An odd thing happened with the Philadelphia Union at the beginning of the season, people forgot how new the team was. People stopped talking about them as an expansion team, and instead just as a team with some inconsistency, youth and capable of challenging for first in the East with no "expansion" caveat. Other teams have taken much longer to shed the expansion label, or in Seattle and Chicago's situations did so well the label stuck for years.
When the Seattle Sounders host the Union Saturday night at 7 PM (use the ticket originally issued for this rescheduled game) the match will feature the return of Sebastien Le Toux. Le Toux is on a hot streak right now, but the offense is limited to him. Former prodigy Freddy Adu will also suit up for the Philly side, his first club play here since a little game against Real Madrid when Adu was with DC United. With the Union returning to health and desperately needing points in their Playoff battle (could finish tops in their Conference, as a Wild Card or even miss the 2nd season) we connect with Scott from the Brotherly Game for three questions.
SaH: This date was originally scheduled midsummer, was Philly stronger then than they are now?
tBG: The only argument that can be made for the Philadelphia Union being stronger than earlier this summer, is that the defense was more consistent around July 23 than it is now. At this point in time, Sebastien Le Toux has more than made up for the problems felt after the sale of former striker Carlos Ruiz to Tiburones Rojos de Veracruz (a Mexican second division team). The Frenchman has successfully rebounded from one of the coldest starts to a season that a previous-39 point player (14 goals, 11 assists in 2010) has ever had. Nine goals in eight games has propelled Le Toux into the MVP discussion - at least according to the Union. However, the defense isn't the same. For a more in depth answer, check out question number three.
SaH: Sebastien Le Toux has been on a scoring tear lately, but the Union aren't winning most of those games. Is this an issue of support?
tBG: Simply put, yes. The Union have gotten fantastic output from Le Toux, and increased playmaking from the young Roger Torres, along with Michael Farfan, but there's not much goal scoring, or attacking support for Le Toux. Too many times the Frenchman is the only player pushing forward, leaving him to either wait or push ahead and hope to beat multiple defenders. It's been rather frustrating to watch. Thankfully Danny Mwanga is no longer listed on the injury report at all, and is due to play for the first time in what seems like weeks at this point.
SaH: After a tremendous start the defense has struggled. Is it an issue of personel, natural regression or tactics?
tBG: The defense has taken a step back since the Union traded former starting left back Jordan Harvey to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Gabriel Farfan has been a solid, if unspectacular replacement for Harvey. The rookie is a converted attacking midfielder, someone who can fulfill head coach Piotr Nowak's demand for an offensive push up the left side of the field. His problems stem from inexperience at the left back position. Early into his stint defensively, Farfan's inconsistency hurt Danny Califf's ability to continue his "rebirth" this year. Farfan's propensity to jump forward and attack without abandon, something that has lessened in recent weeks, drew his fellow defenders into unnatural positions, leaving them with less than desirable results. As the second half of the season has gone along, Farfan has improved, but the Union defense can't see to recapture the early season form that you asked about.
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tBG: How have the Sounders coped with being in multiple tournaments this season? Has Sigi aptly handled the personnel situation?
SaH: Adrian Hanauer (GM/Owner) says his job is to get as much talent possible for the coach to select and use. He's clearly done that job. Having so many options has meant that Sigi can goes 8 players deep in players with more than 2 goals in all competitions (MLS, US Open Cup, CCL) and 19 players who have played in 30% or more of available minutes in the same. He's done this after losing two players for the season quite early, and the team sits in 2nd in league play, could win its CCL Group and just won their third straight US Open Cup. There is absolutely no doubts about the depth of this squad.
tBG: There was a discussion earlier this season on S@H about who should start up front. Has anyone truly cemented his place in the striker role(s) heading into the playoffs? (Secondary question: If Montero, who is his partner in crime?)
SaH: The most common pairing right now is Fredy Montero and Mike Fucito. It is a technical & speed pairing of two smaller players that is capable of creating dozens of scoring opportunities in a game. Luckily for the Union Montero is out with Yellow Card accumulation so you'll only get diminutive, speedy Fucito (6 Goals, 3 Assists in 1230 minutes) and likely Nate Jaqua. This will shift Seattle back to a big/small style with both Fucito and a winger playing off of Jaqua's headers won, at least ideally. Jaqua's had an off season scoring only 2 goals with 6 assists in his 1263 minutes. He's much more of a passer now than scoring threat.
tBG: Seattle has been on a ridiculous run over the past 16 games. Do you think that they can keep it up heading into the playoffs with a somewhat schedule to finish out the regular season?
SaH: After winning the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup the schedule gets a bit lighter. The team actually only plays one game next week and doesn't need the result in their final CCL match against Monterrey. The remainder of the schedule after the Union gets even easier with the San Jose Earthquakes closing out the home season (over 50,000 seats sold) and then a road match against Chivas USA as the final tune-up to the MLS Cup Playoffs. A worst case scenario in these final four matches is probably 6 points, but I would expect 8 or more. The players and coaching staff want to keep the pressure up on the LA Galaxy so they can't rest their aging stars.