CHESTER, Pa. – Over the past three games, the Philadelphia Union have struggled to pick up points against slumping teams looking to either win their first game of the season or end losing streaks.
Could they actually be better off in an underdog role when they face the hottest team in MLS – led by the league’s hottest player – on the other side of the country?
At the very least, Saturday’s game again Clint Dempsey and the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field (10 pm ET, MLSsoccer.com's Stream of the Week), represents a chance for the Union to prove that they’re better than their 1-3-5 record indicates and use an un upset win to get their season on the right track.
“This is going to show our character and how we are as a team,” midfielder Maurice Edu said. “It’s easy when things are going your way and you’re getting the wins and all of the balls are falling for you. But when things aren’t falling into place, it’s a good test of character. How do you respond to that? And how do we rebound from our past performances.”
For the Union, rebounding from their seven-game winless skid likely starts with slowing down Dempsey, who’s scored eight goals this season – one fewer than the entire Philly team.
“We know the quality he has going forward with the ball,” said Edu, who could be a teammate of Dempsey’s in Brazil next month. “He’s a guy that likes to get touches on the ball and create. He has the ability to score goals and create goals for himself and also for his teammates.
"As a team, we have to be collectively aware of what he can do, try to limit the space he has on the ball and close him down quickly. But, in saying that, I think we need to focus on us.”
Other players on the team reiterated that the Union can’t create a gameplan around Dempsey – both because other players on the Sounders can beat them and also because their primary concern is how they can snap out of their own offensive funk.
“The talk this week is mostly about us and what we have to do to get a result,” left back Ray Gaddis said. “We know they’re a good side but the focus has really been on our team.”
Union manager John Hackworth admitted Saturday’s game will be difficult, calling CenturyLink Field "one of the toughest places to play" and the first-place Sounders "very dynamic."
But he also believes the Union have a chance to be equally dynamic in what could turn out to be a wide-open game.
“Putting my positive spin on it, you look at the way we’ve played and this kind of game sets up maybe better than it did last weekend,” Hackworth said. “I think they’re going to try to play, there’s going to be more space in the midfield and more space in the final third.
"That should make for an interesting contest. It’s going to be a little bit of a battle to see who wins those spots on the field, but it should open up more opportunities.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.