CHESTER, Pa. – The last time the Philadelphia Union played in Seattle, they were an expansion team looking for their first win in franchise history.
More than a year-and-a-half later, the Union will make their second trip to Seattle with another achievement in plain sight: making the playoffs for the first time.
“We’re standing in front of the door,” Union manager Peter Nowak said. “The door is open. We just need to make the necessary step to walk through the door.”
The Union (10-7-14, 44 points) cannot officially a clinch a playoff berth when they play the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field on Saturday (10 pm ET, watch LIVE online), but a win would vault them ahead of Sporting Kansas City and into first in the Eastern Conference. Even a tie would leave the second-place Union in very good playoff position, since none of their other East rivals will be in action Saturday.
Of course, getting a result on the road against one of the league’s premier teams will not be easy – even if the Sounders (16-6-9, 57 points) have already clinched a playoff berth and are coming off the emotional high of winning the US Open Cup on Tuesday.
“It’s going to be a challenging game; it always is over there,” Nowak said. “And they still have a chance to win the Supporters’ Shield.”
Seattle will be without their leading scorer Freddy Montero (16 goals across all competitions), who is suspended for the game due to yellow card accumulation. Philadelphia, meanwhile, come into the game with their leading scorer – Sébastien Le Toux – playing at his absolute best.
And Le Toux, who was named the MLS Player of the Month for September after scoring seven goals in six games, is excited to return to Seattle, where he spent three years before the Union scooped him up in the 2009 Expansion Draft.
“It’s always special for me go back there,” the Frenchman said. “I have lots of good memories there. I’m glad about where they are right now and I wish them the best.”
But, of course, Le Toux wants to leave his old stomping grounds with a victory. And, he says, he and his teammates are ready to deal with the noise at CenturyLink, which typically gives the Sounders a tremendous homefield advantage.
“When you speak, you have to be very close to each other to understand and hear each other,” Le Toux said. “It’s a great place to play, even for the opposing team. I just want to play well and do my best on the field.”
Nowak didn’t seem too concerned about playing at such a hostile road venue, either.
“We were there last year, so it’s nothing different,” the Union manager said. “Most of the stadiums this time before the playoffs are all packed with people yelling and screaming. It’s not going to chance our approach to Seattle, regardless of the 30,000 fans. It’s good to play in this kind of environment at this stage.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.