Sounders a tougher foe for Union than record indicates

Sounders a tougher foe for Union than record indicates

May 3, 2013, 12:45 pm
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CHESTER, Pa. -- Another week, another unpredictable foe for the Union.

With a 1-3-2 record, the typically powerful Seattle Sounders enter PPL Park on Saturday as a struggling club looking to shake early-season misfirings, which should play to the Union’s advantage.

But like the lowly New England Revolution proved by dismantling the Union last week, early-season standings couldn’t mean less, leaving coach John Hackworth expecting nothing but the best from the Sounders.

“This league is tough that way, no matter what,” said Hackworth. “Across the board you see that because there is so much parity in this league. While we didn’t play well on Saturday night, New England was exceptional and that’s a credit to them. They hadn’t been that good in previous games, which leads to the perception that it will be an easy game. But it has a lot to do with the internal competitiveness of this league from club to club and how close the competition truly is.”

Yet, unlike the Revolution, whose solid performance snuck up on the Union, Hackworth knows the Sounders are a very dangerous team and it’s only a matter of time before they break out. He just hopes it isn't on Saturday.

“Everyone knows how good they are and the talent they have on their roster,” said the coach. “All of us in the league consider Seattle a team that will be there at the end of the day. Seattle is arguably one of the best teams in the league -- certainly on paper they are. [Sounders coach] Sigi [Schmid] is one of the best coaches, so they will be one of the best teams we have played and we’ll have to significantly improve from our last performance if we want to be successful.”

The determining factor on Saturday could be the Union’s struggling defense against the Sounders’ potent attack. Though the Sounders have scored just three goals this season, nagging injuries have played a part in the team's struggles. They feature an impressive attack of Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins and David Estrada

“I hope we don’t see the best of them Saturday night,” said Hackworth. “[Johnson and Martins] are are two of the best in our league. I don’t know what Eddie’s situation is right now, I think he’s more of a question mark. But that pairing will be dangerous -- I just hope that it’s not this Saturday.”

More dangerous, however, may be how the Sounders will apply unrelenting pressure on the 3-3-2 Union, who are coming off a lackluster 2-0 loss to the Revolution.

“They are coming here to attack and get three points,” said former Sounder and current Union defender Jeff Parke. “Sigi doesn’t change his tactics much from home games to away games. We’re definitely going to expect that. He’s going to have them ready, we’ll have to match their intensity and overcome that. It’ll be a tough game, they are a good team.”

Going up against this Sounders threat will be Union defenders Parke, Amobi Okugo, Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis. And though the Union have allowed a whopping 12 goals in eight games, including four in their last two matches, Hackworth doesn’t believe his back four is at fault.

“I feel like our defense has been a strong point for us this year,” said Hackworth. “It hasn’t been one of our issues. Where we need to do a better job is staying more compact and closing passing lanes better. It’s not just the defensive line but midfield line and forward line. I’m not pinpointing our defense as a problem spot for us right now.”

One question that faces the Union is their starting lineup. With MLS Player of the Month Jack McInerney and Conor Casey developing a nice one-two punch up front, Hackworth seems settled on keeping Sebastien Le Toux and Antoine Hoppenot coming off the bench. McInerney has four goals in his last four games.

The Union’s midfield is a different story.

Playing 18 minutes against the Revolution and 29 in total with the Union is midfield wildcard Jose Kleberson. Though he’s been eased into the lineup by Hackworth, the skillful Brazilian could become a growing factor in team’s plans going forward -- if his fitness allows it.

“Kleberson is a guy that continues to get acclimated here and we’re trying to get him to a point to play more minutes but we’re not going to force that,” said the coach. “He’s a good player but hasn’t played a full 90 minutes in an awful long time and we have to prepare him for that.”

Keeping Kleberson off the field has been questioned recently by those wondering why a high-priced and high-profile designated player can’t crack the team’s unimpressive midfield. In short, Hackworth's response is that he doesn’t want to set Kleberson up for failure.

“I don’t want to put him in a situation where he’s put out there when he’s not ready,” Hackworth said. “Then it becomes a failure for him and our team. We’re happy with Kleberson, we’re happy with his minutes and hope we can get more out of him."