When the Philadelphia Union hit the road for a Saturday afternoon game vs. Seattle, they'll know a few things before their flight leaves the gate in Philadelphia.
They will be facing a crowd of around 39,000, mostly in green, and all very loud.
They will be facing a hot Sounders team, who are 5-1-1, winners of three straight and unbeaten in their last four games.
And they will be facing a Sounders defense that has been very stingy this season, much like the Union's. In fact, the Sounders' season has been a success so far because of their defense, which has allowed just three goals in seven games.
What the Union won't know is who they might be facing in goal. Michael Gspurning, the successor to Kasey Keller, had to leave Wednesday's game (2-0 win vs. the LA Galaxy) at halftime with a hip injury. His goals against average this season is 0.46, second in MLS.
Bryan Meredith played the final 45 minutes, where he hardly faced a challenge against a makeshift Galaxy lineup that rested several starters including David Beckham and Robbie Keane.
Regardless of who is in goal, the Union are up against a very good and balanced Sounders side, who until Wednesday night had gone 4-1-1 without seeing star forward Fredy Montero score a goal or pick up an assist. Montero made up for that in the win vs. the Galaxy with a sure Goal of the Week candidate from about 35 yards out. That goal could have been his wake-up call for the 2012 season. If it was, that's not good news for the Union.
Still struggling to find an offensive rhythm, the Union will have their work cut out for them, especially when going up the middle. While Brian Carroll is certainly in the conversation, if there is a definitively better defensive midfielder in MLS than Osvaldo Alonso, someone will have to point him out. Alonso is the one player Seattle can't afford to lose. They play more aggressively and with more confidence when he is in the lineup.
The Union will have Keon Daniel available again after a one-game suspension, but will still be without left back Gabe Farfan (two more games) and manager Peter Nowak (one more game). They hope to have Carroll back in the midfield after missing the San Jose game with a hamstring injury. After a week of training with his new club, German midfielder Kai Herdling should also be more comfortable with his teammates, and vice versa.
One factor that will give the Union confidence is that they have proven to know how to win in Seattle. They dealt with the crowd, the turf, and a very good Sounders team when they met last October, winning 2-0 on goals by Freddy Adu and Carroll. Young Zac MacMath earned the shutout that night and knows what he is up against on Saturday. If the Union are to pick up one or three points this time around, the first-year starter will have to once again shine in the spotlight.
For the Union, the mission is twofold: come away from the Pacific Northwest with a road point or three and find a way to make the offense come together.
This is a nationally-televised game on the NBC Sports Network, with coverage beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET.
WATCH: Union-Sounders preview