One of the biggest differences between MLS and European leagues is that the travel in MLS is much further than in Europe. On Saturday night, the Union will be playing in a stadium that is nearly 3000 miles away for the first time in their history. That is a huge distance to travel and expect a result. In the past, Philadelphia struggled at the Buck Shaw stadium, losing two games and drawing one. Overall San Jose has the upper hand in the head to head with four wins, one draw and only two losses. One of those losses didn't occur last season however, as the Union ran out 4-2 winners at PPL park with goals from Andrew Wenger (2), Sebastien Le Toux and the now departed Sheanon Williams. It was also the game where Rais M'Bolhi made his debut.
On top of the distance being a factor, the teams recent form also points to a difficult game for Philadelphia. While the Union have one win, two draws and three losses in their last six games - San Jose are on a roll with four wins one draw and only one loss in their last six games. The Earthquakes will be looking to boost their playoff hopes at home to the Union.
To make matters worse for Philadelphia they will be trying to win without their MVP in 2015, Cristian Maidana who is suspended for spitting his gum towards an opponent last week against the New England Revolution. Andrew Wenger will be looking to get more minutes for Philadelphia, while Vincent Noguiera and Tranquillo Barnetta will be hoping to build some chemistry going towards the US Open Cup final. Captain Maurice Edu is likely to be out along with Zach Pfeffer and Fred, who are both listed as questionable leaving the Union a little thin in midfield. Philadelphia will also be without goalkeeper Andre Blake who is with the Jamaica team this weekend.
For San Jose, forwards Innocent and Steven Lenhart are both long term absentees and defender Jordan Stewart is also missing. Sana Nyassi, Anibal Godoy, Cordell Cato and Marc Pelosi all earned national team call-ups so will be missing from the game. Chris Wondolowski, however, didn't make it into Jurgen Klinsmann's USMNT so will be available.
My Predicted Philadelphia Union lineup :-
John McCarthy; Raymon Gaddis, Steven Vitoria, Richie Marquez, Fabinho; Brian Carroll (C), Vincent Nogueira; Andrew Wenger, Tranquillo Barnetta, Sebastien Le Toux; CJ Sapong.
Key Matchups :-
Richie Marquez vs Chris Wondolowski
While he may be a scapegoat for the US crashing out of "that tournament" in the summer of 2014, he always scores goals in MLS and this year is no exception as he has tallied 12 so far. While Wondolowski may drift between center backs, Marquez may be the player to step up and stop the Earthquake's star striker, as he has had an excellent season for Philadelphia.
Ray Gaddis or Fabinho vs Shea Salinas
Since Sheanon Williams was traded to the Houston Dynamo, the play of full-backs Fabinho and Ray Gaddis has dropped dramatically and what was a strength may now be viewed as a weakness. Whichever side ex-Union favorite Shea Salinas is playing on, Salinas must be licking his lips at the possibility of extending a run of form that has netted Shea two goals and two assists in the last three games. He also has a habit of doing well against the Union, scoring the winner in San Jose's 1-0 win in 2013. Either Gaddis or Fabinho are going to have to get back to the form that meant Sheanon Williams was expendable.
CJ Sapong vs Victor Bernardez/Clarence Goodson
Perhaps the most impressive stat about San Jose's recent run is that the Earthquakes haven't given up a goal in 374 minutes of MLS play. That includes a game against Giovani dos Santos, Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and the rest of the Los Angeles Galaxy superstars. CJ Sapong is likely to be the lone striker against the experienced central defensive pairing, and will likely have to work hard to get any change from them. Sapong has been up for that since his issues with the DUI case, but he may not have gone up against as strong a defense as San Jose's.
My Prediction :-
Sorry DOOPERs, I can't see anything other than an easy 2-0 San Jose win in this one, and a performance that will have you wishing you didn't stay up to midnight to watch the game.