Setting: Saturday, June 16 at PPL Park in Chester; kickoff scheduled for 7:15 PM Eastern
Broadcast Information: CSN Philadelphia (JP Dellacamera, Bob Rigby), with coverage beginning at 6:30 PM Eastern with a pre-game show / CSN Mid-Atlantic (Dave Johnson, John Harkes) / Galavision nationally / MLS Live (CSN Philadelphia feed; blacked out in the DC area)
D.C.'s Record: 8-4-3, 27 points (first in East)
D.C.'s Last MLS Match: W, 3-2 vs. New England
To say that much has changed since the Philadelphia Union last participated in an MLS match-up on May 26 -- or even since Philadelphia defeated D.C. United in U.S. Open Cup play on June 5 -- would probably be an understatement. Danny Mwanga and Peter Nowak are gone, and Jorge Perlaza is in, while John Hackworth got something of a promotion. Though Hackworth stressed in the press conference announcing the coaching change that there would be no dramatic changes to the Union (hardly a surprise, since Hackworth has been an integral part of shaping the form of the Union since match #1 at Seattle in March 2010), one can nonetheless hardly imagine he's all that thrilled to be facing the top team in the East in his first match as manager. In just his second full season at the helm, FC Delco product Ben Olsen has orchestrated one hell of a turnaround, putting together along with general manager Dave Kasper the top scoring side in MLS.
Throughout the early part of the season, United has gotten timely scoring from their triumvirate of Dwayne De Rosario (five goals, eight assists), Chris Pontius (five goals, one assist), and Hamdi Salihi (four goals), to go along with terrific contributions from rookie Nick DeLeon (three goals, three assists). Their aggressive offensive game plan does have the tendency to result in some goals against, though, with the club ranking in the bottom half of the league in goals allowed. A lot of the blame for that, however, can be credited to a single match at the beginning of May in San Jose where they conceded five in a wild 5-3 loss to the Earthquakes. In the five matches since, they've conceded a total of four goals. Joe Willis has proven many naysayers wrong with his play in the early part of the season between the pipes, but Bill Hamid is both healthy and not away on U.S. national team duties, so he's expected to get the start.
There are a lot of questions about what to expect from Philadelphia tactically, and to be honest, one has to take Hackworth at his word and assume that what the standing room-only crowd expected at PPL Park tomorrow night will look very similar to what they've seen the entire season. But there has to be some amount of relief -- perhaps subconscious, perhaps not -- on the part of many of the guys on the Union roster. And with Hackworth's experience working with younger players in various capacities for the U.S. men's national team, it would be something of a surprise if minutes didn't filter down to someone like Jack McInerney, or Josue Martinez, in the coming weeks. Perhaps even as early as tomorrow, with Lionard Pajoy unavailable due to suspension. There's a lot that this organization has lost since the beginning of the year both on and off the pitch, but if there's one thing they haven't lost, it's youth. For better or for worse, it's what they've got, and Hackworth's got to run with it like his predecessor did in the franchise's inaugural season.
Projected starters, injury reports, and assorted match notes after the jump...
Philadelphia: MacMath; Gaddis, Valdes, Williams, Lahoud; Carroll, Gomez; Daniel, M. Farfan; Adu, Perlaza
D.C.: Hamid; Woolard, Dudar, McDonald, Russell; DeLeon, Kitchen, Boskovic, Najar; De Rosario, Santos
For Philadelphia, Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms), Gabriel Farfan (back spasms), Cristhian Hernandez (right knee sprain), and Chris Albright (right foot sprain) are all unavailable. Sheanon Williams (right big toe sprain) is "doubtful", though the team still lists him as a probable starter. Chase Harrison (left ankle sprain), Michael Farfan (left foot contusion), and Chandler Hoffman (left heel contusion) are "questionable". Keon Daniel (left ankle sprain) is "probable".
- Ricardo Salazar is listed as tomorrow's match referee. In 152 career MLS matches, Salazar has called an average of 27 fouls per match, handed out between three and four yellow cards per match, given a total of 42 red cards, and has awarded a total of 57 penalty kicks.
- As previously noted, Lionard Pajoy will be unavailable for the Union as he serves a one-match disciplinary suspension for his tackle of Joao Plata in Toronto. Gabriel Gomez is one yellow card away from receiving an automatic one-match disciplinary suspension for yellow card accumulation. Michael Farfan, Chris Pontius, Maicon Santos, and Dwayne De Rosario are two yellow cards away.
- D.C. United comes into PPL Park riding a three-match winning streak in MLS, its longest in four years.
- Here's what Ben Olsen said following his side's 2-1 extra time loss to Philadelphia in U.S. Open Cup play: "We've been asking for this loss. I look at myself first and I look at our staff first. We have to realize that that is not a good enough performance. Too many guys were on their own page today, we were cute all over the field and we thought it was going to be enough to step out here and beat a team because they were a little down on their luck." Ain't that refreshing.
- Here's an interesting statistic: 13 of D.C.'s 19 goals conceded in MLS play have come in the second half.
- If you want a slightly heartening note to go alongside Union CEO & Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz's assertion that MLS is won and lost after the All-Star Game, it's this: entering tomorrow, the Union are ten points out of a wild card spot with two matches in hand against the Chicago Fire, who currently occupy the #5 seed in the East. Whether the fact that a 2-7-2 team can still be in playoff contention speaks highly or poorly for MLS is another issue, but the possibilities do exist.
The John Hackworth Era starts tomorrow night for the Union, and what a way to begin it by hosting the top team in the East. If you're heading down to PPL Park, enjoy the match, or if you're not, we hope you can join us tomorrow night for a gamethread!