Game: Philadelphia Union vs San Jose Earthquakes
Date: Saturday, April 30th, 2016
Time: 4:00 PM EDT (1:00 PM PDT, 8:00 PM GMT)
Venue: Talen Energy Stadium - Chester, PA
Referees: Referee: Ricardo Salazar, AR1: Adam Wienckowski, AR2: Eric Weisbrod, 4TH: Jorge Gonzalez
Television: 6abc, CSN Plus (Bay Area), Directv Channel 473, MLS Direct Kick
Streaming: MLS Live, MLS Direct Kick
Saturday's match will be the only battle this season between the two teams. Jim Curtin's side has come out on top in their last two meetings, including a 2-1 win September in Southern California that included a late brace from Conor Casey. Before the season many believed the team would be hindered this season by the young patchwork defense. Thanks to the stellar play and leadership of young goalkeeper Andre Blake, they've only allowed one goal in 3 matches. The defense will need to be in top form again if they wish to stop San Jose's opportunistic attack.
San Jose Heading In
The Earthquakes are coming off a narrow 1-0 win over Sporting KC thanks to a Wondo PK (and a jaw-dropping Jair Marrufo no-call). While head coach Dominic Kinnear's side has managed an unblemished record at home, they are winless on the road.
MLS might be the most unpredictable league in North America. Two things seemingly stay constant however: bad refereeing and Chris Wondolowski scoring plenty of goals. Currently in the hunt for Landon Donovan's career MLS all-time goal record, Wondo has found the back of the net seven times in eight matches this season. He'll start alongside the always dangerous Quincy Amarikwa. Amarikwa's finally starting put his pace to better use in the final third more consistently. They'll be flanked on the wings by the veteran Simon Dawkins and Panamanian speedster Alberto Quintero. Kinnear often employs a double pivot in the center of the field with defensive midfielders Anibal Godoy and Fatai Alashe. San Jose's offense isn't so much concerned with creativity; they bombard opponents with pace until holes show up in the defense and they're able to capitalize.
Meanwhile in defense, the Earthquakes will miss Andreas Imperiale thanks to a one game suspension handed down by the Disciplinary Committee for a bad foul on Dom Dwyer last Sunday. Imperiale had been starting in place of injured USMNT centerback Clarence Goodson. Kinnear might have to push Marvell Wynne inside to pair with Victor "Muma" Bernardez in the middle. In between the posts will be David Bingham, one of the league's best young American goalkeepers. Despite the steady presence of Bingham, this is a shaky backline to say the least.
The Union Heading In
Jim Curtin will be missing Fabinho as he serves a one game suspension for picking up his fifth yellow card last Saturday (for a comically rash tackle on Khiry Shelton). Ray Gaddis will be Fabi's replacement, and I'm guessing San Jose will be pressing the left side and force Gaddis to make some passes under pressure.
Even if Ken Tribbett is healthy, I imagine Joshua Yaro will start his third consecutive match to help deal with San Jose's speedy attackers. Andre Blake will have communicate more often than usual to keep the shape of the defense intact, and Yaro will have to be more cautious so that Wondolowski can't exploit his occasional positional mistakes.
Sapong will be key to generating some goals Saturday. The Earthquakes have allowed at least two goals in each of the three road games they've played this season. Sapong's hold up play this season has been nothing short of spectacular. That will create chances for Chris Pontius and Ilsinho (or Sebastien Le Toux) to charge flanks and cross it into the box. The San Jose defense is not a very organized one, so if the likes of Tranquillo Barnetta and Vincent Nogueira can keep Godoy and Alashe on their heels we're bound to hear the DOOP song.
The Union won't stay unbeaten at Talen Energy all season, but I don't believe they are going to start dropping points at home Saturday. Le Toux, Pontius, Barnetta, and Sapong should continue their fine form, and the defense must not allow Wondolowski to get behind them. Curtin and the boys should maintain their spot near the top of the Eastern Conference before a showdown next weekend with one of the best teams in MLS, the Los Angeles Galaxy. Union win a comfortable one Saturday, 2-0.