Union vs. Sounders a budding cross-country feud

CHESTER, Pa. – Philadelphia and Seattle are separated by nearly 3,000 miles, but that doesn’t mean the Union and the Sounders don’t have a little bit of a rivalry.

Consider what happened in 2010:

  • The first game in Philadelphia Union history came against Seattle
  • The Union’s home stadium, PPL Park, opened its doors with a game vs. the Sounders
  • The 2010 expansion Union were constantly compared to Seattle, the expansion team from 2009
  • Union manager Peter Nowak even got into a public feud with ex-Sounder Freddie Ljungberg over what he perceived to be diving after Philly’s inaugural game

So when the Union and Sounders meet again Saturday at PPL Park (4 pm ET, Direct Kick, MatchDay Live), there may be some extra juice to a game pitting teams from opposite ends of the country.

[inline_node:333850]“Last year there was all this measuring of us against Seattle in their inaugural year, so maybe it created a bit more of a rivalry,” Union defender Danny Califf admitted. “They’re a good team coming in here, and after the start they had they’d really like to take it to us.”

PPL Park should be electric for Saturday’s game, but it’ll take some doing to match last June’s stadium opener when the Union scored three second-half goals to beat the Sounders, 3-1, in front of 18,755 screaming fans.

“That,” Union manager Peter Nowak said, “was a very memorable situation for all of us – for the players, for the fans and for the city.”

Added Califf, “It was one of the highlights of my career to open a new building up. I was pretty fortunate that I played in the game that opened up the Home Depot Center. To open this building and get a win in front of the crowd here is a moment I’ll never forget.”

Since then, the Union have built a comfortable home-field advantage in Chester. They went 5-3-5 at PPL Park last season and have opened the 2011 campaign by going 2-0 in their home stadium and 3-1 overall.

The Sounders, meanwhile, got off to a slow start with back-to-back defeats and come into Chester with five points and a modest 1-2-2 record.

In a stark change from 2010, the Philly defense has been carrying the team so far this season, having allowed just one goal through four games and making things very easy for new goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon.

Things will be harder this weekend if defensive midfielder Brian Carroll (right hamstring strain) can’t go, but Sounders’ star forward Fredy Montero, who scored 22 goals in Seattle’s first two seasons, is also questionable with a wrist injury.

Either way, the Union will look to make things easier on their backline by putting the ball in the back of the net against Seattle’s veteran keeper, Kasey Keller.

Goals, however, have not been easy to come by. Through four games this season, the Union have scored as many goals (three) as they did in one game against Seattle last year – although the team insists their offense is not yet a concern.

“We don’t think of it as, ‘OK, we’re good on the defensive end, now we have to pick it up on the offensive end,’” Califf said. “It’s a team effort. We know we’re doing some things well and we need to continue doing those things well, and there are also things we need to improve. It’s not just the offense.”