Portland, OR – Two of the newer Major League Soccer clubs Wen Field.
Philadelphia had a tough first season in MLS in 2010, but it rebounded in 2011 with a postseason berth, finishing third in the Eastern Conference before being ousted in the playoffs by the Houston Dynamo.
The playoff series against the eventual MLS Cup runners-up saw the Union head home on the back of set-piece dominance from the Dynamo. According to coach Peter Nowak, the team is much better prepared for those types of situations.
"We need to focus on preventing (goals), instead of just concentrating on the target guys," Nowak said. "We have to make sure the guys who are around the area - targets three, four and five - that they're also covered. So it's not only a job for a few players, it's a job for the whole team.
"We worked on that, we're going to continue to work on that, and we're going to try to prevent those goals."
Philadelphia's squad has undergone a bit of a facelift since the close of the 2011 season.
Sebastien Le Toux was dealt to Vancouver Whitecaps FC in exchange for allocation money, leaving a great deal of uncertainty to where the bulk of the Union's goals will come from. Faryd Mondragon also departed, leaving the shot- stopping responsibilities on second-year goalkeeper Zac MacMath. Both are key losses for the Union and could force the Union to take a small step back in the 2012 season.
Portland enjoyed a much better debut season in the league than Philadelphia, coming within a week of qualifying for the playoffs. The Timbers will look to imitate the Union's sophomore season as the Rose City club is targeting a spot in the postseason.
The Timbers made some upgrades to the squad in the offseason with the additions of Kris Boyd, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, and Hanyer Mosquera.
Boyd, the Scottish Premier League's all-time leading scorer, will provide some much-needed firepower up front following the departure of Kenny Cooper, while Jean-Baptiste and Mosquera should help shore up a back line that was often shaky throughout the 2011 season.
There are some injury concerns for Portland heading into the season opener, but coach John Spencer won't be making any excuses.
"I'd like to be standing right now telling you that we've got 25, 26 guys that are fully healthy and ready to go and fight for a spot next week, but we don't," said Spencer. "So that's a little bit of a disappointment, but as I've said, we've never made excuses in the past and we're not really starting to come out now. We're in good shape."