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Union Scouting Report - Crosses and offside flags

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Philly is good at crosses, long shots and the offside trap. The Sounders are good at stopping crosses and beating the offside trap, so it comes down to whether or not they can stop the long shots. It has the makings of a potential barn burner.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia had started to get on a run, beating DC, the Red Bulls and Columbus, scoring six goals and earning three shutouts. In the middle of that run the Union did lose a match 2-1 to DC, but overall nine points from four games is good for a team that only had six points through 11 matches. Since that run of form, Philly has fallen off the wagon again, losing 2-1 to NYCFC and then being blown out 5-1 last weekend by the Galaxy. So what should Sounders fans be expecting to see from Philly? A crap side looking to avoid being sacked as a team. The only team worse than Philly now is Chicago, and the Fire are worse than the average USL side.

Crosses

Philly loves to throw crosses into the box. They average 20 -- and at home it becomes 26 -- per match. While this may sound like the number Marco Pappa sends in during a typical match, it equates to 5% of passes by the Union. The Union does play the long ball, but almost always it is down the wings, trying to create a cross. Only 27% of Union attacks occur up the middle. CJ Sapong is the most recent starting striker, with Fernando Aristeguieta, Conor Casey, and Sebastian LeToux all trying to recover from different knocks. CJ Sapong is not the most typical ST for this format, and it showed against LA, where crosses dropped to about 3% of total passes.

Philly will be at home and need to recover after being humiliated, so expect to see crosses hurled in at an alarming rate. Philly is fairly one-dimensional in how they attack.

Long Shots

Philly takes 93% of their shots from outside the 6-yard box. Just over half of them are in the 18-yard box, with the majority coming from crosses and rebounds. Shooting from the 18-yard box is not surprising, but it is surprising that a whopping 38% of shots come from out of the box. This is big because of the trouble it has caused the Sounders this year. Stefan Frei has done a great job smothering rebounds, but the defense has made errors trying to close down on shooters. If the Sounders are without Alonso again (Evans as well), expect there to be a lot of space for Philly to operate in from about 25-30 yards out in the middle of the park, and they will have a license to shoot at will.

Offside Trap

The Union typically play an offside trap, leaving them very vulnerable to good counterattacking sides. The Union typically start Maurice Edu and Steven Vitoria (INSERT RANDOM UNINJURED PLAYER HERE) at CB. None of their typical starters are speed demons. Edu does not help himself by being positioned more as a traditional CDM than a CB (his adjustment to CB has not been smooth). The fullbacks typically alternate who goes and who stays at home, but Raymon Gaddis and Sheanon Williams have enough speed to keep up with any winger the Sounders have. The weakness at center defense stems from Steven Vitoria being injured again, and replacements Ethan White and Richie Marquez having played poor games each time out. The trap is run, though, no matter which players fill the back four, and it often leads to problems in the defense.

How to Exploit Them

Speedy counter attacks. It is that simple. The Sounders will have to play some fairly ugly soccer, just bunkering in and letting whoever starts up top run onto long throughballs, beating Edu and partner. The situation may align perfectly to get Darwin Jones on the field with his ability to use pace to beat the CBs and get in 1v1 with Brian Sylvestre.

The Sounders are designed to weed out crosses. Whether Air Marshall is paired with Sheriff Evans or Mr. Sounders (Zach Scott), the CB pairing is great at headers. Add in potential midfielders like Andy Rose and a strong Stefan Frei, and crosses rarely see their intended target. Rebounds and loose balls will be a problem for this defense, though.

Players to Watch

1. Brian Sylvestre: First MLS match he gave up three goals. Then two straight shutouts. Overall he has three shutouts and has given up 12 goals in the other four matches. If he is on, he looks like one of the best young keepers. If he is not, his USL contract shows.

2. CJ Sapong: Five goals and one assist on the season, having played 559 minutes. He averages about a point per game, but less than a goal per game. The good news is he scored last match out, so he should not be due for one Wednesday. Sapong is on a bit of a streak, with a goal in each of his last three matches and four in his last five appearances. CJ is still extremely dangerous in front of goal and has speed. He will kill a static backline if he gets a chance.

3. Cristian Maidana: The playmaker and talisman of this midfield. He's the team leader with five assists and one goal. Maidana starts pretty much every match he is healthy for. He's the free kick taker and loves to slide out wide to put in crosses for Andrew Wenger and whoever lines up at ST. The Sounders defensive mids must stay on top of Maidana or risk putting Frei under the most pressure he's seen in weeks.

Expected Lineup

With injuries to their main players like Fernando Aristeguieta and Steven Vitoria, I expect to see essentially the same lineup as they played against LA. LeToux would be the first choice at right mid, but since he's been hurt Pfeffer could start again in his place. Philadelphia do not have that much when it comes to depth. Fabinho could start at FB if Gaddis or Williams can't go. Eric Ayuk Mbu rarely ever starts, and I don't think that will change with a need to get points at home. If he does, it will be instead of Pfeffer because LeToux is still hurt.

I've changed the format up a little this week, let me know which way you prefer, if you even care how I get the scouting report to you.