As part of our coverage of tonight's match against the Philadelphia Union, Scott Kessler from the SB Nation site The Brotherly Game was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Union and tonights match. A big thanks to Scott for his help and we encourage everyone to head over to The Brotherly Game for all things Philadelphia Union as well as some excellent analysis on tonight's match.
RBM: With some of our readers being unfamiliar with the Philadelphia Union, could you talk a little bit about the club and its history?
TBG: The Philadelphia Union welcome Everton to the (not-so) friendly confines of PPL Park, in Chester, PA, tonight. This game will be the Union's fourth non-preseason friendly against a foreign opponent since the club was founded, began to play in MLS, in 2010.
RBM: In only their second season as a club the Union are sitting in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, what has been the reason for their turn around from their inaugural season?
TBG: Currently, the Union sit atop of the Eastern Conference with two games in hand over their rivals, the New York Red Bulls, and already stand two points ahead as is.The team has gone from one of the worst teams last year, in its expansion season, to one of MLS' best teams. The additions of Faryd Mondragon and Carlos Valdes, both Colombians, and Carlos Ruiz have helped to change the fortunes of Philadelphia. Modragon has almost revolutionized the Union approach to defense by organizing the backline like no other can in MLS. Valdes will most likely be up for Best XI contention at the end of the season, and Ruiz leads the Union with six goals.
RBM: What are the thoughts of Union fans regarding tonight's match?
TBG: For the fans, excitement is a little tempered since the news that Howard won't play came out. Some are looking forward to the under-18s academy game that will take play prior to the main event friendly, while others are just excited to play against an English Premier League team at all. There are those that dislike the idea of a midseason friendly against foreign teams, as well.
RBM: What players are going to be the key for the Union against Everton?
TBG: The players to watch on the Union side are Mondragon, Valdes, Sheanon Williams, Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux. Ruiz would be included on the list, but he's no longer a spectacle to watch when he plays. Anyone who watches Howard on a regular basis will appreciate the little things that Mondragon does. Valdes is a strong, quick, solid center back with the flair of an attacking player, making him always fun to watch. Williams, in his first full MLS season since joining the Union in late 2010, has begun to find himself in USMNT talks because of his attacking and defensive play at right back. Mwanga had European teams looking at him after his freshman year of college, but signed with MLS and was drafted by the Union first overall in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. He has impressed in limited minutes since. Le Toux runs, runs, runs and runs some more, seemingly having inhuman stamina. While his workrate this season has seriously diminished, only one goal and multiple assists, Le Toux remains a fan favorite.
RBM: Who are the players from Everton that give the Union the most cause for concern?
TBG: On the Everton side of the ball, the names that come to mind are Howard, Tim Cahill, Mike Arteta, Leighton Baines and Jack Rodwell. Of course there is also "Fro" Fellaini, but he and Howard will not be participating in the friendly tonight. Cahill is probably the most interesting offensive player on the team, and Arteta most likely the most talented. Rodwell is clearly the up and coming of the team, with so called "larger" clubs having been after him for a while now. Baines is the player to watch of the lot, as the left back is on his way to taking over the starting left back spot on the English national team.
RBM: What is your prediction for the game?
TBG: Prediction: Union 1 - 0 Everton. The Union have played very well against foreign sides in the past and have a winning record against them, with a +3 goal differential in those three international friendlies.