Setting: Saturday, July 14 at PPL Park in Chester; kickoff scheduled for 7:08 PM Eastern
Broadcast Information: The Comcast Network (JP Dellacamera, Bob Rigby), with coverage beginning at 6:30 PM Eastern with a pre-game show / TVA Sports (Frédéric Lord, Olivier Brett) in Montreal / MLS Live, Direct Kick (TCN feed)
Montreal's Record: 6-11-3, 21 points (eighth in East)
Montreal's Last Match: W, 2-1 vs. Columbus
For the Montreal Perspective, Visit Mount Royal Soccer
The Philadelphia Union, eliminated from U.S. Open Cup proceedings in Wednesday's 2-0 semifinal loss to Sporting Kansas City, are refocusing their efforts solely on MLS play for the rest of the season. Tomorrow, the team hosts expansion team Montreal Impact in their first-ever meeting. The Impact have been making MLS headlines regularly over the past month or so, some good, some bad. On the field, they've been about what you'd expect from an expansion team: a group of players lacking chemistry and familiarity. That, in turn, leads to miscommunication and mistakes that somehow always end up in the back of the net. Union fans don't need to be reminded about how that works. By all accounts, however, they're starting to gel, and are only four points out of the fifth and final postseason seed in the Eastern Conference, albeit having played 20 MLS matches while the rest of the East has only played 16, 17, or 18. (If you took the Union's points-per-match average through their 16 MLS matches and tacked on four more matches to be equal with the Impact, they'd be tied in the standings.)
The Impact are without several key players, however. The top story across MLS in the last couple of weeks has been the Impact's signing of star Italian center back Alessandro Nesta, but he isn't quite ready to make his debut yet and did not travel with the team to Philadelphia. Even without Nesta, their two preferred center backs are also out (meaning Union original Shavar Thomas -- yes, remember him? -- will get the start), as is forward Bernardo Corradi. Sanna Nyassi is out due to suspension. Thanks to Corradi, Nyassi, and newcomer Marco Di Vaio (who appears to be figuring things out in MLS, registering an assist on the Impact's tying goal against Columbus), the Impact's offense has generally been just fine. Watch in particular for Patrice Bernier, who leads the team in goals and assists despite only playing in 13 of the club's 20 MLS matches, and the playmaker Felipe, who shares the team assist lead with Bernier with five. The hope in Montreal is that Di Vaio can take a solid offense to the next level. The Impact's issue has been defense. They've given up the most goals in MLS with 36, the most in the league, which makes their injuries on defense particularly harmful. The once-superb Donovan Ricketts has also had some troubles between the pipes, particularly in the last couple of weeks.
From the Union perspective, Montreal is a team that's probably easy to underestimate, but they're a much more dangerous side than their record might indicate. On the other hand, coming off that very frustrating loss on Wednesday, Philadelphia has to hope that they can convert that emotion into motivation. Zac MacMath doesn't have to prove himself to his teammates or to Union fans at this point, but certainly Wednesday has to provide particular motivation to him going forward. The Union remain an awfully young team, though, and John Hackworth has to make sure that his players don't come out overly aggressive, especially since the Impact can be an aggressive side themselves. If they can do that successfully, and continue to play at the level they've been at since Hackworth's taken over, the opponent tomorrow night might not matter all that much, quite frankly.
Projected starters, injury reports, and assorted match notes after the jump...
Philadelphia: MacMath; G. Farfan, Valdes, Okugo, Williams; Lahoud, Carroll, Gomez; Adu, M. Farfan, McInerney
Montreal: Ricketts; Brovsky, Thomas, Camara, Valentin; Warner, Bernier; Mapp, Felipe, Arnaud; Di Vaio
For Philadelphia, Chandler Hoffman (left big toe fracture) and Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms) remain out. Bakary Soumare (right knee meniscus recovery) is also not expected to be available. Raymon Gaddis (right shoulder contusion) is "questionable". Carlos Valdes (right knee contusion) and Zac MacMath (right ring finger avulsion) are "probable".
For Montreal, Matteo Ferrari (right quad strain), Nelson Rivas (abdomen), Bernardo Corradi (left knee ACL tear), and Andrew Wenger (left hamstring strain) are all out. Sanna Nyassi is out due to suspension for yellow card accumulation. New signing Dennis Iapichino's availability for tomorrow's match depends on whether the league receives his International Transfer Certificate in time.
- Juan Guzman is listed as tomorrow's match referee. In 16 career MLS matches, Guzman has called an average of just under 27 fouls per match, handed out an average of just under four yellow cards per match, given a total of six red cards, and has awarded a total of four penalty kicks.
- Carlos Valdes and Collen Warner are both one yellow card away from receiving automatic one-match suspensions for yellow card accumulation.
- This Impact roster has quite a strong connection to Philadelphia and to the Union. In addition to Shavar Thomas, Montreal has Justin Mapp (grabbed from the Union in their expansion draft this past offseason), as well as Zarek Valentin and Andrew Wenger, both of whom are from Lancaster.
- The Impact are just 1-8-1 on the road, with their lone away victory coming back in May against Sporting KC. Their lone road draw came back in April against D.C. United.
- The Impact have converted six penalty kick goals, and have also conceded six penalty kick goals. Both of those are pretty high numbers at this point in the season, and are at the top of MLS.
- The Impact have conceded seven goals this season directly or indirectly from free kicks. Free kicks could be of great value for the Union tomorrow night, and they may well be pretty common, considering the Impact have committed the most fouls in MLS and have received the most yellow cards in MLS.
- The Impact have gone offside 58 times this season, tops in MLS.
- Montreal set a team record against Columbus with 25 shots.
- Their win against Columbus was also the first time this season that they won after conceding first (were 0-6-0 before).
- The Impact have scored first in the majority of their matches this season, but are just 5-5-3 when doing so. By comparison, the Union are 5-1-0 when scoring first.
- Just over half of the goals Montreal has conceded this season, 19, have come in the final thirty minutes of matches.