero Toledo is listed as tonight's match referee. In 125 career MLS matches, Toledo has called an average of just under 25 fouls per match, given between three and four yellow cards per match, handed out a total of 47 red cards and has awarded a total of 47 penalty kicks.
- Portland scored a rather remarkable nine goals last season right off of set pieces. Set piece defense was something of a weakness for Philadelphia all season, which is why it wasn't really surprising that one of those came against the Union. Manager Peter Nowak says that, in response, the club particularly emphasized set piece defense during their preseason training.
- Both of these clubs fared quite well when scoring first last season, and not so well when conceding first. The Timbers were 11-1-4 and the Union were 10-0-6 when getting the opener, while Portland was 0-13-4 and Philadelphia was 1-8-6 when giving up the opener.
- Here's something that might play into Philadelphia's favor, assuming old habits die hard: the Timbers conceded seven times in the first fifteen minutes of play last season, compared to thrice for the Union, and they gave up 24 goals (exactly half of all of their conceded goals) in the final thirty minutes of play, compared to seven times for the Union.