What Are They All About? Seattle Sounders
Progress? This past weekend the Chicago Fire drew Orlando City SC 1-1 at SeatGeek Stadium. The result earned the hosts their first point of the season and the manner in which it was achieved, a ninety-fifth minute header from CJ Sapong, showed the fight present within this retooled squad. However, for the second week running Chicago had numerous chances to put the match away early on. Uncharacteristic misses from Nemanja Nikolic and Aleksandar Katai opened the door for a less than stellar Orlando side to capitalize on a rare defensive miscommunication between Johan Kappelhof and David Ousted.
To add to the mixed bag of takeaways from the match, Bastian Schweinsteiger looked aloof on the ball and his errant passes led directly to goal scoring opportunities for the visitors. Questioning his commitment to the side and justifying his salary were not issues that Chicago needed this early in the campaign. Ultimately, the Fire could have had six points from their opening two matches, but these small set backs coupled with subpar defending on the flanks means they will head into this weekend’s match against the Seattle Sounders desperate for a win (Noon CT on ESPN+).
Seattle on the other hand seems to be in cruise control. Two victories and six goals from their opening two matches have set up Brian Schmetzer and his charges to continue the success of recent seasons. The Sounders have made the playoffs in each of their ten seasons as an MLS franchise, and have added a Supporters’ Shield, an MLS Cup, and four US Open Cups to their trophy cabinet in that time as well. They seem to be the masters of consistency in an often tumultuous league and this year is shaping up to be no different. Will the Rave Green make it three in three, or will Chicago finally put all of the pieces together? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
Seattle Form Guide: W-W
Previous Result: A 2-0 home victory over the Colorado Rapids.
Formation: 4-2-3-1; Frei; Leerdam, Kee-hee, Marshall, Smith; Svensson, Roldan; Morris, Lodeiro, Rodriguez; Ruidiaz
Strengths: This Sounders side has the potential to run rampant in the coming weeks as they face up against teams that are still growing in cohesion and establishing contours to their projects. An established and consistent side can be a deadly force in this league and the cemented lineup carrying over from last season should serve them well. Let’s see where they might succeed on Saturday.
A Sturdy Foundation: The fact of the matter is that Seattle as an organization is just a cut above the rest in MLS. While they may no longer be the “standard” of league expansion in the wake of LAFC and Atlanta, Garth Lagerway and his technical staff have mapped out numerous ways to succeed over the years. They’ve shown a willingness to spend on big name DPs—Obafemi Martins, Clint Dempsey, Freddie Ljungberg, and most recently, Nico Lodeiro—but have also strengthened in other ways. Their USL side, Tacoma Defiance (formerly known as S2), not only boasts one of the premier training facilities in the country but has been a clear pathway to the first team for local youth academy products. This is of course in addition to its function in managing minutes for returning players or those deemed just outside of the matchday eighteen. It allows for a uniform style of play to be implemented across multiple age groups, ensuring a distinct club ethos that has been part and parcel of the Sounder’s success. A “true” homegrown player, Jordan Morris, is proof of this pipeline.
Additionally, Seattle has succeeded in rounding out their squad with league veterans like Chad Marshall, Will Bruin, and Harry Shipp, while Kim Kee-hee, Victor Rodriguez, Gustav Svensson, and Roman Torres are evidence of their skill in acquiring international talent. They truly have a squad that utilizes all of the leagues acquisition mechanisms to good effect. When you add their investment in the local media market, the city’s soccer infrastructure, and a lack of competing sports within Seattle, you have the makings of a true soccer destination and a successful team.
Al Toque: The latest successful signing for the Sounders has been Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz. Acquired from Liga MX’s Morelia, the out-and-out number nine has scored 134 club goals in 286 career appearances, virtually a guaranteed goal every two matches. He’s been even more prolific for the Sounders, notching fifteen goals in eighteen appearances, and currently finds himself on a streak of seven consecutive matches with a tally. More than just a clinical finisher, his runs behind defensive lines, a unique ability to control the ball in tight spaces, and a knack for headed goals despite his small stature have all lead to the diminutive forward taking the Emerald City by storm. He’s notched six shots in his first two matches (five on target) and he’ll relish the chance to wreak havoc on a discombobulated Fire back line.
Hot Sauce for the Wings: Talking about the Fire’s lack of defensive capability on the flanks may be easy pickings and an advantage for most sides, but it is an especially poignant weakness this week. The system that Seattle has utilized for several seasons now and one which has inspired other MLS sides is the 4-2-3-1 with overlapping full backs. Victor Rodriguez and Jordan Morris are dangerous enough on the wings—Rodriguez is charged with stretching play by getting out towards the byline while Morris has become the epitome of a winger that cuts inside—but the overloads caused by Kevin Leerdam and Brad Smith make this Seattle side lethal. With Nico Lodeiro pulling the strings as a quintessential “Enganche”, Cristian Roldan’s ceaseless running, and Gustav Svensson cleaning up after everyone, the midfield in general is a force to be reckoned with. For the first time this season Chicago may not dominate possession, a worrisome prospect for a side that thrives on the ball.
History Doesn’t Lie: For whatever reason, MLS seems to be a league of trends in terms of previous results having an impact on matches. Chicago has only beaten Seattle twice in MLS play since the Sounders joined the league (2017, and 2015). The fixture has swung overwhelmingly in favor of the Sounders who are 9-2-4 in all time meetings against the Fire. If history is anything to go by, Chicago could be in trouble on Saturday.
Weaknesses: The Sounders are flying high at the moment, but the parity of this league threatens even the most successful sides. Lagerway’s cap on expenditure, aging legs in the center of the pitch, and a lack of goal scoring outside of Ruidiaz are just the most obvious of shortcomings. Let’s see where else they may struggle on Saturday.
Was that on Amateur or Semi-pro?: While we mean no disrespect to Colorado and Cincinnati, the Sounders have not exactly been tested this year. Their lack of Concacaf Champions League play ensured that they were well rested heading into the season and their freshness showed in those two encounters against sides still finding their footing. Colorado has been a disaster in recent seasons and although this latest rebuild looks promising, they are still in a stage of discerning a system and individual roles. Cincy is in the same boat and has the extra pressure of being an expansion side. Saturday will see the Sounders face the sternest test of the season thus far and it will be far from the confines of CenturyLink Field.
The Sounders managed just one away win against Eastern Conference opposition last year and with a slew of Western Conference matchups on the horizon, anything earned at SeatGeek this weekend will be seen as a bonus rather than a must. The match will be special for the likes of Harry Shipp and Jonathan Campbell should he be recalled from Tacoma, but the rest of the squad will see a trip out to freezing Chicago as an early season nuisance, a mindset that has cost them here in the past.
Prediction: This is the earliest must win match that the Fire have had in recent memory. Results are not decided on paper and the promise of this new project needs to begin to show dividends before the wheels come flying off. Chicago 3-2 Seattle. CJ Sapong, Nemanja Nikolic, and Djordje Mihailovic for the hosts. Raul Ruidiaz and Harrison Shipp for the visitors.