Last week was rough. It makes this week even rougher. Seattle Sounders FC head to Chester, PA to take on the Philadelphia Union (4 PM, JOEtv, ROOT) on Wednesday. Sigi Schmid will be without many of his best players. On top of that, the players he does have are in the fourth match of a stretch of five matches in fifteen days, two against the Timbers.
SaH: I don't understand why the once promising C.J. Sapong isn't getting too many starts. Can you explain his time with the Union?
tBG: CJ has started the last two matches thanks to Venezuelan DP Fernando Aristeguieta being injured. When Aristeguieta is healthy though Sapong is a bench option due to the Union playing a 4-5-1. CJ also missed a month while in MLS-mandated rehab for a DUI, however when he got back he came in as a sub against the New York Red Bulls and scored a goal. He's had four goals in his last five matches, so it will be interesting to see what happens when Aristeguieta gets healthy again.
SaH: What's the best position for Maurice Edu? Is he playing it? Why/why not?
tBG: His best position seems to be at central defensive midfielder, however center back has been an area of weakness for the club and Edu's been forced to drop back and play there as a result. Injuries to Steven Vitória and poor play by Ethan White has forced Maurice to pair up with second-year defender Richie Marquez, with mixed results. The Union have had two clean sheets in the past five matches where Edu was a center back, but they've also allowed eight goals in that same span. The Union need to upgrade at center back if there's any hope of Edu going back to the midfield, however I don't see the Union acquiring any new center backs this season.
SaH: How will a midweek cross-conference match test Philly?
tBG: The beating the Union suffered at the hands of the LA Galaxy on Saturday night was embarrassing to say the least. It will be a real test to see how they pick themselves up after a 5-1 shellacking that quite honestly could have been worse. They need to be able to use that as motivation to come out swinging against a tough Seattle Sounders club - a club they owe revenge to for the U.S. Open Cup Final last year. With Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins out, it's not outside the realm of possibility that the Union could grab three points on Wednesday. That being said, there's a lot that needs fixing in not a whole lot of time.
Predicted Lineup: (4-5-1) Brian Sylvestre; Fabinho, Richie Marquez, Maurice Edu, Ray Gaddis; Brian Carroll, Vincent Nogueira; Andrew Wenger, Cristian Maidana, Zach Pfeffer; CJ Sapong
Predicted Score: It's going to be a sloppy affair between two tired teams. I think the home field advantage and Depmsey and Martins being out will give the Union the edge they need. 1-0 Union.
tBG: The last time the Seattle Sounders and Philadelphia Union met was in the 2014 U.S. Open Cup Final. How have the Sounders changed since then?
SaH: There have been few changes in personnel with EPL/Championship vet Tyrone Mears being the most well known addition. The right back is more defensively sound than Yedlin was, but still gets forward a bit. Draftee Cristian Roldan is a central mid who sometimes heads out wide, he teeters on the edge of being a possession-man and a creative threat. The newest signing is Thomas. The Brazilian attacking mid is all flair and exuberance, but has yet to fit into the team.
The biggest change comes in style. Where last year was a kind of run-and-gun that just aimed to outscore the other side, this year is central third possession that can put an opposing defense to sleep. When the timing is just right a quick strike lashes out destroying an organized defense, usually through the creative skills of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins.
tBG: Not having both Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins will be a huge blow. Can you talk about what those guys mean to the Sounders and who we can expect to see in their place?
SaH: A list of top five attacking talents in the leagues probably looks something like Keane, Giovinco, Kaka, Martins and Dempsey. Only TFC has another attacker that can pair with their top talent in that discussion. What that means is that Seattle's offense, when healthy and playing, can entertain like clubs around the world. With Clinfemi on the pitch the Sounders are grand entertainment that slips through cracks and racks up goal scoring data.
Marco Pappa has a bit of that flash, but without the scoring ability. Lamar Neagle is capable of scoring, and even earns assists, but he's a very conventional American talent who gets by with extraordinary effort and good fortune that he makes himself. Without Clinfemi the Sounders are merely a great defensive team than can score often enough to make the Playoffs. With them the Sounders look like a side that could make a case for history, and the CCL.
tBG: Can you give my readers a sense of the soccer culture in Seattle? For many of us here 3000 miles away it seems like a deep-rooted tradition that is almost universally accepted there. Is that the case?
SaH: Seattle's soccer lovers are clearly a large group. The crowds are large and passionate. The TV ratings are being chased by the rest of the league. For the rest of MLS, maybe with the exception of Portland, Orlando and Toronto, Seattle is the goal. Scarves, marches, songs, tifo, all are growing in popularity, even if they aren't right for the local soccer culture. From the outside, the Puget Sound soccer culture is amazing.
From within Puget Sound things are different. Despite the Mariners being awful for a decade their fanbase is at least twice as large as the Sounders' fan base. In some office environments you still can't strike up a conversation with "Did you see what Oba did last night?" For all the popularity as compared to MLS sides (and even Liga MX sides within the USA) this organization's goals are much bigger than that. To reach their goals they'll have to get creative in selling the game, and not just the atmosphere.
Predicted lineup: Frei; Remick, Marshall, Scott, Mears; Thomas, Azira, Pineda, Roldan; Pappa, Neagle
Predicted score: 1-1 I think Seattle can scrape together a goal. They'll give up at least one.