So typically, for preview articles, you expect some blurbs from me and quotes from one of SB Nation's other editors concerning their team. Today, however, I'm going to try something a bit different. Typically, before each match, myself and another blogger exchange questions and then I simply pull from those questions to use as quotes. This can often time leave out information if, for whatever reason, it doesn't seem to fit. I've decided instead to post the questions and answers unedited (except fro grammar where needed.) Let me know which version you prefer (if either) and I'll stick to that.
Tonight the Portland Timbers will face off against the surprisingly dominating Philadelphia Union who came off a pretty rough season last year to being one of the more impressive teams thus far in 2011. Luckily I was able to exchange a few questions and answers with SB Nation's Philadelphia Union blogger Scott Kessler who writes for the Brotherly Game. Enjoy!
Philadelphia has played really well so far this season. What do you attribute to that success as compared to last year?
Defense. This season the Union have it, last season the defense really didn't show up until around the last eight games of the season. It's not hard for anyone who watched this team last year to see how much the defense has evolved from last year to this one. Two goals against is not the only statistic that should be looked at, but also shots against. Faryd Mondragon hasn't had to stop many shots because the defense hasn't allowed many to get through. Plus Mondragon himself has contributed to the "rebirth," as his ability to organize and lead the defense in front of him has created an almost impenetrable wall.
How has Faryd Mondragon performed so far this year? At expectations, above expectations? How important is he to the defense of the team, i.e. will there be serious trouble if he is injured?
Mondragon has outplayed my expectations. He hasn't been the quickest goalkeeper in any game he's played in, other than maybe against Kasey Keller and the Seattle Sounders, but he's done what he needs to do. As I mentioned in my answer to question number one, Mondragon is incredibly important to the success of the defense this year. His organizational skills are more important than his actual goalkeeping, thus far.
If Mondragon went down, it'd be a serious problem for the Union. His two back ups are 19-year-old Generation Adidas goalkeeper Zac MacMath, the fifth overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, and 25-year-old Thorne Holder, a fellow rookie. There's a large drop off in leadership ability between Mondragon and those two. The real problem would be that neither are truly prepared for "prime time" yet, although MacMath appears to have the best chance of any young goalkeeper in MLS to have a long and successful career.
What are your biggest reservations about playing the Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field?
Pretty much only that the Timbers seem to love to play there. Otherwise, not too much. The Union are used to playing in front of a loud crowd, so that shouldn't mess with them whatsoever. The dimensions of Jeld-Wen actually play right into the Union's favor, as Philadelphia has lacked width in its play throughout the year. If anything, the Union should be looking forward to playing at Jeld-Wen. This could finally be the watershed moment for the Union's offense that everyone has waited for this season.
Who is the player the Portland Timbers should look out for and what is your project starting line up?
Sebastien Le Toux. I could have chosen the young, play making Roger Torres, or the deceptively important Keon Daniel. Perhaps even impressive defensive midfielder Amobi Okugo. But the fact is that with Le Toux goes this team. The longer he continues to not produce, the longer the Union's offense lags behind the defense in terms of manufacturing wins. Le Toux scored his first goal of the season last week, off of a penalty, to give him only two points on the season after recording 25 points (14 goals, 11 assists) last year. After contributing to over 70% of the Union's scoring last year, Le Toux has contributed to 40% this year, which would be impressive if not for the Union having only scored five goals in six games. If Le Toux manages to be dangerous like he was versus San Jose, Portland will pay.
GK: Mondragon; LB: M. Farfan, CB: Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, RB: Sheanon Williams; LM/CAM: Keon Daniel, CDM/CM: Amobi Okugo, Brian Carroll, RM/CAM: Roger Torres; FW: Carlos Ruiz, Sebastien Le Toux
Califf may not play because of illness, giving back up center back Juan Diego Gonzalez the start. Jordan Harvey, the starting left back, will not play due to suspension from a controversial red card during the San Jose Earthquakes game last week.
Super thanks to Scott for taking the time to answer these questions. I hope this gves you a well rounded idea of who the Philadelphia Union are and what to expect from them tonight.
Tonight's game kicks off at 7:30PM PT. Match thread should be between 12:00 - 1:00 PM.