Now on a two-game unbeaten streak, the Seattle Sounders will face the surprising Philadelphia Union. These are not your father's Philly team, stuck in mediocrity wondering how they'll survive. Instead Earnie Stewart's mark is on a squad that combines a balanced offensive threat with solid defense. Seattle will try to improve on its 1-3-1 -2 record and discover its offense that is hanging out with Sasquatch somewhere in the Cascades.
Eugene from the Brotherly Game answers Three Questions to prepare you for the match.
SaH: CJ Sapong and Chris Pontius are having a mini-revival. Why?
tBG: CJ's career has been heading in the right direction since last year. I think the change of scenery from Sporting Kansas City to the Union helped immensely. At SKC, he was a clear third choice behind Dom Dwyer and Claudio Bieler - there was no way he was going to see significant time or get a legitimate opportunity to start there. In Philadelphia, he won the job from an ineffectual Fernando Aristeguieta and just ran with it. This season, the midfield that is providing service to him is head and shoulders above last year's, so it wouldn't surprise me to see his output increase from 2015.
Pontius is a bit of a different story - he's been able to get healthy and stay healthy this year. Now it's only five games into the season and a bit early to say that he's overcome the injury bug that's plagued him over the past couple seasons, but so far, so good. Another benefit is that the midfield of the Union is very deep, so if Pontius was to go down, he could take the time to get fully healthy again before coming back instead of rushing back into the lineup at 60% and re-injuring himself.
SaH: Philly has a strong defense so far, is it just Andre Blake, or more?
tBG: Both? Andre Blake has in my opinion been the best goalkeeper in MLS this season. He's fully healthy, and has been a standout both for the Union as well as the Jamaica National Team. That being said, the Union's back line has been almost completely overhauled and is far superior to last year's. Fabinho is still at left back and is still one of the best offensive left backs in MLS. Richie Marquez solidified his claim to be a starter at center back at the end of last season, and has continued on his upward trajectory. Former USL standout Ken Tribbett has proven that he belongs in MLS with his solid play, and Union draft pick Keegan Rosenberry is making a case for himself to be in the early Rookie of the Year conversations. And as good as these guys are individually, together they've been a rock-solid defensive unit.
SaH: When will this feel like Earnie Stewart's team? What will that mean?
tBG: I think it's already feeling like Earnie Stewart's team. The difference between this team and the team last year is night and day. This team has direction. It has depth. It has organization and seems like a competent, professional soccer club. There is an air of optimism among Union fans that we haven't seen here since the early days of the club when most fans were happy just to have a team. Contrast this with the Nick Sakiewicz era, where it was a disorganized mess being run like a real-life game of Football Manager. That era was a dark, dark period for Union fans and one we are all glad has been put behind us.
Andre Blake; Fabinho, Richie Marquez, Ken Tribbett, Keegan Rosenberry; Brian Carroll, Vincent Nogueira; Chris Pontius, Roland Alberg, Ilsinho; CJ Sapong
tBG: Seattle has gotten off to a rocky start, going 1-1-3 and losing their first three straight. What caused such a hard, fast fall and what can turn it around?
SaH: After looking damn good against Club America, the Seattle Sounders floundered to start the season. In most of the losses Clint Dempsey wasn't seeing the ball in dangerous areas, which limited both his own opportunities and his chance creation. They've since moved him to the central midfield which has further limited his shots and creation, but they did get 4 points in those two games.
The failures go beyond Dempsey, and beyond bad luck (Fisher's red was one of the first in this year's crackdown, the first penalty against in the Vancouver game was the worst penalty call I've seen in my life). Jordan Morris looks tentative. Once fun loving and free-flowing with a Dempsey-like game, his approach as a pro is cautious and safe. Morris needs to play like the beast that ran over the USSDA like a Tarrasque on a rampage, ripping through commoners and knights alike. Every bit of talent that earned him multiple awards and plaudits is still there. Whatever mental leash is on him needs to be cut.
Valdez might be the best forward in MLS, who doesn't score goals. He's a ball winner, consummate worker, a strong defender and a DP with 3 goals and an assist in 1146 competitive minutes. Nelson would be a perfect TAM talent, but he's taking a DP slot so expectations are higher.
tBG: Losing Obafemi Martins to Shanghai was huge. Who does Seattle have as his replacement, and do you think they will be bringing in anyone in during the Summer Transfer Window?
SaH: There is no replacement for Oba. The original plan was to have a replacement by committee. That committee of Nelson Haedo Valdez, Andreas Ivanschitz and Jordan Morris has just four shots a game and 3.1 key passes a game for a single goal and single assist. Last year Obafemi Martins had 2 shots a game and a key pass a game, averaging two goals every three games. Frankly, the committee is failing. That's why every full time scout (or scout type) in the organization is traveling the world looking for a new DP and a new TAM level talent. The DP will be a creative midfielder with the TAM player probably being a winger or box-to-box midfielder, though if a forward drops into their laps they'll take it. That DP will almost certainly be under 25 as the team looks to extend its trophy window (Dempsey, Alonso, Valdez, Ivanschitz, Marshall, Evans are all long in the tooth now).
Short term, the offense has to come from the committee above, new signing Herculez Gomez or wunderkid Oalex Anderson. That's enough talent that it should be getting goals, but it's not Oba. It won't be Oba. Oba is gone and it sucks to think of what might have been.
tBG: We remember Michael Farfan well from his time with the Union. How does he fit in with Seattle?
SaH: Poorly. He's not only been injured for almost his entire time with the team, when he does play (2 appearances with S2, 1 in preseason) he does not look good. At this point it seems more likely that the team sign Zach Mathers to an MLS deal than it does for Marfan to be an effective option in the MLS 18. While they need a bench creative midfielder once the roster is complete Ivanschitz and Kovar will also be able to fill that role.
Injuries/suspensions/etc.: Roman Torres is still recovering from knee surgery. Both Nelson Haedo Valdez and Erik Friberg could return as early as this match.
Predicted starting XI: Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones; Chad Marshall, Brad Evans, Tyrone Mears; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Clint Dempsey; Andreas Ivanschitz, Jordan Morris, Herculez Gomez