SEATTLE - OCTOBER 08: Freddy Adu #11 of the Philadelphia Union dribbles against Jhon Kennedy Hurtado #34 of the Seattle Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field on October 8, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. The Union defeated the Sounders 2-0. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Just three days after a huge win against the Galaxy, Seattle welcomes a significantly less sexy opponent to town. With games like these, the danger is just as much about oversight as it is the opposition.
The Philadelphia Union come into town as a bit of a mess. Currently occupying 8th place in the Eastern Conference, Philly has just 7 points through 7 games, largely due to their attacking ineptitude; their 5 goals scored is the second-lowest total in MLS ahead of only Chivas USA, and if not for a fairly resolute defense things would likely be much worse. With the Sounders off to their best-ever start and fresh off a dominant win over the rival LA Galaxy and the Union looking as bad as any team in MLS (non-Toronto FC division) Seattle will be quite confident heading into the proceedings.
Of course, confidence doesn't always translate to results. And in MLS, it's important to remember that any team can beat any other team at any time without really being all that surprising. Philadelphia is on course for what's likely going to be a pretty awful season, but it's not as though they're completely devoid of talent; there's the aforementioned defense, which isn't quite at the level of the elite but is certainly above-average, and the Union boast some intriguing young players such as Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney and Amobi Okugo. Freddy Adu is easily Philadelphia's most recognizable, and also the most difficult on which to get a handle; he's shown flashes of brilliance since his return to MLS, but he's made far less of an impact than some might have been expecting. The result has been-to this point at least-a team that's never really out of any games thanks to their resolute back line, but has trouble taking points due to uneven performances in the attacking phase.
It's because of the Union's ability to keep the opposition from running away with things and their untapped potential in the attack that this game has all of the warning signs of a trap. Complacency has not been a hallmark of the Sounders in recent times, but with a big win in the rearview and a rough three-game stretch straight ahead, this is the kind of game it would be easy to take for granted. With Sigi Schmid likely feeling the need to rest some regulars thanks to Seattle's crowded May, this likely won't be a full-strength Sounders team either. Seattle has demonstrated the quality of their depth in the early going, but these are the kinds of situations that make MLS such a competitive league.
To be clear, the Sounders are deservedly strong favorites in this game. A home game against a team near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings (whose coach will be observing from the press box due to suspension) is one Seattle should expect to win. But the thing that so often separates the elite teams from the merely very good is their ability to keep their focus and form through varying circumstances. It isn't always easy to summon a full compliment of motivation for the Philadelphia Union in early May with FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake just around the corner, but in a league with as much parity as MLS it's an absolute necessity.