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Preview: Union at Seattle Sounders

What: Seattle Sounders vs Philadelphia Union

Where: CenturyLink Field

When: 4:30PM ET

TV: NBC Sports

Weather: 58 degrees, partly cloudy

Moonphase: Waxing gibbous

What a time for the Philadelphia Union to return to the site of one of their best performances. Last year, Freddy Adu and Brian Carroll were on the scoreboard, but the rest of the Union lineup was much different than the one that is likely to take the field tomorrow.

Veljko Paunovic, Sebastien Le Toux, and Justin Mapp are gone. Gabriel Farfan is suspended. Brian Carroll is battling injury. And Michael Farfan has transitioned into a more central role after spending most of 2011 on the wing.

The loss of Paunovic and the relocation of Marfan become big issues when you look at how well the duo performed against Seattle last season. Paunovic won 6 headers, put one headed shot on net, and completed 39 passes. Marfan put up a similar line with 9(!) headers and 38 passes completed. Alongside Freddy Adu and Sebastien Le Toux, these players allowed the Union to play the successful counterattacking game they’ve always dreamed of putting on the pitch. And the incredible thing was that it worked so well against a very good team. On the road!

Why this is not the perfect match for the 4-4-2

The strikers who have given Seattle real problems this year are Dom Oduro, Omar Cummings and, no surprise, Stevie Lenhart. What these strikers do well is find pockets in defenses. Instead of going to the backs, they drift away and make their teammates find them.

This idea, that a striker can have the freedom to move into pockets of space with the belief that his midfielders will still be able to find him, speaks to a fundamental issue with how the Union offense has played this season: Trust. Lionard Pajoy would wear flashing neon and carry around one of those flags they put in golf holes if he could. It’s clear that Philly’s number one striker doesn’t think his midfield can find him unless he’s right in the middle of their vision. As a result, Pajoy is often reacting rather than separating from his defender.

Instead of adding a second striker, the Union should push Freddy Adu to get high up the pitch whenever the team has the ball. Danny Mwanga, as the lone striker, should push the Seattle back line around in ways that Union strikers Lionard Pajoy has not done this season.

Why this is the perfect match for the MwagicMan

Giving Mwanga a chance to lead the line gives the entire team a chance to change how they move on the field. Mwanga’s priority does not need to be the ball. It can be creating space for his midfielders to exploit. This is a concept the Union as a team have rarely embraced, but it worked against Seattle last year and it can work again. Even if the first ball out of midfield isn’t to the striker, the final pass can be. This is a trust issue. Mwanga can leave the space between the center backs and trust that other players will fill it and that his chance will come one or two passes later.

Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Jeff Parke are fine center backs, but they look a lot worse when their speed and mobility are tested.

Essentially, the point here is that we all know strikers are meant to score. But they also are meant to exert a strong influence on what the playmakers see when they look up. We all know soccer is about angles and space. But it isn’t just the space around the ball carrier, it’s every line of defense between the ball and the goal.

Very few defenses give up goals when they are in their standard flat four back setup. It’s when two defenders get too close together, when one steps too far up the field or too far back, that’s when chaos takes hold: Defenders back off when they should step, lunge when they should wait, and misread their angles. This chaos can be manufactured. All that’s required is smart, early movement.

Why Freddy Adu has to be great or has to be benched

Just for this game, Freddy Adu has to be the best player on the pitch, or he has to take a break and let Kai Herdling run the left. Seattle’s outside backs have been incredible in 2012. In particular, Zach Scott on the right has made opposing attackers disappear while delivering great service and contributing a goal of his own. If Adu can challenge Scott, pin him back and take him on, Seattle will lose an important advantage.

Adu also has to be responsible defensively. Against Los Angeles, Eddie Johnson showed that if Rosales and Estrada are given time to cross, he will get on the end of it. After Lenhart picked apart the Union back line late on Saturday, there is a huge burden on the midfield to limit good service.

Why the back four have to stay the same

After Ray Gaddis’ turnover led to Seattle’s first goal, there could be a push for the young right back to hit the bench against Seattle. But let’s put this in perspective: Ray Gaddis made one Porfirio Lopez-like mistake. He did not play a Lopez-like game which, at this point, should be synonymous with a Shavar Thomas-like game.

The counterargument is that Sheanon Williams’ attacking could be very useful on the right flank. This is true. But his defending could be used on the left even more. Without him, there won’t be any.

Why the Union midfield can excel against Seattle

Philadelphia has the pieces to match the dynamism in Seattle’s middle third. With Keon Daniel back in the fold, the Union can contain the Sounders playmakers and exploit the less-than-stellar defense they play in the center of the park. The Sounders benefit from the fact that teams are a bit afraid of pushing forward against them. It doesn’t take much for the Seattle offense to rev into top gear on the counterattack, and this can scare the opposition into playing a more conservative game. The Union need to go in the opposite direction and understand that putting Marfan, Adu, Herdling and Keon Daniel on the pitch doesn’t do much unless they are scraping their studs inside the opponent’s box.

Amobi Okugo is the type of player who should thrive against a team like the Sounders. It’s a team filled with quick, technical players who think they can create something special every time they look up. Okugo has a tendency to give opponents too much space, trusting his athleticism to allow him to sneak in at the first error. The problem is that players at this level often don’t make errors. Instead, they take the yard or two you give them and make plays.

What would really scare a team like Seattle is an Amobi Okugo who wakes up Saturday morning and realizes that he can get as close as he wants to Montero, Alonso, and Rosales. After last week’s loss, Carlos Valdes said, “Everybody is trying to do whatever they can without risking. And sometimes in soccer you have to take this risks in order to get points.” Okugo can look like he’s trying to play the way he thinks he should be playing if he wants to keep playing. No. Wrong.

Amobi Okugo should be playing like a strong speed demon with passing range. Then it’ll be the other team giving him an extra yard or two.

Why the Union need to score two goals on Saturday

Because Seattle will score (at least) one.

The Sounders have a +7 goal differential and have scored at least two goals in four of their five home matches this season. Against Los Angeles, both Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero were constant threats. And if you think Sigi Schmidt’s team hasn’t forgotten the thrashing Philly gave them at CenturyLink last season… well, let’s just say they have a lot to be angry about. The Union have been beaten at PPL before, but it would be tough to think of a time they got manhandled like the Sounders did at home. (Oh, wait… playoffs against Houston. That was easy.)

Prediction

2-2. It’s a rosy one, but with the proper lineup, this is a good chance for the offense to wake up.

Lineups

Union

  • GK: MacMath
  • DEF: Gaddis, Valdes, Califf, Williams
  • MID: Okugo, Gomez, Daniel, Adu, Marfan
  • FWD: Mwanga

Seattle

  • GK: Bryan “Meriweather” Meredith
  • DEF: Zach “Zack” Scott, Jeff Parke-Bench, Jhon “John” Kennedy Hurtado, Leonardo “LoGon” Gonzalez
  • MID: Mauro “Guns ‘n” Rosales, Brad “B-Rad” Evans, Osvaldo “Ozzfest” Alonso, David “The David” Estrada
  • FWD: Fredy “I only dive because you keep almost fouling me” Montero, Eddie “I came back to MLS because I wanted to. Really.” Johnson

Injuries

Union

  • OUT: MF Roger Torres (L knee surgery recovery); FW Krystian Witkowski (concussion)
  • DOUBTFUL: DF Gabriel Farfan (L hamstring strain)
  • QUESTIONABLE: MF Brian Carroll (R hamstring strain)

Seattle

  • OUT: GK Josh Ford (R knee stress fracture); GK Andrew Weber (L ankle sprain); DF Michael Tetteh (L hamstring strain)
    MF Steve Zakuani (R leg fracture); FW Babayele Sodade (R knee ACL tear)
  • DOUBTFUL: MF Alvaro Fernandez (R quad strain)
  • QUESTIONABLE: DF Patrick Ianni (lower back pain); PROBABLE: MF Mauro Rosales (R foot contusion)

Suspensions

Union

  • Gabriel Farfan (through May 13)

Seattle

  • None

12 Comments

  1. You really think they wouldn’t start Carroll? I mean he is one of those “God himself couldn’t take him out of the lineup right now” type players Nowak anoints every season.

    • Adam Cann says:

      I just think that if Carroll isn’t 100%, putting him in against Seattle is bad for business. Especially when you have a ready-made replacement.

  2. Gordon Thompson says:

    Great plan. I think Pajoy must have an “every game” clause in his contract that might not let coaches listen to reason. Although I would prefer one of young forwards paired with Mwanga, can’t argue your preview.

  3. DarthLos117 says:

    Funny that a 2-2 scoreline is considered rosy. The Sounders aren’t leaking goal and we aren’t scoring them. If we score 2 goals we win but we are gonna leave Seattle wet with our tail between our legs. 3-1.

  4. I really enjoy these previews… not only for the insightful comments, but also for the nicknames you provide for the opposing team’s players. Well done as usual.

  5. DarthLos117 says:

    Freddy “I came back to MLS because I wanted to. Really.” Adu

  6. Dan Walsh says:

    I love that we’ve incorporated the moon phase into our previews. The PSP super PAC endorses this.

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