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May 4, 2013 at 10:07 AM

Sounders FC vs. Philadelphia Union, preview and prediction

Philadelphia Union LogoSounders FC (1-3-2) vs. Philadelphia Union (3-3-2)
Saturday, May 4, 1 p.m., PPL Park, Chester, Pa.
Local TV/radio: KONG 6/16, KIRO 97.3-FM (Ross Fletcher, Kasey Keller)
Spanish radio: La Gran D 99.3 FM
Referee: Jorge Gonzalez

KEY UNION PLAYERS

F Jack McInerney — The league’s co-leading scorer and reigning MLS Player of the Month has six goals this season, which is double the Sounders’ production. He scored in three straight games, the longest streak in the league, and has three game-winning goals. Coach Sigi Schmid said he’s especially good at losing his defender in the penalty box, and he’s pretty quick — “that’s the unique challenge that he brings.”

D Jeff Parke — The ex-Sounders has played all 720 minutes this season as a steadying force in the back. All eyes will be on him, too, as he plays his former team for the first time since the offseason trade. He’ll have a big role on the field, but he also noted that he’s already played a big role in preparation, as he has a good scouting report available based on years of service in Seattle. He should know the tendencies of any forward he goes up against.

GK Zac MacMath — The Generation Adidas product hasn’t had an especially good year when you look at his stats. He’s allowing 1.5 goals per game and has saved 57 percent of the shots on goal he faces (lowest in the league’s among regular starters). Of course, not all of that always falls on the goalkeepers, as we saw with Michael Gspurning in the early part of the season, but he’ll need to perform better if the Union are going to get into a playoff position.

KEY MATCHUPS

Eddie Johnson vs. Amobi Okugo — The Sounders forward has missed the past couple games with a hamstring injury, but he looks to be ready to go again against the Union. The Seattle offense needs him desperately, averaging half a goal a game so far this season. Parke will factor into the matchup, as well, but the 22-year-old Okugo — who many think could have a USMNT future is he develops right — has better physical tools to handle EJ in the back.

Conor Casey vs. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado — The big ol’ veteran forward has landed with the Union this season, and he’s got two goals and two assists in four starts. He’s also a nightmare for defenders, who can expect some bumps and bruises when they wake up Sunday morning, due to Casey’s strength and his physical nature. That style of play tends to lead to opportunities for his teammates, which his forward partner McInerney has so far taken advantage of.

Injuries vs. none — The Union injury report was about as clean as it can be, one reserve forward is questionable with a bruise on his ankle. The Sounders could have several players out as indications Obafemi Martins (knee) might not be ready plus four others listed as questionable (Steve Zakuani, groin; Patrick Ianni, foot; Marc Burch, groin; Shalrie Joseph, hamstring). I also saw somewhere that Osvaldo Alonso might not have traveled — that’s unconfirmed — but we do know his wife is expected to have a baby soon thanks to a Sounder at Heart report. Something to keep an eye on.

PREDICTION

The Sounders defense has done fairly well this season, considering the team’s 1-3-2 record, allowing less than a goal a game and having not conceded in 235 straight minutes. Though I’m not sure they’ll be able to keep McInerney and the Union off the board in this one.

That means it will be up to the offense to go out and win a game, maybe even score multiple goals for the first time in a league game. The return of Eddie Johnson will help, and Lamar Neagle has been playing well up front. Seattle, if at close to full strength, should be able to control a fair amount of the game in midfield.

Though there are too many questions still about the visitors’ health and availability coming in for me to predict a win. Did you see the picture of the Sounders if need of a bunch of ice packs after practice this week?

Sounders FC 1, Philadelphia Union 1

PHI — McInerney (Sheanon Williams) 56′
SEA — Johnson (Rosales) 67′

*     *     *

What do you think? How do you see this one playing out?

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