If Major League Soccer could hand-pick a team to face Manchester United in a high-profile friendly, it couldn't do much better than the Seattle Sounders.
Currently the hottest team in MLS (an unbeaten 6-0-3 in its past nine MLS matches), and boasting attendances that would stand up in any country, the Sounders are enjoying impressive success both on the field and at the turnstiles and will have a grand stage to show just how much the franchise has grown in its two and a half years of MLS existence.
Wednesday night's friendly at CenturyLink Field is expected to be a sellout and while high-profile friendlies are nothing new for the Sounders (they lost to Chelsea and FC Barcelona in 2009 friendlies), this one will still carry special meaning. Whether for a player like Erik Friberg, who grew up rooting for Manchester United, or for the players who will have the chance to impress new fans, and perhaps more importantly, their coach.
"Every player in the back of their minds, whether they want to say it or not, hopes that this is their breakthrough game," said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid.
For a player like veteran goalkeeper Kasey Keller, facing Manchester United isn't a first-time thing. The U.S. national team legend boasts a previous shutout victory against the English powerhouse during his time with Leicester City.
Keller isn't likely to be overwhelmed by the chance to face one of the world's best teams, but for some of the young Sounders players, going up against the likes of Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand will be a chance of a lifetime.
"If we get a chance to step onto the field, we're going to play our hearts out," Sounders rookie Servando Carrasco said. "To be able to compare yourself with the best players in the world is a great opportunity for us all."
On a stacked Sounders team where the battle for playing time is growing more and more fierce as the roster gets healthier, Wednesday's friendly will be a chance for players like Carrasco and fellow youngster Lamar Neagle to improve their cases for playing time, while also allowing Sigi Schmid to test out his defensive depth as he copes with the temporary loss of centerback Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, who is sidelined with a sprained MCL.
Neither team is expected to field first-choice squads to start the match, but the potential match-ups are enticing nonetheless. With Fredy Montero rounding into form, the chance to see the Colombian work his magic against one of the best centerback tandems in the world in Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic should be among the highlights of the match for MLS fans, as will seeing Seattle's defense try to halt the likes of Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Nani.
The friendly will kick off a busy week for Manchester United that will feature a friendly against the Chicago Fire on Saturday before next week's MLS All-Star Game at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Last week, Manchester United defeated the New England Revolution, 4-1, to open their American tour.
The Sounders should offer a considerably tougher test for Manchester United, and the atmosphere at CenturyLink Field will be as good as any the English champions will see during their trip to the United States.