The Western Conference is a mystery. It’s hard to stay up and watch those late night kickoffs while out parting or playing Fortnite or whatever the cool kids are doing these days. Luckily, Dave Clark over at Sounder At Heart was kind enough to answer some pressing questions for us to get ready for the Fire’s trip to the home of Dungeons and Dragons and Magic the Gathering.
Hot Time In Old Town: So, the Seattle Sounders are in 10th place in the Western Conference. It seems like it came absolutely out of nowhere, considering the historical success and back to back MLS Cup appearances and one win in 2016. What’s going on? Is it just age and injuries? Or is there something more going on?
Sounder At Heart: It’s age and injury for sure. Not all the injuries are age related, but the fading quality of Clint Dempsey is age related, as are some of the injuries. But it’s more than just that. The offense got bad quickly. Dempsey can’t score at all. Will Bruin is supposed to be a third forward on this squad and instead he’s the best option and he’s not that good of one. Service has been poor as well. The attacking band regularly included players from local colleges rather than the star-studded lineup that would include Victor Rodriguez, Nicolas Lodeiro and Magnus Wolff-Eikrem.
The attack could start getting better this weekend. It might already be better. They have three goals in their last two games and that’s about a third of their goals scored this year.
HTIOT: What are you looking for in the summer transfer window? I know there are rumors about Peruvian Raul Ruidiaz, but what other moves should the Front Office make?
SAH: They are also trying to acquire another TAM player. It can be someone in the attacking band, which is already crowded with two DPs and two TAM guys, but with Lodeiro’s ability to drop deeper there’s a lot of flexibility for what they can acquire. It will probably be someone known for speed, but that isn’t a requirement. With all three in the band playing either centrally or as central wingers the skillset is similar. When healthy this team will have nearly two million dollars in salary on the bench.
There still aren’t any rumors about what they want, but former DP targets/players like Honda and Montero could fit this squad.
HTIOT: Who is a player that we should be paying attention to come game day, pother than the obvious?
SAH: Believe it or not Chad Marshall might be having a fourth Defensive Player of the Year quality season. He’s been the most consistent defender on a Sounders team that despite a poor attack and an inability to posses is still top 3 in the league. He’s maybe 50 years old and if he isn’t a finalist for the award the league’s voters are dumb. He can still start an attack with a header. His positioning is nearly impeccable. Despite covering for a 20-year-old left back who makes a few errors a game Marshall is still dominant. Anyone that wants to understand that defense isn’t just about speed should watch Marshall.
HTIOT: Give us a reason the Sounders will win, a reason the Sounders will lose, and reason for a draw.
SAH: If the Sounders score a single goal they will get a result. The defense only blew up once, against Dallas, and that was when they were down a man. Ignore the two goals against them in the RSL game because they sent Stefan Frei forward late. Salt Lake scored an empty netter to get their second. If Victor Rodriguez can unlock the Fire defense Seattle will get two goals and win.
SAH: Bastian Schweinsteiger has the third most minutes for the Fire this year. Will he play on short rest, travel and on an artificial surface? What position will he play against Seattle?
HTIOT: Yes, he played a full 90 on turf on Wednesday, but a part of me still expects to see his name on the team sheet an hour before kickoff. He is the most important piece of this team when it comes to their organization and shape, and it’s clearly visible when he’s not on the field that the Fire are a little less organized and a little looser with their defensive abilities. As for what position he’ll play, he’ll play wherever he damn well pleases. He has the trust and freedom of manager Velko Paunovic to roam and insert himself into holes that need plugging. The Fire play a very fluid free moving style, so a guy like Basti, who can play almost literally anywhere, is absolutely vital.
SAH: Chicago’s attack has three quality options. What’s that like? How do they share the ball?
HTIOT: I’m having trouble answering this question, because the thing about it is, I can only think of two players you could be thinking of. Katai and Nikolic. Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger can get forward, but their main job is not to score goals, and the right wing has been a weak-point all season, as they still can’t find a player there who can do the job to the level of the other two forwards can. As for how they share the ball, there’s really no issues. Occasionally, Katai gets tunnel vision and does not pass when he should. When that happens, Niko will sometimes forcefully have a conversation with him, and the problem is usually fixed. Unfortunately sometimes, Katai will over correct and become to deferential to last year’s golden boot winner, and will pass up shots he would have taken earlier in the match.
It occurred to me at some point that the third quality option you were actually referring to could possibly be Alan Gordon. Alan Gordon is not a quality anything. Yes. He has three goals in limited minutes as a late substitute, but he’s so bad at literally everything else, it doesn’t really make up for it. He’s a giveaway machine. Put the ball at his feet, and it will end up with the opposition shortly. He runs with the grace of a baby giraffe, and he will end up in places where he shouldn’t be. And to answer your question, the three are almost never on the pitch at the same time, so It’s a non issue.
SAH: Chicago is a bit soft on the counter. Is there another weakness they have because Seattle’s not great on the counter?
HTIOT: The biggest weakness is their defensive concentration. This team makes a fair number of positional and organizational errors, but they have a tendency to lose concentration at the worst possible times. They’ll lose markers and allow players to have space in front of goal without closing out or harassing shooters, letting them have quality looks on goal. Seattle’s best bet is to get the ball wide and work inward, as opposed to going through the middle.