This weekend’s Cascadia Cup match against the Seattle Sounders is coming up quickly, so we got in touch with our (ahem) fellows over at Sounder at Heart to find out just what is going on with our neighbors to the north and Mr. Dave Clark was happy to answer our questions.
Before Wednesday the Sounders were floundering, having scored less then a goal per game through the first half of the season. What happened to Seattle's once vaunted attack? Is it all about losing Obafemi Martins or do the issues run deeper than that?
First off, a lot of it has to do with losing and not replacing Oba. Losing an MVP caliber player dramatically effects a team, particularly when they aren't replaced with another sure-fire star. Just look at the 2015 New York Red Bulls and how BWP fell (to only 17 goals, but his '14 was even better). Now, Red Bull added Klejstan and Grella with Sam stepping up as well.
But Seattle did not lose just Oba with the only significant replacement being Jordan Morris (he's been good, but still is a rookie). Neagle, Barrett and Pappa were all sent off as well. The only non-Morris signing in the attack was Oalex Anderson, a young speedster from Trinidad & Tobago who was with S2 last year. He's a decent sub, but not a scoring threat yet. They also added Herculez Gomez who is a strong on effort but long on finishing in the past several years.
On top of losing those four last year's late season additions in attack of Andreas Ivanschitz and Nelson Haedo Valdez are generally not performing well on the stat-line. Valdez is a strong complimentary target forward with great effort and ball-winning skill but is not a scorer. Ivanschitz serves a good long ball, but has not fit into the roles he's been asked to play (except against Dallas he did get a goal and assist).
In many ways the Sounders lost six players in their potent attack and replaced them with Jordan Morris. Should the attack be bad, no. It should have merely been average if Andreas and Nelson were also performing as they did late last year. Finally, Clint Dempsey is struggling in 2016. There were positional issues, that seem to be resolved, as well as trust issues with the offense around him. That may also be resolving but Portland won't need to worry about it.
The offense was working fine on Wednesday, however, as the Sounders dismantled FC Dallas's reserves to the tune of 5-0. Could that result be a turning point for Seattle? What worked in that match that Sounders fans had not otherwise seen this season?
It's quite easy to feel great about that kind of drubbing. But it's also a bit of a mirage. Going up a man just four minutes into a game changes quite a bit. Yes, it was leveled at ten-a-side in the 33rd minute, but by then the Sounders were up 3-0. Operating with so much space Seattle took advantage and scored twice more.
The main thing that can be taken away from that is not the scoreline, but that the Sounders were not satisfied scoring a couple and riding out an easy win. They wanted to dominate, as they knew they should, and they dominated. Prior to the game if you told me that the Sounders would earn a 4th minute penalty and play up for those 29 minutes I would have expected a something like 2-1, or maybe 2-2.
What Wednesday night did was cleanse those kinds of thoughts from the minds of the players and fans, if only for one night.
Osvaldo Alonso has played all but 28 minutes of the Sounders' season to date, which is about par for the course when it comes to the aggressive defensive midfielder. Still, after an offseason filled with rumors of his impending departure, how is Alonso playing this season? And what role has he had in the Sounders' struggles so far?
Alonso is nearly back to the form that earned him a Best XI nod in 2012 and four straight All Star selections from '11 to '14. Unlike 2015 his speed and anticipation in defense look spritely. Balls near his area are intercepted, balls that aren't near his area are suddenly in his area. He's still a hard tackler who does not get beat by dribbling.
What's really standing out this year is his passing. He may be the best long-ball player in MLS right now. His success on long balls is 80% on nearly 10 attempts a game. Most often those are switches out to a fullback flaring up the opposite side of the field, but as he showed Wednesday night he can also pick out a running attacking player.
If the Sounders attack wasn't so broken, thereby being in a respectable position in the standings, Ozzie would be getting praise for leading one of the best defenses in the league while also being a deep-lying playmaker. This may be the second best he's been. But the offense does suck and no one is going to be praising a Sounder until the team looks better.
Lineup prediction: Frei; Jo.Jones, Marshall, Evans, Mears; Ivanschitz, Alonso, Friberg, Roldan; Valdez, Morris