The Seattle Sounders travel down to the Home Depot Center to face Chivas USA. Each team could really just consider this a 'super reserves' game. For the Sounders it will be preparation for the MLS Cup Playoffs and the ultimate goal of the 2011 team, the MLS Cup. For Robin Fraser with Chivas it will be another chance to make decisions about next year's talents. Oddly, the two teams actual reserves face off on Sunday. By the end of the weekend both teams will have seen as much as they can towards making decisions about their protected lists, pick up options, work on extensions and any off-season moves. Seattle of course will still be going to the Playoffs, but one of the advantages of the split between GM and Coach is that one can focus on the now while the other focuses on the future. Alicia from The Goat Parade answers three questions as the Rave Green head down to Chivatown USA.
SaH: What has the impact of Robin Fraser been on the team and community?
tGP: Fraser has been a good coach this season. While the conclusion to the season was disappointing without a berth in the postseason, I think there were signs of improvement over the course of the season and compared to last year. The problems this season were not because of Fraser, but because this team needs more talented players in a number of positions. In fact, I think a good case could be made that the team overachieved for much of the season, in large part due to Fraser and his ability to bring the team together and play as a unit.
While Chivas don't get a great deal of publicity from the wider sports media in Southern California, my sense is that the fans are behind Fraser as the coach and are pleased to have him. In fact, frustrations that some fans have voiced this season as the team passed on player after player in the allocation order seemed to worry that the bizarre decisions made by the front office would alienate Fraser and cause him to walk. There's no indication that he's fed up, but he keeps his emotions in check so I suppose it would be difficult to know how he felt on personnel decisions. But the support of the fans has been unwavering towards Fraser, and as one of the most important members of the organization we couldn't ask for much more from him.
SaH: What single player surprised you with their improvement over the season?
tGP: He's no youngster, but left back Ante Jazic had a career resurgence this season. The 35 year old has always been a quiet and steady defender, but he has been one of the most consistent defenders this year. Perhaps most surprisingly, Jazic leads the team in assists, which is a complete surprise. His combination of good defending and strong service offensively has led to him getting recalled by the Canadian National Team, an indication that Jazic is enjoying a strong year on the tail end of his career.
SaH: Who do you wish you'd seen more of?
tGP: The most puzzling option I saw this season was that center back Andrew Boyens was benched about a third of the way into the season in favor of Michael Umana. Boyens has been starting in recent games with an injury to Umana, but I always thought Boyens was the better option and I'm confused as to why Umana was preferred. Umana has played well in limited time at right back, but I just don't think he is a good center back and should not be the first option.
Offensively, I think this was ultimately a disappointing year for Blair Gavin. He suffered a severe hamstring injury that sidelined him for a significant part of the season, and in that stretch Nick LaBrocca picked up the mantle as the offensive fulcrum. When Gavin returned, he showed moments of quality, but he has ultimately been marginalized as Fraser changed the tactical formation to accommodate the forwards on the squad. I think Gavin's season has essentially been lost, but I think if given time and the proper position he could blossom into a very good pro.
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tGP: The Sounders have had significant contributions from several players this season. Who is the team MVP, and why?
SaH: While I think that the arguments for Fredy Montero (who I voted for) and Mauro Rosales (who I wrote up for SBnation.com/soccer) are ones that will get the national attention, it is Osvaldo Alonso who will get the local recognition. Known for being a strong ball winner it is his dramatically improved passing that makes him the lynchpin for the team. Now when he wins the ball on the counter he can immediately spark an attack. He's also added the ability to strike on frame from distance as opposed to in previous years he'd launch it into the stands.
tGP: With Kasey Keller set to retire after the season, do you get the sense the team is using his departure as extra motivation to win silverware? Is anybody saying they want to win the MLS Cup for Kasey?
SaH: It is certainly on the minds of the team. The massive celebration of his career here last Saturday was a strong moment, but it isn't the one that fans or the team desire. They weren't done when they won the US Open Cup and the best way for his story to end would be if he can lift the MLS Cup during a parade down the streets of Seattle. But mostly the team as a whole is driven towards the Cup as their ultimate goal for the season. That trophy is one way that this team could get even more respect from local media.
tGP: Can the Sounders maintain most of the squad for next season, or will contract and financial issues force them to let go of any integral players in the MLS offseason?
SaH: The team is already working on an extension for Rosales. The rest of the key players are locked up for another year or two. There are already rumors of Kasey Keller's replacement. That's the biggest replacement need. Seattle will lose a player in the expansion draft, maybe a couple for salary cutting but they have the space to add a DP and seem to still want another. With the Sounders doing well in the Reserve League, getting CCL/US Open Cup experience for other youth the team should be able to maintain, if not extend its depth into 2012.