Wednesday, March 24, 2010

SOUNDERS FC: Philly Union match preview

In their inaugural game, the Seattle Sounders scored three goals and shut out their opponent in a match that quickly became a cornerstone of the Sounders legend. The 2010 season brings the same opportunity, just for a different expansion team with the Philadelphia Union.

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Looking at the matchup, it seems like the folks running the MLS just reprinted the plans for last year’s game. Just like last year, the match will be in Seattle and 13 of the players in last year’s game will be present in 2010. The only differences seem to be that the expansion team playing this year is the Philadelphia Union and that Sebastian Le Toux will be in Union blue instead of Seattle’s rave green.

The trouble with playing against expansion teams is that virtually no club has faced them yet. So, what do we know about the Union? Other than former-Sounder Le Toux, we know whom they picked in the both drafts and what their preseason record is. That is not a lot of data to go off, but reading the tealeaves of an expansion team is not an exact science either.

The Union has mixed a core of veterans with a generous helping of youth in shaping their inaugural roster, in fact, the 18 players being sent to Seattle have a combined average age of just under 24 (23.9 to be exact). Defender Shavar Thomas, 28, will anchor the Union’s back line and will share leadership duties with midfielder Stefani Miglioranzi, 32, and forward Alejandro Moreno, 30. All three veterans came to Philly via the expansion draft with Thomas coming from Chivas, Miglioranzi from the Galaxy and Moreno from the Crew.

Of the three eldest Union players, Moreno has the most experience playing in the MLS with eight years under his belt. Because the Union's other four forwards have an average of 0.5 years MLS experience each, he will probably be a starter. Unless his younger teammates stage a coup in the preseason, Miglioranzi, who has four years MLS experience, will lead from the midfield and will probably start against the Sounders. Shavar Thomas helped Chivas sweep the Sounders in 2009 and will undoubtedly be on the field for the starting whistle.

With three of the first seven pick in the first round of the 2010 SuperDraft, a MLS record by the way, the Union chose Oregon State forward Danny Mwanga with the first overall pick and with picks six and seven, they chose UCLA midfielder Amobi Okugo and U.S. U-17 forward Jack McInerney. Of the draft picks, McInerney has the best shot of making the opening day roster, scoring twice in preseason matches.

The Union has also fast-tracked Radanfah Abu Bakr, 23, who plays internationally for Trinidad & Tobago, in an attempt to sign the defender to their starting lineup before Thursdays' game in Seattle. Even if Bakr is not on the opening day roster, expect him to start on the back line later in the season.

While there is little we do know about the Union, we know a great deal more about the Sounders. Expect the lineup to be very similar to what we saw toward the end of last season. Keller will start in goal with Marshall, Hurtado and Gonzalez starting on the defensive line. James Riley, was issued a red card in the dying moments of the 2009 playoff loss to Houston Dynamo, will miss the game against the Union as he serves his single game suspension.

Freddie Ljungberg (pronounced You-ng-berg) will anchor the Sounders’ midfield (but could be played as a withdrawn forward) and could take the field with either Nyassi, Vagenas, King or Evans, depending on what looks coach Sigi Schmid wants to show the Union. With forward Nate Jaqua out with an injury, the Sounders will most likely send Montero and Zakuani out as starters, but we could see Roger Levesque substituted early in the game if goals are not dropping.

The Sounders, 3-2-1 in preseason matches, should match up well against the Union, although that is what many expected when Seattle played its first game against the New York Red Bulls. Philadelphia does not have any big-name stars on their team and few of their players have had an opportunity to prove themselves, with most of the players coming from backup roles on their previous teams.

One thing we do know about Philadelphia is the mindset they have. One year ago, the Sounders were eager to make a big impression on MLS. This year Seattle has the benefit of a year’s experience, improved chemistry and the kind of growth that only a year in the MLS can provide.

The MLS First Kick 2010 will be shown on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes Thursday, March 25 at 6:30 p.m. Pacific time.

Reach Galen Helmgren at