Philadelphia coach Peter Nowak is giving nothing away. With his team set to kick off its inaugural season Thursday night against Seattle Sounders FC, the Union boss hasn’t given his opponents any idea of his playing style or the lineup his team will adopt.
When asked about Philadelphia’s approach, Seattle midfielder Freddie Ljungberg could only speak in generalities, saying that Union will be “pumped up” and will “work extremely hard.” But other than that, Ljungberg didn’t know how Union will come out.
He’s not the only one. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid is grasping at straws in preparation for Thursday night’s opener.
“We are going into the first game guessing what kind of formation they are going to play,” Schmid said. “Who are they going to play? Where? What is this kid [Roger] Torres like? How does he play? There are some guys we haven’t seen.”
Ljungberg said that the conventional wisdom would point to Philadelphia playing a conservative style, packing the back like so many teams did at Qwest Field in 2009. But at the same time, Nowak could go the other way in an attempt to catch Seattle off-guard.
“If you look at last season, a lot of the teams just sunk back and had everybody defending because they knew we were quite good at home and they just tried to hit us on the counterattack,” Ljungberg said. “That’s probably what I would expect but, at the same time, you never know. Maybe they think we will expect that and they are going to go for it in the beginning to shock us a bit. We will see.”
Seattle knows a thing or two about taking teams by surprise. Seattle posted a quick three wins to start its maiden season in 2009, including a road win against Toronto FC. Philadelphia, perhaps saddled by similar expectations from its fan base, is hoping for a similar beginning to 2010.
Without any game tape to review, Seattle coach Sigi Schmid has spend this week preparing Seattle to execute its plan to perfection. He’s also looking at the Philadelphia Union roster and using his organization’s knowledge of the league to prep his players on the opponents’ tendencies.
“Obviously they are a team that hasn’t played a game,” Schmid said. “There is no history there for us to look at. From that standpoint, we have to look at the individual players. What are the skill sets of those individual players? What do they bring to the team? And try to extrapolate upon that and see how that’s going to fit together.”
Inversely, Schmid knows that the advantage his team had at the beginning of last season has evaporated. It is now well-known around the league that Seattle plays attacking soccer and likes to take advantage of the smooth Qwest Field turf by keeping the ball on the ground.
The offense goes through two players, Ljungberg as a midfield set-up man and Fredy Montero poaching goals from outside the opponent’s penalty area. While Seattle is adding in some additional wrinkles this year, the overall style of play and the personnel have remained consistent.
That said, Schmid is still confident that his players will be successful, even if they don’t have the element of surprise in 2010.
“It’s a little bit easier for teams to prepare for us,” said Schmid. “Even if a team is ready for you and prepared for you if you execute well, you are always going to be successful.”