WAYNE, Pa. – Peter Nowak has a pretty good idea why the Portland Timbers have not lost a league game at home in three tries this season.
And this week the Philadelphia Union manager did his best to try to combat the expansion club’s homefield advantage.
Leading up to Friday’s game between the Timbers and Union at JELD-WEN Field (10:30 pm ET, FOX Soccer; Watch FREE online), Nowak had his club practice at the indoor turf facilities at YSC Sports, rather than their normal outdoor training field at Chester Park.
Nowak’s hope was that this change would better prepare for the Union (4-1-1) to deal with the 110-by-70 dimensions of JELD-WEN Field, which is smaller than PPL Park. Portland’s field also has what the Union’s stadium does not: turf.
“I’m worried about the pitch because it’s a little bit too small, and when you watch games when they play at home, it’s like pinball,” Nowak said. “You’ve got to figure out a good plan for that, which is why we trained [at YSC]. We had a couple of good days here adjusting to the turf because it’s completely different.”
Getting his team on even footing is vital because Nowak also recognizes that the Timbers (3-3-1) have a strong squad.
When asked about Portland tactically, the Union manager specifically mentioned defender Rodney Wallace, midfielders Kalif Alhassan and Jeremy Hall and forwards Kenny Cooper and Jorge Perlaza as players Philly need to contain if they wish to escape with three points.
“They have speed,” Nowak said. “And as I said about the field, we need to go there and find what is really good distance for spacing, so we can make sure we limit those kinds of things and try to open them up as well.”
The Union defense, which has surrendered a mere two goals this season, has been up for just about any challenge this season. On Saturday, however, the unit will be shorthanded vs. Portland with starting left back Jordan Harvey serving a one-game suspension for the red card he was shown last weekend vs. San Jose.
This is not the first time, though, the club has been without a veteran player. Brian Carroll, Justin Mapp and Stefani Miglioranzi have all missed a little action with minor injuries this season. Luckily for Philly, Nowak has had good success rotating in young players like Keon Daniel, Amobi Okugo, Roger Torres and Michael Farfan, the latter of whom figures to get the start in Harvey’s place.
“We have options to shuffle every couple of days and make sure guys will be ready not only for the first game but also the game after,” Nowak said. “The last thing I want to do is burn players out.”
Shuffling the lineup will be important as the club prepares for three games in the next eight days. For now, though, the Union just hope to continue their own impressive season while slowing down the excitement that’s been building in Portland.
“I can see on TV that they’re very happy to have a team in Portland,” Union striker Carlos Ruiz said. “We have to play against a new team that is very good on their own pitch. We’ll just work hard and try to win another game.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.