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Match preview: Union at Sounders

What: Philadelphia Union at Seattle Sounders

Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA, USA

When: 10:00pm ET

TV: CSN

Radio: Call me and I’ll do it over the phone

Tuesday did not go well for the Union.

First, the LA Galaxy sleepwalked through their “showdown” with the Red Bulls. Then Fredy Montero scored a late winner to save the Seattle Sounders from 30 minutes of extra time in their US Open Cup final win over Chicago.

Something to play for

The LA loss leaves the Supporter’s Shield up for grabs, but Seattle has to win out to have a chance at securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs. CenturyLink field is usually rocking, and with a third straight US Open Cup wrapped up it will be even louder than usual on Saturday. After a timid performance against Chivas, the Union must try to impose themselves early if they want the three points that will all but secure a playoff spot.

Here is the scary thing about facing Seattle: They are built for making Cup runs while doing more than just keeping up appearances in the league. A bench that includes Erik Friburg, Nate Jaqua, and Roger Levesque attests to the depth of a squad that has lost only two league games since May. But seen through a rosier lens: Since May, half of Seattle’s losses have been at home!

They know their turf

The pitch at CenturyLink is a sloppy mess of rubber and something the local Putt-Putt threw out. At first glance, this might seem perfect for the Union, a team that thoroughly enjoys popping early balls over the top and skipping the carpet altogether. But, as anyone who watched Seattle confidently and efficiently pick apart Chicago on Tuesday saw, the Sounders know that opposing teams don’t want to pass on their turf. The home team does a fantastic job of isolating strikers through a combination of intense midfield pressure and brilliant defensive positioning. The Union will get their best chances by switching the angle of attack and moving forward quickly. Any dilly-dallying will see Osvaldo Alonso leading a counterattack faster than you can say, “It’s raining again.”

Attack

Seattle’s skill players are in top form right now. Fredy Montero (who is suspended) lives by the code, “Get goals or dive trying,” and Michael Fucito’s emergence has gone a long way toward opening up the field for Seattle’s top goalscorer. Behind them, Osvaldo Alonso has developed into a box-to-box midfielder if ever MLS had one, while Lamar Neagle likes to push up and stay there. If Alvaro Fernandez is healthy, he will add another dimension with his passing and ball movement. Fernandez didn’t look comfortable in possession against Chicago, but like a good NFL running back, he only needs one hole to break something big.

Abandoned third

It’s October so how about something scary. The heat maps from the Union’s tie with Chivas – which show where players spent their time on the field – indicate that only Michael Farfan and Sebastien Le Toux spent significant time in the final third. Even Justin Mapp rarely wandered as close as 25 yards to the Chivas goal. Veljko Paunovic, a striker, shows no heat in the final third at all. At all. If you, like PSP’s The Human Storch, thought the Union were exerting no pressure on Chivas, the stats bear you out. “From the opening whistle, however, the Union sat back, conceding possession and territory, a dangerous game to play on the road,” Eli wrote. It will be even more dangerous against a quality side like Seattle.

Here’s an amusing stat: Zac MacMath completed more passes on Saturday than Freddy Adu attempted. Just take a moment and process that. Do you have a good ruminating face? Use it. If not, now is a good time to practice.

What to Adu in the midfield

Adu had six successful passes and two incompletes. Amobi Okugo had 19 successful and 3 incomplete passes before being pulled at halftime. Now, clearly the Union were sitting back more than usual once they got the lead. But eight passes in forty-five minutes? That’s a whole lot of not showing up and/or not knowing where to be. Somehow Roger Torres fit 21 passes into his half of play, so the opportunities were there. The truth is that Freddy Adu plays like a well-dressed man on a lunchpail team. This isn’t to say that Adu isn’t one of the guys, just that he has not adjusted his playing style to fit a team that took two months to find an equilibrium after dispatching Carlos Ruiz. Thankfully Adu is not a distraction, but at this point he is nothing more than an exciting attraction.

To score on Seattle, Philly will need to work the ball through the midfield more than a few times. Aside from Michael Farfan heroics, how exactly can this be done? Justin Mapp’s return was as mercurial as ever, with a brilliant goal as a spike in an otherwise flatline performance. Veljko Paunovic needs to rest. Two trips to the west coast in successive weeks is not going to do a tired player any favors.

There is, unfortunately, no clear answer. The Union were torn apart when last they visited Seattle. That and the chance to leap in front of the pack in the playoff race be all the impetus the team needs to come out on the front foot against what should be a tired but motivated Sounders squad.

Starting Lineups

Union

MacMaster, Sheanomenon, El Kaiser, Bearfight, Garfan, Carroll, Okugo, Marfan, Torres, McStartMe, Le Toux

Sounders

Keller, Riley, Parke, Hurtado, Gonzalez, Fernandez, Alonso, Evans, Neagle, Fucito, Levesque.

Subs

Union

Hope Fulswitch, Mite Aswell, Cudby Helpfil

Sounders

Rosales, Friberg

Injuries

Union

OUT: GK Faryd Mondragon (R finger fracture); GK Thorne Holder (concussion); FW Levi Houapeu (L ankle strain); QUESTIONABLE: GK Zac MacMath (L ankle sprain); PROBABLE: FW Danny Mwanga (R hip strain); FW Veljko Paunovic (L calf strain)

Sounders

OUT: GK Terry Boss (concussion); MF Michael Seamon (lateral ankle tendon); MF Steve Zakuani (R leg fracture); FW O’Brian White (leg surgery); QUESTIONABLE: MF Mauro Rosales (R knee MCL sprain); DF James Riley (concussion)

Suspended for next yellow

Union

Carlos Valdes

Sounders

SEA: Osvaldo Alonso, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado

Syllable of Keon Daniel’s name I miss saying the most

“on”

 

8 Comments

  1. So I read Nowaks massive praise for Mapp in the round up … omg I was disgusted. The only time Mapp was visible in Chivas was the 10 seconds before his goal. I really hope he doesnt start Mapp.

    And you are so right about Jack Mac. This is the 100th time I heard about the long travel complaints. Well, how about playing someone with fresh legs in a position we need some life at over a player who hasnt done well for us (Pauno)?

    • I think you’re reading this all wrong James. We NEED mapp, we NEED pauno. I’m thinking rather than starting Jack, we give Migs a little more time, he’s earned it.

  2. McStartMe = Gold

  3. Totally agree on the Union subs.

  4. What I would do is the following. Backline: No New News. Midfield: 4 midfilelders in a diamond Carroll as defensive, torres on the right. marfan on the left nad then the youthful and fresh pfeffer as the attacking midfielder. Also have Jack Mac line up as a target man for le toux

    • what has pfeffer ever shown to deserve a starting spot? Seattle is really good and I think we need the second holding midfielder for this game and i’d go with a 4-2-3-1 to try and keep possession and not just play long balls all game. I’d play the regular backline, caroll and okugo holding, torres, adu,and marfan. then le toux alone up top. A point would go a long way and I think our best chance is keeping the ball, hitting Seba for a goal, and trying to keep them out of the net.

      • I like your lineup but isnt Adu nursing an ankle injury? I see the Serb starting instead of Adu. A tie away at Seattle would be like a win…and a win could end up being biggest away win in U history…however…Im not so optimistic about our chances tonight…
        For me, I would grade Pfeffer’s season (all 91 mins of it) a solid C+…but I wouldnt start him in Seattle

      • I agree.. Serb over Adu makes me kind of sad though. I don’t think he particularly deserves it, but I feel like Pfeffer gives a chance of something good, while we can expect (without having seen him in practices..) that Paunovic will continue being tired and a bit listless.

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