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Preview: Seattle Sounders at Philadelphia Union

Game time: Sunday, 5 p.m.

TV: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3.com

And finally – the real home opener.

Philadelphia Union opens PPL Park in Chester this Sunday with a match against the Seattle Sounders, as the Union end their hiatus during the World Cup and the road trip from hell.

This could potentially be the ultimate soccer weekend. On Saturday, the U.S. national team plays Ghana. If they win, soccer fans heading into Chester will be coming in on a tide of euphoria that will only magnify the excitement sure to already be there for the first match in the new soccer-specific stadium. By all accounts, this stadium is beautiful, if a bit too small. It sits in a very interesting location along the Delaware River near the Commodore Barry Bridge. Word has it that parking might be tough, but fortunately, the Union are taking proactive steps to let their fans know where to park with this handy dandy guide.

Off the field, Chester is having some serious problems. On June 19, Mayor Wendell Butler established a mandatory curfew for parts of Chester after four people were killed in eight days, including a toddler. PPL Park is not near the areas where the curfew is in effect, but some still think the curfew was initiated because of fears the violence would chase away soccer fans. When the Union chose Chester, it was because land was cheap and, combined with the Harrah’s Casino opening in town, there was some hope for waterfront redevelopment. But Chester is still Chester, a city where more than a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line.

But back to soccer. The Union (2-7-1) get the Sounders (4-6-3) for the first time since opening day, when Freddie Ljungberg and Peter Nowak became good buddies and we got awesome caricatures of the Union, courtesy of our new favorite Seattle soccer chick.  Both teams have changed since then. One Union starter from that game, Dave Myrie, is no longer with the team, and Philadelphia will have several different starters. For Seattle, this season’s start has been a disaster, as a team favored to contend for the league title has struggled to score goals. Swiss striker Blaise Nkufo will help eventually, but he’s still at the World Cup. Center back Jhon Kennedy Hurtado tore his ACL and is out for the year, and midfielders Brad Evans and Osvaldo Alonso will likely sit out due to injury as well.

Probable starters

Philadelphia

Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz

Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Danny Califf, Cristian Arrieta, Shea Salinas

Midfielders: Stefani Miglioranzi, Fred, Roger Torres, Kyle Nakazawa

Forwards: Sebastien Le Toux, Alejandro Moreno

Seattle

Goalkeeper: Kasey Keller

Defenders: James Riley, Jeff Parke, Tyrone Marshall, Leo Gonzalez

Midfielders:  Freddie Ljungberg, Patrick Ianni, Roger Levesque, Steve Zakuani

Forwards: Fredy Montero, Pat Noonan

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia: QUESTIONABLE: MF Stefani Miglioranzi (R foot contusion); DF Shavar Thomas (illness). SUSPENDED: Michael Orozco

Seattle: OUT: MF Brad Evans (R knee meniscus); FW Nate Jaqua (lower abdominal fascial tear); MF Michael Fucito (R knee contusion); DF Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (L knee ACL tear); DOUBTFUL: MF Osvaldo Alonso (R quadriceps strain); PROBABLE: MF Peter Vagenas (R quadriceps strain); GK Terry Boss (R ankle sprain).

Match-ups

Philadelphia defense vs. Seattle forwards

Fredy Montero has scored five goals through 13 games and, after becoming last year’s Major League Soccer Newcomer of the Year, is rumored to be headed for Europe. Of course, the fact that Montero started some of those rumors might explain why he’s not quite the fair-haired child he was last year. Monero is a poacher with good quickness and a penchant for diving. Veteran Pat Noonan will likely partner with him, though the Sounders tend to switch their forwards and attacking midfielders regularly, so don’t be surprised if left winger Steve Zakuani bumps up to the front to put pressure on the Union back line.

For the Union, the defense has begun to stabilize. Goalkeeper Chris Seitz is showing signs that he might be pretty decent after all. Center backs Danny Califf and Michael Orozco are gelling and among the most aggressive center back pairings in the league. Unfortunately, that can hurt them, as we’ve seen with both of them getting sent off in games this season, and Orozco is suspended for this match. Left back Jordan Harvey has been solid on defense but unspectacular on the attack, but he’ll start, surely. The question is Cristian Arrieta, the guy the Union want to be their right back. After a good start to the season, he has shown a lack of quickness or hustle that have helped let in a few goals, and Nowak has introduced him to the bench. If he doesn’t start or has to slide to center back, Shea Salinas could be at right back, and his speed may be necessary to contain Zakuani.

Edge: Even

Philadelphia midfield vs. Seattle midfield

Even with injuries to key players, the Seattle midfield still outclasses the Union’s. Freddie Ljungberg is one of the best in MLS, but we all know from his vocal complaints that he doesn’t like the rough play he encounters in MLS. (In truth, it’s hard to argue with him.) Brad Evans is set to miss this game due to injury, as likely will fellow starter Osvaldo Alonso. Still, Patrick Ianni and Roger Levesque are solid backups, and the speedy Zakuani already has four goals, showing significant improvement from his rookie year.

Salinas might be the most dangerous Union midfielder and is certainly their only true winger, but he could find himself at right back if Arrieta remains in the doghouse. On the wing, he gives the Union a different dimension as the rare Union player who can put defenders on their heels with his speed. Stefani Miglioranzi has played well at defensive midfielder when not making dangerous tackles, while Fred, a natural center midfielder, will likely continue to play out of position on a wing opposite Salinas. Kyle Nakazawa has been getting starts in center midfield and neither hurting nor helping the Union much in the run of play, but his free kicks have been excellent. Potential wild card: rookie J.T. Noone played for the Union in a friendly Wednesday against Reading United and may finally be joining the Union on contract.

Edge: Seattle

Philadelphia forwards vs. Seattle defense

Seattle’s best defender, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, is out for the season. Philadelphia-area native Jeff Parke has replaced him, and while he’s a solid defender, he’s also a guy who sat out of MLS last year. Parke’s fellow back-liners  formed one of the league’s best defenses last year, but they just haven’t been as good this year, perhaps in part because of the domino effect that comes with a weak attack. Goalkeeper Kasey Keller is a former World Cup starter for the U.S. and remains one of the league’s best.

The Union are still trying to figure out how to play Alejandro Moreno, Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga on the field at the same time, and so far, it hasn’t really clicked. Le Toux and Moreno have excellent chemistry, while Mwanga has shown he can finish. What Mwanga hasn’t shown, however, is that he can play midfield. Le Toux played mostly midfield last year for Seattle but has been far more effective as a striker this season. If Arrieta doesn’t start, look for Mwanga to be the beneficiary among the first 11.

Edge: Seattle

Individual match-up to watch

Fredy Montero vs. Michael Orozco’s replacement

Montero is quick, clever and dirty. He’ll use whatever advantage he can get to find a goal, whether it’s diving, baiting a goalkeeper or (fill in the blank). Orozco is the perfect marker for Montero, but he’s suspended due to a double yellow booking in his last game. The question is who can fill his spot for this key assignment.

What to expect

Home field advantage counts more than usual in this match because it’s the first match in PPL Park. Look for the Union to ride the emotion of their fans into a physical match, with the hopes of taking the two Freds off their games. Seattle has the edge in overall talent, but that’s largely because of several stars (Ljungberg, Keller and Montero). The gap isn’t very wide at most positions, due in part to Seattle’s injuries.

Prediction

The Union win 2-1. We’ve been called overly optimistic before, but Seattle’s injuries and the home field advantage count for something. Remember: The Union were unbeaten in two home games at the Linc.

(Photo: Philadelphia Union)

2 Comments

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