The New York Red Bulls line up for their fourth game in 11 days on June 13, with Seattle Sounders visiting Red Bull Arena. The Sounders have endured a limp start to their MLS 2018 campaign, one that might threaten their customary end-of-year appearance in the MLS Cup final if poor form persists much further into the year. The Red Bulls, on the other hand, will seek to prevent a slump in league form - they are currently winless in their last three MLS games - from extending any further, but must do so while keeping something in reserve for their upcoming US Open Cup match against Philadelphia Union on June 16.
To help us better understand Seattle’s present circumstances, Sounder at Heart’s Dave Clark generously agreed to answer a few questions.
Once A Metro: Slow start to the year for the Sounders: is the team just pacing itself for the seemingly inevitable season finale against Toronto in December? Or is there something gone awry in Seattle?
Dave Clark: The list of things that have gone wrong is long and includes every portion of the soccer organization. Things have been complicated due to the nature of making two MLS Cups in a row and having CONCACAF Champions League this year. That gave an older-than-average squad less time to recover and so there are some nagging soft-tissue injuries.But those aren’t the only injuries.
Star forward Jordan Morris was lost to an ACL injury suffered at Santa Tecla in the first CCL match of the year. Both Nicolas Lodeiro and Kelvin Leerdam took their injuries during practice when their own teammates took them out. Will Bruin is playing through a plantar fascia issue. Even fourth-string forward Felix Chenkam, a 19-year-old they signed from S2, went down with a hamstring issue. Henry Wingo had surgery on his hand.
On top of all the injuries the Seattle Sounders have had an available DP slot unfilled. That looks to be nearly sorted out now, but it meant that for about 40% of the season the forward list was Will Bruin and Bruin Will. President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey waited for the ideal rather than the adequate. It hurt the early season.
The coaches aren’t blameless either. Brian Schmetzer tends to value work rate and veterans often. He is a true believer in the heart of the Sounders, and that powered him to a record that is still above average over the past 2+ seasons, even with this horrendous start.
They are finally through most of the injuries, have a DP on the way, only lost two of four eligible players to the World Cup and Schmetzer’s effort/emotions can magnify a team this talented and carry them on a run, again.
OaM: Who’s out for the World Cup, and how much are they missed?
DC: Seattle wound up only losing two players. The good news is that they prepared well for this and signed South Korean centerback Kim Kee-Hee. Kim will start in defense making up for the loss of Roman Torres (Panama). The other loss is Sweden defensive midfielder Gustav Svensson.
Svensson is the bigger loss, but that’s because for Seattle he’s the strongest utility defender on the team. This season he’s had most of his minutes as a DM, but also played CB. Last year he spot started at right back as well. He’s a strong on-man defender with good passing skills and height, though not great in the air. He has a unique contract situation where he’s making more than a million dollars, but Seattle is paying about 1/3 of it. Cristian Roldan, Jordy Delem and the close to healthy Osvaldo Alonso will take up the slack in midfield.
Torres is the hero of Panama, their captain and one of the strongest personalities on the Sounders. His skills may be aging out and he has a bit of a habit of starting seasons slow. Torres also likes to get much further forward than any other CB in the league. In fact it was his goal, scored in the run of play, that sent Panama to their World Cup. Kim is more mobile laterally, not as good in the air and a better passer.
OaM: How do you think the Sounders will approach this game: play to their strengths and trust that quiets RBNY, or come out with a game-plan specifically tailored to the task of playing the Red Bulls in Harrison?
Seattle succeeds and fails when they play to their own strengths, even their formation adjustments during this poor start have been about maximizing the available talents and not a response to the opposing team. What their identity is remains a question. The injuries and absences covered earlier mean that the team has played even more defensive than usual. That will likely change now that Lodeiro and Rodriguez are back. They’ll look to feed throughballs, even to older, slower forwards. They can also dribble through heavy traffic and Rodriguez has a first touch that opens space like none other.
Look for wide play to come from the fullbacks, one of the DMs will drop back to be a pseudo-CB, the wide mids will flop sides regularly while Dempsey drops into the space an 8 uses and also steps up to mimic a forward. That’s the basics of the shape. It’s not complicated. When there’s talent on the field it can win a lot.