The San Jose Earthquakes (4-2-2, 14 pts) will visit Talen Energy Stadium to face the Philadelphia Union (4-3-0, 12 pts) this Saturday, April 30th, at 4 PM.
The matchup sees the fifth-place team in the stacked Western Conference take on the second-place team in the East. The Earthquakes have two more points than the Union but have played one more match. The boys in blue are attempting to keep the momentum going at home after winning 2-0 against NYCFC last week. San Jose is coming off a 1-0 win against Kansas City in which a penalty kick by Chris Wondolowski was the only tally. The Union are a perfect 3-0-0 at home; San Jose is 0-2-1 on the road but has faced tough opposition in the Galaxy and FC Dallas along with defending champion Portland Timbers to start their road slate.
The Union will look to limit Wondolowski, who is the leading goal-scorer in MLS with 7 goals so far, and the ambitious Quincy Amarikwa. They’ll have to do so without left fullback Fabinho who is suspended for a match due to yellow card accumulation, so look for Ray Gaddis to get the call for his first start of the year. While challenged offensively, Gaddis is one of the finest defensive fullbacks you’ll see in the league, with the ability to put out fires and run with anyone who is on his side of the field. They’ll need him to work together with a back line that limited NYCFC to one shot on target and may or may not have Ken Tribbett available; Josh Yaro has started the last two games in Tribbett’s stead and has acquitted himself well, so it will be interesting to see what decision manager Jim Curtin makes. Meanwhile, the Earthquakes are without centerback Andres Imperiale, who was suspended retroactively by the Disciplinary Committee for one match for serious foul play on Sporting KC man Dom Dwyer.
Philadelphia will continue to attempt to high press and keep the ball, something they struggled with against NYCFC. The press was at points effective as they let keeper Josh Saunders distribute (badly) and then pressed whoever got the ball, but despite ending the first half up 2-0, the Union were down 60-40 in possession. They’ll have to do better against a potentially jetlagged and travel-weary Earthquakes team if they want to create steady chances. The boys in blue will try to jump out ahead of the Earthquakes; the Union are 4-0-0 when they score first and 0-3-0 when they haven’t, while San Jose is 4-1-1 in matches in which they score first and 0-1-1 in matches in which they don’t. The first goal will set the tone.
Last year’s meeting saw the Union go into Avaya Stadium in California on September 6th and beat San Jose 2-1 in what some simply refer to as “the Conor Casey game”. Following a Wondo penalty conversion in the 64th minute, veteran forward Conor Casey came on for Sebastien Le Toux in the 71st minute. He headed an equalizer home three minutes later off a cross from Ray Gaddis, picked up a yellow card five minutes for a bad foul after that in the 79th minute, and then headed the game-winner in for good measure in the 86th minute off of a set piece cross by Tranquillo Barnetta to send the Union home with all three points.
Many of the same personnel questions remain for the Union this week as last week. In addition to the questions about Tribbett, can Ilsinho give them 60 minutes on the right before giving way to Sebastien Le Toux? When Chris Pontius had his cheek split open around the 20th minute last week, it was Ilsinho who was warming up to replace him, reportedly only feeling his injury during sudden bursts of speed. Is Barnetta (who was superb last week and who NYCFC blog Hudson River Blue referred to as “positively frightening“) fully fit and ready to go 90? If not, might we see Roland Alberg in the 10 role late, especially if the Union are ahead? Tough decisions await Jim Curtin.
Something to look for: the Earthquakes are a +1 goal differential for the year but a -3 goal differential in the last half hour of matches, right around the time teams like to make substitutions. Look for an offensive substitution by the Union (Le Toux? Alberg? Fabian Herbers?) to potentially make a difference.
Anticipated first XI:
Prediction: this is a tough test for the Union as San Jose is a quality team, but the U are playing at home and riding some momentum. With San Jose making the long trip across the country and their current poor form on the road, the Union pull this one out. Union 2, Earthquakes 1