Game: Philadelphia Union vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
Date: Saturday, May 9th, 7:30pm EST
Venue: BC Place
In the dismal and ultimately laughable start to the Philadelphia Union season, the team continues along a harrowing journey as summer approaches. In the second game of what is considered the Union's toughest stretch of games, they will face off with the Vancouver Whitecaps on the other side of the continent.
What to watch for: Vancouver
The Whitecaps walk into Saturday's match against Philadelphia having dropped points in each of their last two matches. A devastating 2-1 defeat at the hands of Philly rival and Eastern Conference favorite DC United and a scoreless draw to bitter Cascadia rivals Portland has left a bitter taste in the mouths of Vancouver. In 10 matches so far Vancouver is tied for the best record in MLS (5 wins, 3 draws, 2 losses, 17 points), and haven't looked thoroughly beaten since their very first match. A competitive side in every match, the scary part about this Vancouver team is that it hasn't looked as if they have hit their stride.
Vancouver is an impressive team and currently my favorite side to watch in MLS. That is very much by design thanks to their manager Carl Robinson and the team he has assembled in his time with Vancouver. The Whitecaps are littered with talent at every level of the pitch. Goalkeeper David Ousted typically over-performs against the Union and in the back Steven Beitashour is an MLS veteran who stabilizes Vancouver along with Ousted. As you move forward in the lineup things get even more exciting. Playmakers Pedro Morales and Mauro Rosales, alongside fellow midfielder Matias Laba, form a dominant midfield that can challenge any in the league. If you need speed, you need to look no further than Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh who can turn the game on its head with sound-barrier challenging speed.
In the past, Vancouver has had problems putting someone on the field who can routinely score for their dynamic midfield. In Octavio Rivero, they have found that player. He quickly opened eyes in MLS by scoring 5 goals in his brief time here. Not only capable of finishing chances, the dynamic Uruguayan can create and combine with other midfielders to keep defenses guessing. Rivero is the missing link this Vancouver team needed to be serious contenders in this league.
What to watch for: Philadelphia
What can I say about my beloved Union? An unbelievable number of ridiculous circumstances has plagued the Union this year and their slate of matches upcoming just adds to the tragic comedy that is Philadelphia. The storyline this week? The return of the everyone's favorite Algerian goalkeeper: Rais M'Bohli. M'Bohli made his return to training this week after a month's absence from the team and then coincidentally the other two Union keepers got hurt within a minute of each other during the same training session! How remarkable! Even more remarkably, M'Bolhi will not even travel to Vancouver. The Union have just announced that they have acquired Brian Sylvestre and Trey Mitchell from the Carolina RailHawks and the MLS goalkeeper pool, respectively. Sylvestre, who is here on a short-term loan, will be the starter on Saturday.
Injury after injury has piled up for Philadelphia this season, but the potential return of French midfielder Vincent Nogueira is promising for the Union as they have severely lacked midfield production in their recent performances. The boost might be really seen in the production of Cristian Maidana as he will no longer have to drop deep to collect the ball and can sit high to provide key passes. With recent performances of Eric Ayuk, it would be hard to imagine the Union not trying to use him against the high-flying wingers of Vancouver in the counter-attack.
The backline is always an issue for the Union and it wouldn't really be a season to cherish without a constant shuffle in front of the goalkeepers. Injury is the reason this time, with Michael Lahoud out as well as Steven Vitoria, the Union will most likely line up Maurice Edu in the midfield with the young duo of Ethan White and Richie Marquez holding down the fort. That duo did well last week in containing a very potent group in Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco, and Michael Bradley. Let's hope they can continue that against an equivalently dangerous group.
Suggested lineup and prediction
Starting XI: M'Bohli; Williams, Marquez, White, Gaddis; Edu, Noguiera, Wenger, Maidana, Ayuk; Aristeguieta
Vancouver 3-1 Union