The second half of the season kicks off on the road for the Colorado Rapids, with a trip to Philadelphia to face the Union being the first of their final stretch of 17 games. I exchanged some questions with Eugene of the Brotherly Game blog so we could check in on our friends from the East. His answers to my questions are below, and you can see my answers to his Rapids-centric questions over at their blog.
BW: I don't think I can go any other way with this other than asking how our old friend Conor Casey is doing. He missed last year's contest between the teams, does he start this time?
BG: Conor Casey has been a fan favorite ever since his first game with the Union. He plays a tough, physical style that goes over well with the Philadelphia fans and he scores goals (which goes over well anywhere). Casey's 10 goals were second only to Jack McInerney in 2013, and he has 4 goals in 13 games this season. He's had some nagging injuries that has kept him out of a few matches, but nothing like the injuries he saw that derailed him in 2011 and 2012. I would imagine Casey gets the start Saturday. He did play 61 minutes on Tuesday in the US Open Cup match against New England, so he may not play the full 90, but barring something unforseen I think he starts.
BW: When looking at the Union, one stat sticks out to me: the 16 road goals to 10 home goals. Is that a statistical anomaly, or is there something about the road that gets the motors revving?
BG: I think the stat might be a bit misleading. The goal differential is -2 for both home and away matches for the club, so the club has been equally bad at home and on the road. The club has only had four games so far this season where they've scored three goals, two at home (5-3 loss against New England and a 3-3 draw with Vancouver) and two on the road (3-0 win at Chivas USA and 3-1 win at New England). The past five matches have seen the Union offense come together, and four of those five matches have come on the road. So I think it might just be a bit of an anomaly.
BW: Philly has the second-worst GA stat in the East. What's been the issue with the defense, and did it have something to do with your now-departed former coach? Do you expect it to get better under new management, or is it something that might take more time than that?
BG: I think there's been a slew of problems with the defense, each of which has helped exacerbate the situation. For the first time in the club's history they are without a veteran center back. The Union have always had a Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, or Jeff Parke on the back line - and this season that lack of leadership has really hurt the team. Injuries have also been a factor. That has led the club to have a revolving door of defensive assignments this season, often with players played out of position. Sheanon Williams - normally a right back - has played center back a few times. Maurice Edu is now being put at center back, although he is on a red card suspension for the match Saturday. Aaron Wheeler - a forward - was put there for a few games. And while John Hackworth certainly did his fair share of experimenting on the back line, Jim Curtin seems to be doing the same. So I think you have this perfect storm of things happening that has really hurt the Union defensively. Now the Union are rumored to be in the market for a center back, and there is much speculation about whether Carlos Valdes will return from his loan stint with Argentine club San Lorenzo. Our understanding is that Valdes won't return to the club until after the Copa Libertadores in August, which means the patchwork defense will have to hold for a bit longer.
Predicted lineup: MacMath; Fabinho, White, Williams, Gaddis; Okugo, Maidana, Nogueira, Cruz; Casey, LeToux
Predicted score: With a patchwork defense and the club coming off of a Tuesday match, I wouldn't be surprised if the Rapids grabbed all three points at PPL Park. 3-2 Colorado.