Philadelphia Union vs. Seattle Sounders
CenturyLink Field - Seattle, WA
May 3rd, 2014
10:00pm EST on MLS Live, The Comcast Network, Q13 Fox
The reeling Philadelphia Union travel to Seattle to face America's hottest player on MLS' biggest stage. John Hackworth recently said "the tide will turn," indicating the team's fortunes will improve, but this matchup has all the makings of shipwreck. The Union will face a raucous crowd at CenturyLink Field which boasts average attendance of over 38,000 fans. The Sounder's star Clint Dempsey has been on a tear this season scoring 8 goals, just 1 fewer than the entire Union team. And to top it off, Seattle has won three straight on the way to claiming the league's top spot in the table. The odds will be long for Philadelphia but a result could be a lighthouse for a team lost at sea.
What To Expect from the Seattle Sounders
The Sounders completed an MLS season high 525 passes last week en route to a 4-1 rout of Colorado. They are a high octane offense that looks to strike quickly. Expect the typical Union miscues to be punished quickly and deftly.
It all begins with Dempsey and Obafemi Martins at the top of their 4-4-2. They are the best striker combination in the league with a combined 11 goals and 7 assists. Both forwards can play centrally or out wide making them very difficult to account for as the attack reaches the final third.
There is not much drop-off in the midfield which is anchored by Cuban defector Osvaldo Alonso. Alonso completes more than 90% of his passes and plays an intimidating role in the center. Lamar Neagle plays an attacking role and so far has 3 goals and an assist. Gonzalo Pineda is the set up man in the center leading the team with 2 key passes per game. Last week Marco Pappa started on the left but Brazil hopeful Brad Evans relieved him last week and could be in line for his first start since week 2. He's been nursing a calf injury. Their midfield can both defend and push the attack to the dangerous duo.
Given the open style of play you'd think the defense would be a weak point. The defense has given up 12 goals in 8 games but they actually rank 3rd in MLS in goals allowed per 100 possessions. DeAndre Yedlin, another recent call up to the USMNT, is the star in the making at right back. Chad Marshall has been excellent this season manning the center of the defense with Djimi Traore. The defense can be had given the openness of play but it will take more creativity then the Union can likely muster.
At home expect the Sounders to take it to the Union, work to the possess the ball and strike quickly at a team that is struggling to defend consistently.
What To Expect from the Philadelphia Union
The Union want to play the same style as Seattle but don't have the firepower. The key decision for Hackworth will be to go toe to toe and try to possess the ball or allow Seattle to possess the ball and then look to counterattack if they make a mistake. This is a strategy Hackworth employed effectively last year and also against Portland in game 1 this year. But he has mostly opted to control tempo this season. I expect Hackworth to have the team sit back and defend understanding they will not be able to keep up in a wide open game.
That said, expect the unexpected from Hackworth as he looks to find the right lineup to end a 305 minute goalless streak from the run of play. The controversial decision to start Fabinho and Cruz on the wings last week shows that he will make moves based on his view of the game. The defensive back four appear to be settled for the Union lately despite average results. From left to right expect Gaddis, Wheeler, Okugo and Williams. Personally I'd like to see Berry take the spot for Wheeler. Berry's experience in this level of battle will be needed and Wheeler's aerial strength will not be as important against Seattle. MacMath will likely man the net, but this would be a good place to give Blake a look. The expectations for the Union in this game are low and the goalkeeper will likely get a crash course in what MLS shots look like.
Given the likely focus on defense, Carroll is a sure start along with Edu and Nogueira in the midfield. The forwards are where it gets interesting and where to expect more Hackworthian surprises. Wenger has been the most dangerous striker on the roster so expect Casey to get the nod. In his weekly press conference Hackworth criticized Maidana's commitment to defense, so in a game where defense is vital expect Maidana to get the start. Actually, I jest. Maidana played well on the counterattack in the opener so there is valid reason to give him the start on the left. On the right the options will be Wenger, Cruz and Le Toux. If you have a 3-sided coin, flip it now and let me know what you get. I'd like to see Wenger start on the right and see how he works the full field against this explosive offense. He has the best chance to create counterattacking opportunities of the 3 options in my opinion. The Union can't afford another of Le Toux's disappearing acts, and Cruz acquitted himself well last week, so Cruz would be my 2nd choice.
Projected Union Starting XI:
Sheanon Williams - Amobi Okugo - Aaron Wheeler - Raymon Gaddis
Brian Carroll - Maurice Edu - Vincent Nogueira
Andrew Wenger - Conor Casey - Cristian Maidana
Regardless of the outcome, we will learn what kind of team this 5th edition of the Union are. Can they bounce back from their worst performance of the year in Montreal or will they become just another victim of the high octane Sounders? I think the Union will put up a good battle but fall short 2-1.