Cascadia week rolls on as the Colorado Rapids are taking on what may be the most complete team in the league, the Seattle Sounders at Century Link Field on Wednesday night. Our friends at Sounder at Heart and I exchanged questions about this match and what might happen in Seattle:
Burgundy Wave: Seattle had a ton of possession but just one shot on frame against Sporting. Was it more of a bad night or has Sporting shown a blueprint to slowdown Seattle's fantastic offense?
Sounder at Heart: KC did something outside what they typically do - they got back. Rather than their high pressure, everyone got back. It was a conservative tactic partially employed due to their own injury situation, but also because of a recognition of Seattle's ability to counter-attack. So the Sounders had to practice their possession with a purpose, and it didn't go well. They got the possession part right, but the purpose (scoring) didn't have a great night. If you are willing to see a team play for nil-nil with 9 or more men back then the Sporting method could work again. Adding Obafemi Martins back to the attack reduces the chance of that tactic succeeding. Oba and Clint Dempsey are good on their own, together they are a Jaeger named Clinfemi. That drift compatible monstrosity of a robot that's capable of taking on extra-dimensional beasts.
BW: The Sounders are going to be busy on three fronts this year (MLS Cup, Open Cup and CCL). When I look at the Sounders roster I really feel like they have the talent to win all three, but player management is going to be crucial. How do they deal with the three different competitions and find success in all of them?
SAH: The key is going to be the search for rotational players that can compete with top MLS talent. There are only a few veterans that fit the bill, since Hanauer & Co. dropped so many this past offseason. Those veterans are Chad Barrett as a forward/winger, Leo Gonzalez at left back and Zach Scott at centerback. Andy Rose is probably a veteran now too. He's been used as a center mid and winger this year. They'll need a fifth player to step in and play effectively and a sixth if any of those first three drop off due to age. Those fifth and sixth spots are all about youth. It's homegrown players like Aaron Kovar (left wing), Victor Mansaray (forward, winger) and Darwin Jones (forward, winger) or Generation Adidas kids like Cristian Roldan (center mid, winger) and Damoin Lowe (center back). There's a smattering of other youth talent and 27-year-old Azira, but Seattle's success across three competitions probably comes down to Rose's performance frequently rotating in as a starter and those five HGP/GA kids giving Sigi enough options to rest key players over what could be a 50 match season.
BW: Speaking of competitions, the Gold Cup is coming up this summer and the Sounders will lose at least one player (Clint Dempsey). Is Chad Barrett his natural replacement or will Sigi change a formation to compensate for the loss of Clint?
SAH: Sigi's done two different things when Oba or Clint are gone. The first is a simple straight swap of Chad Barrett into the starting lineup. That's a loss of quality for sure, but as far as MLS 3rd forwards go he's pretty decent. He gives full effort and can finish, it's just things like finesse, passing and hold-up play that suffer. Alternatively Lamar Neagle can slide up top. Lamar came really close to the elusive double-double club last year, missing by just a single goal and assist. That 10-10 club in 2014? Donovan, Valeri, Keane, Henry, Martins, P. Morales, Dempsey. Putting Lamar up top with Oba works out quite well. The issue becomes with the wingers. As stated above, those wingers are either converted forwards (Barrett, Jones, Mansaray), converted central midfielders (Rose, Roldan) or a pure left wing that gets very little playing time in MLS (Kovar). This is where the depth has to shine. I'm nearly certain that it will be Neagle with Martins. A kid is going to have to boss it for Seattle to be in position to win the Shield. I hope that kid is Kovar, as he offers the most unique skill set (defense, crossing, dead ball service).
Significant absences: Gonzalo Pineda is out with an ankle issue. Martins is just now coming back from injury so probably doesn't go 90.
Projected Lineup: Frei; Remick, Marshall, Evans, Mears; Neagle, Rose, Alonso, Pappa; Dempsey, Martins
You can see my answers over at Sounder at Heart.