Tomorrow the Portland Timbers take on the Seattle Sounders in what promises to be one of the premier matches of the regular MLS season. But I don't really need to tell you all this. As a Portland Timbers fan this stuff is ingrained within you from the very day you decide to done the green and white.
Still, knowing about the rivalry doesn't necessarily mean you know about the enemy. To help us figure out what this year's Seattle Sounders squad looks like I was able to interview Dave Clark from rival SB Nation blog Sounder at Heart.
Two key changes in the typical Seattle line up from last year: Kasey Keller retired and Eddie Johnson was added. Can you explain a little about how these two players have changed the line up since last year and how the team has performed without and with them respectively?
Losing the legend and captain didn't change much on the field in the first half of the season so far. Michael Gspurning stepped in and played as well as Keller had at any point. But now, the group leadership concept is being questioned. Gspurning is injured and keeper is a question mark until the Austrian is back. One of the great things is having Keller in the booth. We are getting to know the man a bit now, rather than just the player.
EJ was brought in for peak talent. While Seattle had options to pair with Fredy Montero up top, none since Nate Jaqua of 09 have been full season difference makers in the eyes of the Sounders brain trust. He offers size and speed and technique. His biggest questions are about judgement and fitting into the team. While Estrada, Ochoa and Fucito are capable of starting for a stretch of games, they aren't likely to be difference makers in the CCL or MLS Cup Playoffs.
How has key striker Freddie Montero performed so far this year? Is he above, at, or below expectations?
Montero is off to his best start of MLS, and yet falling below expectations. The reasons behind that are two fold. One, Seattle fans want more trophies. The three Open Cups, Cascadia Cup and Heritage Cup are nice, but they aren't a Supporters' Shield or MLS Cup or CCL title. To get to that level Montero will be the horse ridden. Still, he's on a decent start, and could start one of those multi-game scoring streams at any moment. He'll do it from odd spaces, unbelievable angles and have moments where his first touch is as good as any in the world.
Seattle has hit a bit of a rough patch with 3 draws and 2 losses in the last five regular season games. What do you attribute to this?
At one point I thought that the depth of Seattle's defensive core was key to it's performance. Now I've moved to thinking that they were performing well despite a lack of consistent playing time. The heavy rotation has lead to 7 different players getting significant time on line. In the recent run of poor form there are clear communication issues between players who are of quality. Someday the Sounders will get a consistent run from their "ideal" four, but it will be a few more weeks.
With Seattle still being alive in the U.S. Open Cup, and, presumably, still in the running for both the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup, how important is it for them to also win Cascadia Cup?
Regional trophies shouldn't be more important than league wide trophies. The good thing about this year's Cascadia Cup is that the Vancouver Whitecaps are pushing Seattle on the league table. Even if Seattle doesn't prioritize the Cascadia, they will need those points to reach their ultimate goal. If they only earn a fourth Open Cup and second MLS Cascadia Cup will leave many fans and supporters wanting. How Sigi values the various Cups will be evident in the lineup he fields, regardless of results.
Do you miss Mike Fucito?
Yes. Quite a bit. While the Church of Fucito was a lot of cultish meme fun, it was also a recognition that I saw a player deserving of being a higher draft pick than he was and deserving of more playing time than he got. He fit well into the team too. While he didn't excel at social media his teammates took the opportunity to make jokes at his expense. Some of my fascination with Fucito is also because I'm basically his height, and in my good times I've been his weight (well, less, as I never had the muscle mass). His frame doesn't scream pro athlete and yet he's more fit than 90% of MLS players. His tactical awareness is strong. He thinks his shooting window is about 10 inches. He pressures the opposing backline quite well. Does this mean he's the greatest player in the world? No. Do I miss what he added to the Sounders? Yes. Heck, I miss seeing him at practice. I miss that uncomfortable moment when I went to the media relations team and requested an interview to "ask him about the Church of Fucito." I miss his answer when he said that he appreciates the fans and will give them everything he has.
Did I just put Mike on a pedestal? Probably and I don't really care. I'd take him back in Rave Green tomorrow. I think he'd get playing time here right now and he'd be great in the Champions League.
Predicted starting line up?