CHESTER, Pa. – After two straight losses to start the season, the Philadelphia Union’s quest for their first win of the 2012 season won’t get any easier this weekend.
Not only do they play a strong Chicago Fire squad on the road on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), they’ll do so without two key members of their backline: Danny Califf and Sheanon Williams.
The club announced Friday that Califf, Philly’s captain and starting center back, will miss his second straight contest as he works toward full fitness after undergoing offseason knee surgery.
Williams, meanwhile, is currently away with the US Under-23 team at Olympic qualifying.
The Califf situation has been a tough one for the club since last weekend, when Califf publically questioned head coach Peter Nowak’s decision to sit him for the team’s eventual 2-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids. But Califf preached caution on Friday.
"We're just going on the trajectory that we want to get [me] fit and strong," Califf told philadelphiaunion.com after Friday's training session at PPL Park. "So we're taking the week leading up [to the game against Vancouver] and this weekend heading into next week to try and achieve that. Overall just getting fitter and stronger [is the goal]."
That leaves left back Porfirio López and center back Carlos Valdés as the only opening-day defensive starters to deal with a Chicago attack that features the electric Dominic Oduro, who enjoyed a breakout 12-goal season last year.
“They have good players,” said Valdés, who will likely anchor the Union defense alongside López, Chris Albright and perhaps Gabriel Farfan, Michael Farfan or rookie Raymon Gaddis. “With Oduro and [Marco] Pappa, you’ve got to make sure to get good pressure on them and don’t give an advantage for them. The game will be a difficult game for us but we are working to try to get an advantage.”
While there’s still more than enough time for the Union to rebound from a rough start, a win in Chicago would certainly calm the critics, especially with a PPL Park showdown looming against ex-Union star Sébastien Le Toux and the Vancouver Whitecaps on March 31.
But for Nowak, there’s no need to hit the panic button. The MLS season, after all, is a long one filled with plenty of peaks and valleys.
“Kansas City, I believe, they had a not-so-good start last season and they ended up being in the top four,” Nowak said. “It’s the tricky part with our league – from week to week, things change. You can be up and you can be down. I think we raised expectations from last year. I think we are going in the right direction with our mindset. I don’t think the young players we have feel the pressure right now.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.