For the first time in their history the Union will not try and start 11 DP keepers against us, that's huge step for them. Instead the team reshaped when the technical director carousel stopped at Earnie Stewart. He's instilled a sense of legitimacy to the side making "Bimbo" once again a term for shirt sponsor instead of coaching staff. Philly is doing a lot of things well and are tied for first in the Eastern Conference. They've reinvigorated MLS castaways, turned a rookie and a USL standout into strong starting defenders, and when Andre Blake stopped getting hurt, well it turns out he's pretty good.
Philly didn't just pick random players to give life to (like we did with Marfan) but designed their attack around these new pieces. Both Chris Pontius, who had slowed considerably with D.C. United, and CJ Sapong from Sporting Kansas City were new additions in the offseason. Both started falling being the rest of their squads for minutes and production, came to Philly this year, and took off with Sapong experiencing almost Kei Kamara level of success. The need to prove their skill or just thankful they got starting jobs has fueled their improved play and paid off to the tune of five goals and one assist in five matches for the pair.
Philadelphia builds the offense with three attacking mids playing behind Sapong. The wide mids, Pointus and Ilsinho (or LeToux), play as box-to-box strong wings. While only one of two will probably be all the way back defending in the 18, that's more representative of defensive strength than tactical adjustments. Both can play to the corner and serve in plenty of crosses similar to Seattle's wingers, however they like running into the box with high frequency. Tranquillo Barnetta has yet to start as a 10 and instead Philly will likely turn once again to Roland Alberg this weekend. He's an average distributor but fits better in the second line of two CMs than as the CAM in the 4-2-3-1. Alberg will let Sapong spring the wingers and then chase them down - a strategy that has worked for seven goals as a team this year. When, not if, Barnetta subs on in the latter stages of the match, the danger for converting free kicks increases exponentially. Big targets only do so much with mediocre service for most of the match but once he comes on, they'll look to exploit and win free kicks in dangerous zones. He is also deadly going direct on goal.
Andre Blake has been a second coming of Bill Hamid so far this season. Oft-injured like Hamid in his early years, Blake has provided 630 minutes in two seasons for the first team. That has changed this year and while the club averages a goal against a match, much of that is due to Blakes outstanding saves and he has proved he can be a top keeper in this league. Philly earned a shutout against New England and have only given up more than a goal once in five games so far.
The back line is made up of players that were sliding down depth charts, a rookie, and a USL star. They've turned into a pretty strong squad. Game one at Dallas they looked exposed but since then only three goals in four matches have been scored against them. Speed exposes this back line, but unless Oalex Anderson starts, the Sounders don't possess top flight speed to instill that fear. Ability to play in behind creates plenty of dangerous situations if you can get the isolation to play a good ball and it will be essential for the Sounders to look to these spaces. Brian Carroll and Vincent Nogueira are quite physical CDMs and leave very little space between themselves and center backs Ken Tribbett and Richie Marquez. Seattle has been poor at exploiting a defense in these spaces and that may prevent Dempsey and Ivanschitz from dribbling with purpose. If Herc starts and gets the offense to play with the same determination they did late against Houston, Seattle can rip open this defense.
Sounders start Herc and play with that determination he brought to the Dynamo game. Philly crumbles on the road. Sounders go through winning 3-1 and calm the oncoming panic from Rave Green supporters.
Philadelphia Union- Blake, Rosenberry, Tribbett, Marquez, Fabinho, Carroll, Nogueria, Ilsinho, Alberg, Pointus, Sapong
Sounders FC- Frei, Mears, Evans, Marshall, Jones, Alonso, Roldan, Dempsey, Gomez, Morris, Ivanschitz