One of the major story lines of this match is the fact that Peter Nowak will not be coaching. This is the final game of his suspension for entering the field of play after Gabriel Farfan's red card tackle in the Union's match against Chivas USA. The Seattle Sounders may be missing keeper Michael Gspurning, more on that will come out today, but are as healthy and fresh as can be for their Saturday midday game against the Philadelphia Union. The national TV (NBC SportsNet) game sees the return of Arlo White for a broadcast with lead-in programming of the NHL Playoffs, this is also the reason the match is now at 1:30 PM Pacific.
The Union's brief history is a bit like Chivas USA in that they've had one good season, but their first was fairly poor and the current one may even be worse. Still Philly has talent on the field, most of it young. They were one of the primary teams providing U-23 talent to the failed attempt by the United States to qualify for the Summer Olympics. Most famous is one Fredy Adu, who may still become what he was once promised to be. Today's three questions is a slightly different format for the original discussion. Rather than via email Scott (of The Brotherly Game) and I conducted this over gchat. It was more conversational, but will be adjusted to put the Philly Union answers at the top.
SaH: Should Seattle expect Philly to be less "aggressive" with Nowak watching from the pressbox?
tBG: The Union ran pretty much the same formation and tactics they've played all season with him off of the bench this past weekend. I think that might change given Lionard Pajoy's failure to establish anything as a loan striker, and the Danny Mwanga-Jack McInerney partnership's success late in the second after both were substituted into the game. Perhaps Kai Herdling, a recent loanee from Hoffenheim's reserve team, might change things as well, but it'll have to be seen on Saturday. It would seem to me that being more aggressive on the road against the league's best defense would make little sense, so I'm leaning toward a more conservative outlook on Saturday.
SaH: But less "fouly"?
tBG: Gabriel Farfan won't be on the field... going with yes on that one. He and his twin brother, Michael, have gotten away with fouls all season. This Union squad is rather chippy, led by box-to-box midfielder Gabriel Gomez. I don't think it'll get through the rest of the season with less than a card per game.
SaH: From the outside Adu still has all the talent to be a strong MLS talent, what's holding him back?
tBG: This season it's the fact that he's still transitioning into a full time winger. I'm in the camp that believes Adu is best when he's deployed centrally and allowed to make square passes that rip apart the opposing defense. However, Adu has shown heart and energy out of the wing position, including once when he was visibly upset at being taken out of a game midway through the second half. Adu is actively trying to put his best self out on the field and that's all that was being asked of him last year. Now he has to live up to his high price tag ($600,000+ in guaranteed compensation) and the hype behind his name. The Union offense has so much potential between him, Michael Farfan and the young strikers in tow, but it has yet to be put all together.
SaH: Will the real Zac MacMath please stand up?
tBG: In terms of what?
SaH: His early games he could be blamed for a couple goals. Lately his numbers are great. Which is the real MacMath?
tBG: The San Jose game is what he is right now. A very good up-and-coming goalkeeper that has confidence in his defense. Early season MacMath hadn't totally taken control of his role, but now he has. The former University of Maryland star can be a potential difference maker when it comes to shot stopping and it's certainly telling when the defense isn't as shot stopping as it was last season, yet MacMath manages to keep the ball out of the back of the net for over 400 minutes. That period of time includes Danny Califf missing games, uncertainty at the left back position and rookie Raymon Gaddis playing right back. MacMath has a very bright future ahead of him at this rate.
SaH: With the split playoffs is there any more comparing how the Union did to Western expansion teams?
tBG: Last year, this year?
SaH: now and moving forward
tBG: I think player development, brand development, stadium situations and playoff advancement can still be used as comparison subjects.
We now go to the earlier portion of our conversation.
tBG: My first question for you is how the Sounders have done so well so far (13 points from six games) despite Eddie Johnson having showed little thus far? David Estrada stepped up and filled the gap in the first few games, but what since?
SaH: Seattle is a defense first team that rides the back of quality keepering, strong centerbacks and one of the best players in MLS at the defensive mid - Osvaldo Alonso. So even when the offense isn't that good, like right now, the Sounders will always be competitive. From day one they built along the spine from the back forward with the notable exception being the 09 DP. Estrada isn't as good as his first 2 games show, and EJ7 isn't as bad as he's looked so far, plus Montero and Rosales aren't in midseason form yet. When the offense gets going it will again be amongst the best.
tBG: Which member of the backline has impressed the most thus far?
SaH: Patrick Ianni - while Jeff Parke got the national team call and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is near his 09 form, Ianni has grown from a useful 3rd CB to one who can start and succeed at this level. He's probably the best in offense of the group and as a defender is good enough to start for a majority of MLS teams.
tBG: All of that adds up to a big problem for the Union, who have had problems generating shots and scoring with a single forward formation this year. In what situations has the Seattle defense looked most vulnerable this season?
SaH: Seattle is a bit weak on fast counters down an emptied wing when either of Burch or Johansson get forward.
tBG: That's rather unfortunate for Philadelphia, since it has yet to put together a threatening counter in 2012.
SaH: I don't set the weaknesses just show where they are. Honestly, if Adu starts on the right (he's been there a bit right?) and Burch starts there's an opportunity for Philly.
tBG: Union have done a lot of in game switching on the wings. Adu on the wing has worked out better for him than whatever he did last year. What about in goal? Has Gspurning done notably well, or has he benefited mostly from the defense's stellar play?
SaH: I think that Gspurning is a bit better than Keller at handling crosses, though he's a puncher. He may be slower reactively and slow to get down, but that is more an assumption people have due to his height rather than actual game analysis. He's also great with the ball at his feet and you'll see Seattle switch the ball through their keeper more than most MLS teams.
tBG: So he's more than satisfied concerned fans and questioning writers after taking over for Keller?
SaH: Keller was a great keeper in MLS and is a US legend. Replacing him was always going to be hard, but Gspurning looks more than adequate. He'll never be Kasey, and no one is asking him to do that.
tBG: Speaking of Keller, has his transition from field to broadcast booth been smooth?
SaH: He's been solid. The biggest issues he has are developing a vibe with his partner, but it's coming along. I love his pre/half/post comments and think he'll be one of the better analysts in American soccer in a year or two.
tBG: Does he chew gum in the booth? For some reason him doing that in game is etched in my mind whenever he's brought up in articles or conversation.
SaH: Yes, and always long pants. I actually don't know if this is true.
tBG: I don't think anything will beat Taylor Twellman wearing suit pants and either flip flops or chucks during a Union game in '11. Seems like former players don't lose their quirks once crossing over.
SaH: Ideally. Note - they aren't hired to be a suit