Match Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Colorado Rapids

The Philadelphia Union and the Colorado Rapids kick off their 2015 MLS campaigns this Saturday night at PPL Park. For two clubs with such bright futures heading into last season, the arrows seem to be pointing in opposite directions for the teams this year.

Match time: Saturday 4:00pm ET

Location: PPL Park (Chester, PA)

Union preseason form: LWWWW

  • 2/10 at Tampa Bay Rowdies L 0-1
  • 2/18 vs. Costa Rica U-23s W 3-0
  • 2/21 vs. London FC W 6-0
  • 2/25 vs. Columbus Crew SC W 1-1 (5-3 PKs)
  • 2/28 vs. New York Red Bulls W 3-1

Rapids preseason form: LDDWL

  • 2/15 vs. San Jose Eartquakes L 0-2
  • 2/18 vs. Sporting Kansas City D 2-2
  • 2/21 vs. New England Revolution D 1-1
  • 2/25 at FC Tuscon W 0-1
  • 2/28 vs. RSL L 1-2

Both clubs ended the preseason by playing tournament finals against MLS opposition. The Union finished in triumphant fashion, defeating the New York Red Bulls 3-1 to win IMG Suncoast Pro Classic. Meanwhile, Colorado ended their preseason with a tough 2-1 loss to RSL, falling in the finals of a Desert Diamond Cup tournament stacked with quality MLS sides.

Colorado enters this game (and season) with a pitch filled with question marks. After a disappointing 2014 season that saw the Rapids allow the most goals in MLS (62) and finish with the league’s worst road goal differential (-24), the front office dropped 15 players from last year’s team and added nominal pieces (most notably former LA Galaxy midfielder Marcelo Sarvas) to change up their roster. Manager Pablo Mastroeni hopes to field a more competitive squad than the club that finished 2014 with a streak of 14 straight winless games.

Comparatively, Philadelphia seems to have a better sense of their identity heading into 2015 than last year at this time. Where the fans yearned for a consistent scoring threat a year ago, the front office brought in Fernando Aristeguieta on loan to put pressure on opposing goalkeepers. Last year was a comical revolving door of goalkeepers for Philadelphia, but this year the primary net-minding duties unquestionably belong to Rais M’Bohli.

Defensively, the Union’s depth will be a question in this game and the backline will likely be tested all season long. The arrival of Steven Vitoria (replacing Carlos Valdes) has been a welcome addition, as Union manager Jim Curtin penned the Portuguese Canadian defender into the starting lineup from his first day in Philly. The Rapids have yet to find someone to provide stability to their front line, and the new-look Union defense (and a revitalized M’Bohli) should be able to keep a still-fledgling Colorado offense at bay on Saturday.

This game also marks Zac Macmath’s return to PPL Park after being loaned from Philadelphia to Colorado during the offseason. Will he start in goal over incumbent Clint Irwin? Injured early in the 2014 season, Irwin never quite recovered form and Mastroeni has seemed hesitant to settle on a primary goalkeeper for his club. MacMath and Irwin have split starts since the former’s arrival, and while it’s likely Irwin gets the season-opening nod Macmath will certainly be in the Rapids’ lineup this Saturday. (Edit: Apparently, per the loan conditions set forth by the Union, Macmath is not eligible to play against Philadelphia.)

The last time these clubs played, Conor Casey, Sheanon Williams and Andrew Winger each found the back of the net to give the Union a 3-1 lead in the mid-summer encounter. However, midfielder Michael Lahoud was sent off in the 77th minute with a straight red card and the visiting Rapids responded with two goals in the final 11 minutes of regulation to earn a 3-3 draw at PPL Park.

This will be the second time in history the Union play their season opener at home. Philadelphia is 1-3-3 (W-D-L) all-time versus the Rapids, and Colorado has never lost at PPL Park (2-2-0).

(Photo courtesy of @PhilaUnion)