It's been a rather strange season for the Seattle Sounders, as one look at their current rank within the MLS standings will verify. In four previous seasons, the Sounders have made the playoffs each year and have won three Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups. Always tabbed as a playoff favorite, this year they sit at the bottom of the Western Conference with just one win in six games, and five total points. Only D.C. United has fewer points than Sigi Schmid's crew.
This is why they are a dangerous opponent on Saturday for the Philadelphia Union. They arrive off of a week's rest, after winning their first game of the season at Colorado on April 20. Some of their injured players have had a chance to heal, and the club has been able to acclimate new Designated Player Obafemi Martins to his teammates. This team is too good to be where they are for long.
The game at PPL Park will be the first of three games in eight nights and for the Sounders a chance to get back to where they belong – a winning streak needs to start.
Defensively, Seattle has been sound, allowing just five goals in six games. In Michael Gspurning, they have one of the league's best goalkeepers. He had the lowest GAA last season in MLS.
Coming off two straight shutouts and 235 consecutive shutout minutes, it seems like they are organized defensively. Hard working midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is a key factor in that strong defense with how much he breaks up plays in the middle of the field. It's the offense that needs to improve and soon.
However, a total of three goals in five games won’t win games, even with exceptional goalkeeping. So far, the Sounders have yet to score more than one goal in any game in 2013. The weapons are there in Martins, U.S. international Eddie Johnson, plus Mauro Rosales and Steve Zakuani. It's a matter of getting them all on the same page, and keeping them all healthy.
The Union could have their hands full Saturday against a hungry Sounders team. Philadelphia had “probably our worst performance of the year,” according to Manager John Hackworth, and no one disagreed with that sentiment. They allowed New England too much time on the ball and gave away too much space in losing by a 2-0 score.
Zac MacMath made a season high five saves, but the Revs had seven shots on target and had other good opportunities that missed the net. The Union cannot afford the same mistakes against a better team and better players.
Offensively the club is still led by 20-year-old Jack McInerney's six goals. The young forward added another honor to this terrific start when he was named as the MLS Player of the Month for his four goals in a four-game span over the month of April. With other teams targeting McInerney now more than ever, it is vital the club find a way to give him some help.
Who else can step up and score goals?
The Union went with the same lineup versus New England that they had in the previous week, a win over D.C. United. Hackworth rewarded those players who picked up three important road points at RFK Memorial Stadium.
Coming off a loss like last week, there are no rewards, so I’d expect a change in the lineup – or two.
Will Sebastien Le Toux return to the starting lineup to face his former club? Is Brazilian midfielder Kleberson ready for more minutes, and perhaps even a start? What about others like Gabe Farfan?
One thing is for sure: on this Union roster there is good competition for spots on the starting 11 and gameday 18-man.
The loss at New England followed by a good week of training will help to determine who plays and who doesn't against the Sounders.
Kickoff is this Saturday at 4 p.m. Hope to see you there. Can’t make it out? Catch color analyst Alejandro Moreno and myself calling the action on 6abc.