Peter Nowak, has his club playing with excitement and confidence. The second year Philadelphia Union manager has players buying into his defensively physical, but gracefully eloquent pass and possession style.
The Union are the surprise club of the young 2011 Major League Soccer season. With four matches in their books, the Union lead the Eastern Conference with 3-wins and 1-loss. Defeating potential MLS Cup favorite, New York Red Bulls 1-nil last week is evidence revealing they are no surprise. New York and LA are the two clubs most favored to win the 2011 MLS Cup. Instead the Union are turning into a contender to reckon with.
Squaring off twice in 2010, Philadelphia and Seattle became unintended rivals. Hard to do from across the country. Yet both clubs did enough on and off the field to make Chester, PA and Seattle, WA feel like Cascadia Rivals.
Sebastian Le Toux was left unprotected by Sounders FC in the 2010 expansion draft. Philadelphia Union wasted no time snapping him up. It was widely considered the Sounders first Front Office mistake. Those most vocal were Sounders FC’s own supporters. Le Toux joined Sounders FC as a USL-1 club in 2007. He successfully helped the Sounders knock off MLS clubs in ’07 & ’08 US Open Cup matches. He was the US Open Cup goals leader in 2008. In 2009, his assist in the US Open Cup final vs DC United lead to Reger Levesques winning goal and Seattle’s first taste of trophy glory.
Seattle and Philadelphia are the two previous expansion cities. Portland and Vancouver have joined this season. Sounders FC joined in 2009 and the Union in 2010.
Sounders FC ownership launched a franchise with such high marks it makes comparison unfair for future expansion clubs. Winning the US Open Cup and making the playoffs left Philadelphia in the wake of that comparison. The Union’s new soccer only stadium, PPL Park was not completed. So, for a second straight season, MLS granted Seattle the host city for First Kick 2010 vs expansion Philadelphia. Which meant the Union had to go west for their inaugural MLS match at unfriendly Qwest Field in Seattle, losing 2-nil.
If direct comparison hadn’t already lit a spark under this unintended East v West rivalry, then match play and post match dialogue did. During the match, physical play led to strong yellow cards, an ejection, and an injury to Ljungberg. Union’s coach Peter Nowak felt Freddie Ljungberg dove to get a fouls called. Ljungberg ended up injured for two weeks, which was about as long as their mild banter and jabs went back and forth.
Traveling east in June Sounders FC took their magnetic media frenzy to give PPL Park, in Chester, PA, a grand opening. Hungry for revenge, Philadelphia felt necessary to prove their quality. Pat Noonan, Seattle’s forward for that match took some of their joy out of the occasion by scoring the first official MLS regular season goal at PPL Park. That was enough to twist Union passion up to 11 on the rock-n-roll meter. From that point forward Union dominated and eventually won 3-1. Even when Montero earned a rare Sounders FC penalty kick, Noonan could not finish.
Seattle goes to Chester, PA hot off their first win over the Chicago Fire last weekend. The Sounders unexpectedly slow start, 1-win 2-losses 2-draws, goes up against the surprisingly successful start for the Union. Undefeated in their last 3 matches, a Sounders first away win would put them right on course. Even a draw would keep momentum building on a stretch of away matches that includes 4 of their next 5.
In this Season of the Rivalry, it is important to look beyond regional rivals. Houston and Seattle still have a grudge in the bank from 2009. Seattle knocked Houston out of the Semi Final of the 2009 US Open Cup. While Houston knocked Seattle out of the MLS playoffs with a stoppage time goal in the second leg of their first round clash. LA and Seattle have an ever rising tiff as well. This shows the maturity and growth of Major League Soccer. A maturity directly related to the quality in all its recent expansion clubs and the supporters groups from their home cities.
Sales on Sounders would like to recognize a pair of supporter based blogs. I recently had the pleasure of meeting a fellow Sounders supporter and blogger at Tat’s in Pioneer Square, prior to the Chicago Fire match. Jacob Cristobal, the editor of, Jibber Jabbin’ Jacob, shows tremendous knowledge of the game, and a sharp eye for key elements of matches. Follow the link above to his site. In addition to great taste in sport, his sense for locating a quality watering hole and amazingly authentic Philly Cheese Steak in Seattle is spot on. Traveling to Seattle and wondering where to grab a good bite? A supporter from Portland or any other soccer city and want to know what to eat and where to go? Tat’s is close to Qwest field, so look no further. In as PG-13 a manner as I possibly can, you only need 8 inches. As good as 12 inches sounds, you can share it but you can’t finish it. Looking to get a fresh intelligent take on the weekly MLS club Power Rankings? Please take a look at Derek Ciapala’s, Weekly MLS Power Rankings. Derek is an LA supporter, but his knowledge of what is shaping up throughout the league is objective and more engaging than most sport site’s Power Rankings.
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© 2011 by Ryan J Sales, Sales on Sounders,
April 16, 2011