Without further adieu…
Let’s start with who’s playing who. First we have Philadelphia Union hosting their USL affiliate (and my hometown team) Harrisburg City Islanders. The Dayton Dutch Lions pay a visit to Sporting Kansas City. Chivas USA hosts the Charlotte Eagles. And the streaking San Jose Earthquakes welcome the slumping Seattle Sounders.
Harrisburg City Islanders @ Philadelphia Union, 7:30PM (Live Stream)– Since the fourth round a few weeks back, a lot has happened for Philly. Defender and captain Danny Califf was traded to Chivas for Michael Lahoud, Zac MacMath returned from his head injury, and, most prominently, Peter Nowak was relieved of his managing duties while John Hackworth fills in as interim boss. Not to mention reports out today that the Union picked up former Chicago Fire center back Bakary Soumare (no word on whether he’ll be available for tonight, though). Philly managed to trounce once-great SKC over the weekend 4-0 at PPL Park. Hackworth seems to have instilled some confidence in this sliding club, especially with his young guns. Jack McInerney scored two against SKC and has shown good form in his last two starts, while newcomer Antoine Hoppenot seems to be an upcoming with stellar performances the past two weeks.
Harrisburg will need to be on their toes for this one. Philly has already said they’re not going to be treating them kindly. Sainey Touray needs to keep his game up in USOC play, while Nick Noble and the rest of the defense must continue their solid performance so far in the tournament.
It’ll be interesting to see the line-up Hackworth comes out with. If they rest Pajoy and start McInerney and Hoppenot up top, with Adu as a wide attacker (similar to how they played him on Saturday), I think Philly will probably see victory. But they still need to crack the rock hard Harrisburg defense that has proven itself so far this year. The midfield battle will still be key for both teams if either want to end this swiftly. I won’t be surprised to see the game stall and wind up in added time if both midfields come out on the top of their game. Prediction: Harrisburg 1 : 2 Philadelphia (AET)
Dayton Dutch Lions @ Sporting KC, 8:30PM (Live Stream) — The Dutch Lions finally won in league play over the weekend, defeating Wilmington 4-0, their first win in 13 regular season matches. Luckily for Dayton, SKC is winless in the last two with the only points over their last four coming from two home victories against Colorado and Toronto (two subpar teams) and a tie against the currently struggling Sounders in Seattle. Their 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Philly could mean they either enter this match sans confidence or with a glut of revenge in their hearts.
Dayton has proven that they’re up to the task in USOC this year, with knocking of PDL powerhouse Michigan Bucks in the last round, as well as MLS side Columbus Crew in the third round. There’s no lack of fight in the Lions, but they better bring their A-game if they want to stun the always-amazing crowd at Livestrong Sporting Park.
I see a few SKC starters sitting this one. Nielsen, Kamara, Cesar, and maybe even Collin. But look for the return of Matt Besler to central defense. The midfield is still stacked for KC, as Espinoza, Nagamura, and Zusi will probably all get the nod. The same is true with the attack, as Saad will probably start once more, as well as Bunbury. Dayton’s defense will need to mitigate the creative runs and passing in the transition play between the midfield and strikers. If they can do that, I think Dayton may have a chance of knocking off another giant. If not, look for a goal fest for Sporting. Prediction: Dayton 0 : 3 SKC
Charlotte Eagles @ Chivas USA, 10:30PM (Live Stream) — The dynamics of this game are interesting because of what has happened in the time between the third round and the quarters. Back on May 29th, Charlotte managed to storm into Frisco and hand FC Dallas an early exit with a 2-0 win. Just this last weekend, Chivas USA traveled to Frisco to see if they could do the same thing in league play, but only came out with a point in the scoreless draw. Dallas is now winless in 11 straight games, and the Goats might be seeing early signs that their gritty defensive play is cracking at the seems.
Charlotte needs to attack and attack early. Take the fight to Chivas and make Dan Kennedy stand on his head as many times as possible; force him to make saves. Keeping the midfield organized and creative will be the challenge for the USL team, and the veteran presence of Vagenas, LaBrocca, and Minda might spell doom for the Eagles. And a possible threat of a powerful counter-attack at the hands of Juan Agudelo, Jose Erick Correa, or even Alejandro Moreno could allow Chivas to escape once again. Prediction: Charlotte 0 : 1 Chivas USA
Seattle Sounders @ San Jose Earthquakes, 10:30PM (Live Stream) — If there ever was a story of two polar opposites, it’s San Jose and Seattle. The former has been labeled the “gooney squad” by everyone but themselves, somehow managing to eek out wins in the dying minutes of games about five or six times so far this season. The latter, however, has been seeing their veteran core of players under-perform, while their three DP’s have seem limited time together on the field. The one bright spot for Seattle has been the scoring of Eddie Johnson, two goals in his last two league games. But the defensive miscues have been rife in the Emerald City.
San Jose must stick to their usual routine: midfield dominance led by the creative Tressor Moreno, and the capitalizing on mistakes by Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart, and Alan Gordon. The return of Victor Bernardez has shored up the defense, and if they can continue to be that brick wall they have been recently, I sincerely doubt Seattle will find a way to score. Which means no four-peat of USOC Champions.
So how does Seattle win? Easy — get all their big names on the field at once and throw everything they have at it. Rosales, Fernandez, and Montero need to all start. If they play the usual Sounders way with creativity and intelligent runs from the midfield, with Johnson playing clean-up at times in the box, I think they have a shot. The only position on the field that could be questionable for this strategy is in net: with Michael Gspurning still out, Schmid has chosen Andrew Weber over Bryan Meredith. Neither young netminder has given me much confidence lately, and it could be the death of the reigning champs if Weber or Meredith don’t have a breakout game. Prediction: Seattle 1 : 3 San Jose