What Are They All About? Seattle Sounders
“It’s just that this year we are making all of the mistakes that one team can make”. With that one simple phrase Veljko Paunovic summed up a Chicago Fire season that had started with so much hope but has since spiraled into a roller coaster of errors and frustration. Chicago failed to get a result on the road yet again as they lost 4-1 against NYCFC this past Friday. Patrick Vieira and his men officially secured a place in the post season with the victory while Chicago dug themselves deeper into the cellar of both the Eastern conference and the overall MLS table.
Chicago is now five points adrift of Columbus and Houston in dead last and should the Fire manage to stay in that position they would be the first MLS team in league history to finish last in two consecutive seasons. While many of the players showed that they aren’t interested in keeping their jobs in the previous match, perhaps that historic realization will motivate their pride as the Fire fumble their way through the last five matches of the season.
If Paunovic and his charges needed any more obstacles to overcome, the New York match was the first of three away trips in nine days for the Fire. The MLS schedule magicians provided Chicago with 6,016 miles to travel between New York, Seattle, and Columbus in that span. The midweek hurdle is Seattle and that’s where we will turn our attention as an in-form Sounders side eagerly awaits the chance to brutalize Chicago and catapult over their Cascadian rivals into a playoff spot.
Seattle Form Guide (Last 5 matches): W-W-D-L-D
Previous Match: A 4-2 away win against LA Galaxy.
Formation: 4-2-3-1; Frei; Jones, Marshall, Torres, Mears; Roldan, Alonso; Ivanschitz, Lodeiro, Fernandez; Morris
Strengths: MLS touts itself as a league of parity and opportunity. Teams that are struggling to find results early on often have a glimmer of hope that they will be able to turn their season around. The Sounders have shown that this is in fact possible. After losing seven of their first twelve and eventually firing legendary head coach Sigi Schmid, they seem to have turned it around and are just three points away from a playoff spot with two matches in hand on their closest rivals. Let’s take a look at what has gone right lately.
Tranquilamente Bebe Mate en la Cancha: Seattle’s latest signing, Nicolas Lodeiro, has spent time at Nacional, Ajax, Botafogo, Corinthians, and Boca Juniors, and it shows. The Uruguyan central midfielder is technically gifted, calm on the ball, and has impeccable vision. Despite the notion that one mid-season addition won’t turn a team around, he has adjusted quickly and has been an integral part of Seattle’s upswing since the departure of Schmid. Lodeiro has started every Sounders match since his arrival and the group has won five of those, tied three and lost just two. One of the best spells of their season.
The quintessential #10 has scored or assisted in eight consecutive matches for Seattle, a feat unmatched by anyone else in the league (Giovinco is closest with seven). We’re not sure what Cocis, Thiam, or Polster can do to stop his fluid movement and accurate passing but hopefully Paunovic has a plan. If Nelson Rodriguez needed another example of an individual changing the fortunes of a team he has one in the Paysandú native (might we mention Paysandú is technically in the Enganche producing Rio De La Plata Basin?).
Captain America II: We might not agree with all of the choices for MLS’ 24 under 24 but did have Jordan Morris in our top three as well. While we’ll talk about the original Captain America and his absence below we’ll discuss the second iteration here. The 21 year old Stanford product has scored 12 goals and 3 assists so far this season, the greatest such tally ever for any American born rookie in MLS. While those statistics are impressive, a bit of context truly illuminates the youngster’s contributions lately.
In the absence of Clint Dempsey—who has been missing since August 21st with a medical complication—Morris has stepped up to fill a void that many pundits thought would lead to an utter collapse for Seattle. He has featured in all four matches since then and has shouldered the responsibilities associated with the loan striker role quite well, scoring four goals in those appearances. His speed proved to be LA’s undoing in Sunday’s match as he scored the equalizer by absolutely blowing past Sterres amidst a 50 yard sprint and then toe poked the ball into the upper 90 past Rowe. The go ahead goal was also his doing as he collected a Lodeiro rebound in the box and had the composure to create an angle for himself to tuck it away coolly. This kid is the real deal and should be a joy to watch on Wednesday.
Century Link Field: No, we don’t mean the atmosphere. Despite the common assumption there are places that are more intimidating. However, the field’s dimensions and the turf will prove to be problematic for Chicago. The travel in MLS takes some getting used to and even the players accustomed to it will struggle with this particular road trip. Age, fatigue, newness, and even interest will be factors for the Fire against the Sounders. Yes, Seattle traveled back from LA on Sunday night but it’s their home field and they have a deeper squad (every member of their roster is fit and available aside from Dempsey). If the likes of Alonso, Lodeiro, and Roldan can keep the ball moving from side to side, Chicago will tire in this one. There’s also the historical truth of Chicago never having won in Seattle.
Weaknesses: At this point of the season any weaknesses that opponents have are often overshadowed by Chicago’s own struggles. While we tend to go into matches thinking there is a shot at parity, Seattle’s trajectory seems to indicate this will be a tough outing for Chicago. Let’s give it a try anyway.
Absence of Dempsey: This one is obvious but this Fire side isn’t giving us much help. Dempsey has been a talisman for this Sounders side since his $10 million move from Tottenham Hotspur in August of 2013. 34 goals and 2 assists in 62 MLS appearances since then is quite impressive but the USMNT star has also brought a renewed sense of identity to a club that expects to be among the elite of MLS. Morris has done a great job of filling in and Seattle should be fine against the Fire, but the struggles that hit the Sounders after Obafemi Martins’ departure could be repeated in the absence of another big star.
Shaky Defending on Aerial Balls: Dump long balls to Arshakyan. Those five words might not make the most exciting Power Point slide, but they do make for an effective one. Over the course of the last four matches, Seattle has consistently struggled to deal with set piece crosses, open play crosses, and long balls in behind.
Although they eventually beat LA, both of Robbie Keane’s goals came from issues surrounding aerial balls. The first was an open header off of a Lleget cross while the second was a PK which was awarded after Alonso shouldered Gerrard as the Englishman chased down a long ball in the box. To be fair, the PK was soft but Alonso was merely taking initiative after continual failures from his center back earlier in the match. Chad Marshall and Roman Torres aren’t small center backs but they continue to put their team in awkward defensive positions.
Against Vancouver the pair constantly lost their marks and misjudged long balls. The closet the Whitecaps came to scoring were a Giles Barnes shot that bounced off of the post and a Nicolas Mezquida header that went over the bar. Both were the product of poor timing on the part of Torres and Marshall. The advanced outside backs don’t help out either, as evidenced in the match against San Jose. Marvell Wynne sent a hopeful longball into the left channel which Tyrone Mears flicked onto the foot of Jordan Stewart who crossed into a wide open Chris Wondolowski for the game’s only goal.
The match against Portland was the best of the bunch in terms of shoulder shrugging defending on long ball deliveries. Liam Ridgwell found himself unmarked on an early set piece and somehow managed to miss a wide open net. His mistake was remedied just minutes later as Vytas buried a corner into the back of the net. Two more goals came off of some nice build up play by Portland before Steven Taylor put the final nail in the coffin with, you guessed it, another header off of a set piece. If we were Paunovic we’d throw out a 4-3-3 spearheaded by Arshakyan and Solignac with DeLeeuw providing service from a withdrawn position underneath. If Chicago can take advantage of this clear weakness maybe they’ll leave with something.
Century Link Field: While we realize that it was listed as a strength above it has also been an Achilles heel for Seattle. They have lost five home matches this season, more than any other MLS team. Perhaps this is the year that the Fire take three points from a team that has been the source of quite a few embarrassing moments for the club?
Prediction: It will get much worse for Chicago before it gets any better. Seattle 5-2 Chicago: Arshakyan and Solignac notch headers for the visitors while Joevin Jones and Flaco Fernandez score on either side of a Jordan Morris hat trick for Seattle.