SEATTLE - OCTOBER 08: Sebastien Le Toux #9 of the Philadelphia Union battles Patrick Ianni #4 and James Riley #7 of the Seattle Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field on October 8, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. The Union defeated the Sounders 2-0. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Wet turf and over 36,000 hostile fans weighed upon the visiting team, but that didn't force the Philadelphia to play the young, inexperienced and almost frightened role that was seen nearly 18 months ago in Seattle. Rather, the Union controlled and played aggressively, showing what a new season can bring to a formerly struggling team.
It wasn't the prettiest of games that Philadelphia has ever played, but it was one of their most complete performances in the history of the young franchise's time in MLS. While the Seattle Sounders were missing three of their best players versus the Union, including offensive stars Freddie Montero and Mauro Rosales, they still put out much of their typical starting 11. Last year that still would most likely have meant a loss for the Union at one of MLS' toughest stadiums, on the road. Instead, the Union held strong and took away the full three points possible from the game.
Head coach Piotr Nowak decided to go with another uncharacteristic attacking line up, a strategy that had given the Union a 2-0-4 record in their six games leading up to the match against Seattle. Michael Farfan, Freddy Adu, Justin Mapp and Veljko Paunovic were started to set up striker Sebastien Le Toux, who has learned to play as the only forward in Nowak's new approach. For the first half of the game, the four could not help Le Toux break through the Sounders defense.
Adu was heavily criticized by fans during the first half for what seemed like a rather heavy first touch and lack of vision when passing. He did, however, display speed and agility that Adu had yet to show off since joining the Union. Veljko Paunovic and Justin Mapp were also maligned on Twitter and Facebook, as their first halves were considered sub-par. They would have their redemption in the second half, benefiting from fine defensive play.
Even before Gabriel Farfan copied his brother at the Sounders' endline, the Union defense was returning to the form that had experts talking about the Union making a playoff run at the beginning of the season. Where ever the Sounders turned up front, either Carlos Valdes or Danny Califf was there to halt their progression. The only chances of the night for the Sounders came from young goalkeeper Zac MacMath's aggressive movements within the box, which allowed shots like a chip that met the crossbar and bounced away, harmlessly.
Right back Sheanon Williams had one of his typically superb games, the kind of play that watchers of the Union have grown accustom to seeing. Defensively he was a stone wall, though some of his clearances were awkward because of the wet turf. On the offensive side of the ball, Williams' growing chemistry with Michael Farfan allowed the Union to continually move down the right side of the field with a kind of fluidity that is unusual for the Union.
However, it was Williams' fellow fullback who stole the show with his offensive play. Gabriel Farfan set up the Union's first goal, scored by Adu, after getting into the Seattle 18 using only his technical skill and abilities. Attempting an elastico, G. Farfan was beaten to the endline by James Riley, but moved around him and was able to find Adu, who had moved past his own marker to get goal side. The left footed attacking midfielder shot high and slotted the ball past Kasey Keller, who could do nothing but look up as he attempted his save.
Starting defensive midfielder Brian Carroll took on an attacking role for much of the second half and his push forward was rewarded in the 70th minute with the game's second goal. Le Toux brought the ball into the box and passed across the 18 to Carroll, who put a ball low and hard into the far goal netting, eluding Keller along the way. The goal was Carroll's first as a Union play in MLS play, after the MLS veteran scored one for Philadelphia against DC United in the US Open Cup early in the year.
Nowak threw on Amobi Okugo for Adu in the 75th minute, a move that normally includes veteran midfielder Stefani Miglioranzi. Okugo helped to shore up the midfield, as Carroll, Mapp, Paunovic and Michael Farfan made forays up high into Sounder territory. McInerney was later substituted in for Mapp in the 86 minute, and Miglioranzi came on for Panovic in the 89th minute for what appeared to be a time wasting move by Nowak.
The Union held onto their 2-0 lead, reversing the 2-0 decision they had dropped to the Sounders 18 months prior, showing the 180 degree turn the team has taken since starting the 2011 MLS season.