Saturday night the Philadelphia Union solidified their position as the second worst team in their league. They were beaten by the worst team in MLS, Toronto FC, 1-0 and failed to catch up to L.A. Galaxy and Montreal Impact who also lost.
Philadelphia were without a few players, who may also be absent from Tuesday’s Open Cup match. This is the team’s first match in the U.S. Open Cup proper after previously being eliminated in the MLS qualification play-in round by New York Red Bulls in 2010 and then D.C. United in 2011.
In their last 5 matches of the MLS season, Philadelphia are 0-1-4 while the Rhinos are coming into the game having lost one match this season and only given up four goals in league and cup so far. Rochester did give up goals in each of their last two games (a 1-0 loss at Harrisburg on Friday and a 2-2 tie at Dayton on Saturday), but starting goalkeeper Kristian Nicht sat out Dayton’s game in preparation for Tuesday’s match against the Philadelphia Union.
The main question for Tuesday, as it was last year when the Rhinos hosted Chicago Fire of MLS at Sahlen’s Stadium, is how many starters will Philadelphia play. The honest truth is that as long as America’s soccer system is closed, the leagues below MLS will face no chance against a full strength MLS team; even if that team is the second worst in the league.
Both Zac MacMath and (former Rhino) Chase Harrison were out of the game against Toronto along with Chris Albright and Gabriel Gomez.
Their most common starting XI is: Zac MacMath; Raymon Gaddis, Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdes, Gabriel Farfan; Michael Farfan, Gabriel Gomez, Brian Carroll, Keon Daniel; Lionard Pavoy, and Freddy Adu.
Against Toronto their lineup was: Chris Konopka, Sheanon Williams, Raymon Gaddis, Carlos Valdes, Kai Herdling, Gabriel Farfan, Brian Carroll, Michael Farfan, Freddy Adu, Lionard Pavoy, Danny Mwanga. This may be more like the team that plays against the Rhinos on Tuesday night.
However, in the absence of the regular goalkeepers, Chris Konopka came up with big saves during Philadelphia’s loss to Toronto. If he does start against the Rhinos he will be feeling some swag regardless of the goal conceded due to finding a solid home instead of bouncing around as MLS Pool Goalkeeper.
Danny Mwanga only played five full games for Philadelphia last season due to two injuries (to his left hamstring and his right knee). Though he has featured in 9 matches, starting 5, he has only played a full 90 minutes 2 this season out of 11 matches for the team. Against Toronto, Mwanga played 83 minutes but was unable to create much. With Philadelphia not playing again in the league until June 16, nearly three weeks from their match against Toronto, I’d look for head coach Peter Nowak trying to jumpstart Danny Mwanga season by starting him against the Rhinos.
Because MLS teams recognize the international break, most teams don’t have games until the weekend of 15-17 of June. This also allows teams an important period of rest after the third round of the U.S. Open Cup (this Tuesday and Wednesday) and during the fourth round which is held on June 5th. New York Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe complained about the scheduling of the cup during the FIFA international window because of the loss of several players away with their national teams. The Red Bulls will be without four starters, but the Union are not going to suffer the same fate.
New trade signing Michael Lahoud of Old Spice impersonating fame [don't know what I'm talking about, see it here] has played 108 minutes since joining Philadelphia. He started against Dallas but came off the bench early against Toronto. I’d bet he sees significant minutes against the Rhinos in an attempt by Peter Nowak to test him out in different scenarios.
As I mentioned earlier, the biggest and most important question is how many starters will the Union play. MLS teams lucked out with the international break, because now they can play any of their first choice players in the third and fourth rounds of the cup without risking league form. USL-Pro and NASL teams however still have full weekend schedules before and after each of the next two rounds. The Rhinos played away Friday at Harrisburg and away Saturday at Dayton before playing in Chester on Tuesday against the Union. Back to back away matches the weekend before a Tuesday cup tie is just about the worst scheduling nightmare a team could fear. The writers of this site have said it before and we’ll say it again, USL pretty much screws over their teams with regard to the U.S. Open Cup.
USL didn’t do their teams any favors with scheduling, even though they knew far ahead of time that every American-based team would have a cup match on May 22. The Rhinos hosted Dayton the Friday before their second round match (18) and go to Harrisburg the following Friday (25) and Dayton the next day (26). This creates a situation in which the Rhinos will play 4 games in 8 days, and since they won the cup match against Brooklyn they will face their fifth game in 11 days on Tuesday May 29 against Philadelphia. It is not as though the U.S. Open Cup is a surprise to USL, but every year they fail to make room in their schedule for teams who are even remotely successful in their cup campaigns.
Because of the respective decisions of USL and MLS, the Union are actually able to play better rested starters than the Rhinos. This seems to give an advantage to Philadelphia over Rochester in Tuesday’s cup match.