What Are They All About? Seattle Sounders
Magic indeed. This past Wednesday the Chicago Fire defeated Atlanta United in the US Open Cup by a score line of 1-0. A brilliant team move that started in their own defensive third was finished off by Nemanja Nikolic and Chicago held on against a makeshift Atlanta lineup to advance to the quarterfinals. The result was massive for a club that has been spinning on a downward trajectory on and off the field this season, ensuring that they will host at least one Open Cup match during this campaign. They will also be hoping that the heart and grit shown in the round of sixteen clash will serve as a catalyst for some MLS success in the coming weeks. Sitting outside the playoffs on goal differential alone, the Fire will take on the Seattle Sounders this Saturday (9:00 CT on ESPN+) and could lift themselves above the red line for the first time this season.
Seattle on the other hand are barely treading water in the West and could end the day rooted to the bottom of the Supporters Shield standings, a far cry from the glory of two back-to-back MLS Cup Final appearances. While Brian Schmetzer is clearly on the hot seat and may not see out the season as the Sounders head coach, the long-time club man is not solely to blame for the sad state of affairs in the Emerald City. Sounders GM Garth Lagerway recently received a bit of flak for comments he made when discussing the growth of MLS and expansion clubs like Atlanta and LAFC in which he alluded to Seattle no longer being able to compete financially with the newcomers. Although Lagerway has since attempted to clarify comments and Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer has promised to spend big in July, Seattle will need to better their record setting 2016 turnaround if they are to make the playoffs this year, a tall order indeed.
As is usually the case in this league, Saturday’s fixture can serve as a lifeline for both sides, or it could doom at least one of them to continued mediocrity. There is never a dull moment in MLS and we expect fireworks this weekend. Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
Seattle Form Guide (All Competitions): L-W-L-L-L
Previous Result: A 2-1 away loss to the Red Bulls.
Formation: 5-4-1; Frei; Francis, Alfaro, Marshall, Kee-hee. McCrary; Rodriguez, Roldan, Alonso, Lodeiro; Bruin
Strengths: The impending arrival of Raul Ruidiaz from Monarcas Morelia for a reported $8 million transfer fee and nearly $2.5 million in salary and bonuses may just serve as a spark for the Sounders in the second half of the season. However, with the transfer window not yet officially open and Ruidiaz’s participation in the World Cup, we’ll have to dig up some other strengths for the Sounders. Let’s see where they might succeed on Saturday.
Heavy Legs: When Chicago defeated Atlanta in the Open Cup, they did so utilizing a full strength starting eleven. Additionally, Saturday’s match will be the sixth of seven Fire fixtures in the month of June with the final encounter being against Eastern Conference high flyers NYCFC. If there is one match where squad rotation and resting players makes sense, its Saturday’s trip to the West coast. It won't be surprising if Bastian Schweinsteiger doesn't make the trip given the amount of minutes he has on his legs this season and the fact that Seattle plays on turf. It might also be smart to rest other starters.
MLS Voodoo: Our readers will be familiar with our affinity for history and our belief that it somehow impacts results in this league. Well, the fact of the matter is that Chicago has never won in Seattle. Not in league play, not in the Open Cup, never… In fact, they have never won in the Pacific Northwest period. All they have to show for their troubles in the Emerald City is one point earned from a scoreless draw in 2009. If there is any year for that to change it could be this one given that the Sounders have already lost three times at what is usually an impenetrable CenturyLink Field, but given the aforementioned line up possibilities, we wouldn’t count on it.
Stingy at the Back: Although the Sounders have scored the fewest amount of goals in MLS—we’ll get to that later—they have been fairly solid at the back, allowing just seventeen goals on the season (the third fewest in the league). The ever-present Chad Marshall, the additions of Waylon Francis, Kim Kee-hee, and defensive midfielder Magnus Wolff Eikrem, along with the heroics of Stefan Frei and leg crunching tackles of Osvaldo Alonso have kept Seattle competitive within every fixture this season. It will take something special to unlock this group and the opportunity for Katai may have already passed.
Weaknesses: There is no shortage of talking points for this column this week and while we can’t possibly cover them all, let’s get to what we can. Here’s where Seattle will struggle on Saturday.
Tinkering Till it Breaks: Although no one can ever take the 2016 Cinderella run away from Brian Schmetzer and he will surely never have to pay for a drink in Seattle again, the long-time club steward seems to have lost the plot this season. A devastating injury to Jordan Morris could never have been predicted but the attempts to deal with the youngster’s absence have been less than inspiring. Utilizing four different formations and four different line ups in the last four fixtures alone is a telltale sign of panic from the typically well-held together coach. The press conference after the loss to the Red Bulls last week was an even more obvious omen as Schmetzer spent the entire interview answering questions with his shoulders slumped and his head down. Something tells us that players won’t be the only additions for Seattle in July.
Time to Call it Quits: One of the main reasons that Seattle has struggled is that they have once again thrown all of their eggs into one basket when it comes to attacking play. Niko Lodeiro has been tasked with getting the ball to Clint Dempsey in the secondary striker role who then shoots from wherever he happens to find himself while Will Bruin picks up the scraps. Well, the problem is that at thirty-five years of age, Dempsey just can’t get it done anymore. He has taken more shots than any other Sounder (twenty-seven) but has put just eight on frame and has yet to register a goal this season. His talent is unquestionable and his time with Fulham and Tottenham speaks for itself, but perhaps it is time for him to hang up his boots and allow the Sounders to create a new identity…
World Cup Woes: As if the Sounders didn’t have it bad enough with all of their frailties, they will be missing two of their most notable defensive players. Roman Torres and Gustav Svensson are currently in Russia for the World Cup and could still qualify for the knockout round. While it is always an honor to be called up to represent your country, Sounders fans are certainly missing the duos contributions.
Prediction: This match has draw written all over it. Chicago will be happy with a point on the road and Seattle will take what they can get until their star players return and Ruidiaz arrives in July. Fire 1-1 Sounders. Alan Gordon heads in for the visitors. Harrison Shipp dances his way through the penalty box to slot home past Sanchez for the hosts.