Philadelphia travel to Seattle on Saturday with a unique chance to win back-to-back games on the West Coast.
The Union’s last cross-country trip played out to a gritty 1-0 win over Chivas USA two weeks ago.
Seattle are coming off a Wednesday night 2-0 home win over an undermanned LA Galaxy side. Goals from Fredy Montero and Eddie Johnson sunk a Galaxy team that did not feature starters David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Todd Dunivant.
Sigi Schmid’s Sounders are now 5-1-1 on the year with 16 points.
The Union are 2-1-1 all-time against Seattle. The Sounders snatched a 1-1 draw at PPL Park last year after a stoppage time scramble in the box. Alvaro Fernandez’s last gasp goal cancelled out Carlos Ruiz’s first half free kick. Philadelphia won the return leg at CenturyLink Field 2-0 on goals from Freddy Adu and Brian Carroll.
Snake-bitten striker Fredy Montero finally scored his first goal of the season on Wednesday night, and it was a spectacular strike. After being denied at point blank range by Galaxy ‘keeper Bill Gaudette in the first half, Montero opened fire from 35 yards and found the top left corner in the second half. It was never really a question of if Montero would score, rather it was a matter of when. Seattle’s number one striker is always a threat up top.
The surprise of the season is fellow forward David Estrada and his four goals. He’s been the beneficiary of some fortunate deflections, but you have to credit the 24-year-old for looking to score and making the most of his chances. He’s typically played up top this year but he played on the left side of the midfield on Wednesday.
Eddie Johnson now has two goals in two matches after a slow start to the 2012 season. The American international returned stateside this year to partner Montero at the top of Seattle’s formation. Injuries hampered the former KC man at the beginning of the year, but Johnson looks to be regaining the form that made him a European target in the first place.
Captain Mauro Rosales is just returning to action and is always dangerous on the right side of the midfield. Seattle’s top playmaker had 13 assists in 2011 and quickly became a fan favorite in the Emerald City.
Brad Evans rounds out the Seattle formation, which plays like a typical 4-4-2. You’ll see the former Columbus midfielder in more of an attacking role but he isn’t the type to go directly at goal. Evans will sit in the pocket and switch fields while putting the ball at the feet of Seattle’s playmakers.
It’s unclear whether or not Fernandez will feature on Saturday. The Uruguayan winger has missed time recently with a quad strain.
It starts with Osvaldo Alonso in front of the Sounders back four.
Seattle’s holding midfielder is among the best in the business and is widely regarded as a player who should have appeared in the MLS All-Star Game by now. He does everything a defensive mid is asked to do: stop attacks, break up passes, and set the tone in the middle of the field. Alonso is the first name you’d pencil in for any Seattle starting XI.
The Sounders play a typical four-man defense with Jhon Kennedy Hurtado pairing Abington native Jeff Parke centrally on Wednesday night. Fellow center back Patrick Ianni has played more minutes than Parke and Hurtado but Seattle’s depth allows for a rotation among the three.
Zach Scott seems to have the right back spot nailed down while Seattle can use either Leo Gonzalez or Marc Burch at left back.
Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning left Wednesday night’s game at halftime with a nagging hip issue. 22-year-old Brian Meredith made his MLS debut and could be called upon again on Saturday.
Keys to the Game
Last season, both road goals against Seattle were hustle plays. Gabriel Farfan’s touchline run was the catalyst for the first goal and Brian Carroll’s awareness on the counterattack sealed the deal late in the game.
Philadelphia defended well and made their opportunities count.
LA’s weakened squad failed to test Seattle’s back line on Wednesday night. The Galaxy did not create many chances and lost the midfield battle to Alonso and Evans.
Seattle’s only loss of the year came at the hands of San Jose back in March. It was a 1-0 affair decided by a penalty kick, and a controversial call at that. Steven Lenhart appeared to embellish contact in the box and Chris Wondolowski buried the spot kick. The game was chippy and the whistles numerous, but the Earthquakes found a way to win. That matchup doesn’t seem to provide much of a blueprint on how to beat Seattle, but the Sounders seemed flustered by San Jose's physical play and lockdown defense, two things the Union do well.
Ultimately, Philadelphia's chances of coming away with points in a difficult road environment may come down to whether or not the club's offense can break out of an early season funk. After conceding two late goals on Saturday, the Union defense will also look to get back to the dominance that marked their previous 407 minutes of shutout soccer.
WATCH: Union-Sounders preview