Defining moment or rallying point?
It hasn't exactly been the best week in Seattle Sounders land, and the atmosphere around this team has hardly been one of a team riding a 5-match unbeaten streak. For starters, the stench of the 1 point in three played start perhaps hasn't completely worn off; it is fair to say that the Sounders left 3 points on the pitch - a draw against the Los Angeles Galaxy and a win against the Houston Dynamo seemed the minimum that should've been accomplished given how those games played out - and last week's otherwise positive result of 3 points on the road against the Colorado Rapids, the defending Cup winners, was utterly overwhelmed by the negativity of not only the loss of Steve Zakuani, but the feeling of many that the team lacked attacking initiative despite being up a man nearly the entire match.
As far as the Zakuani incident, the tone of outrage has dominated the last 7 days, and the debate may shift as to whether that outrage was justified (and it looks as though the Rapids/Mullan camp clearly thinks it was overblown) but it will be hard for many Sounders fans to get over it. Zakuani had been the team's best attacking player for the early part of the season, and looked primed for another double-digit goal and perhaps even assist season. I am inclined to say the outrage was perfectly acceptable (if not a touch vitriolic in places) but with the suspension now officially handed down the time for anger has seemingly ended.
Then comes the news that O'Brian White is out indefinitely after having surgery to remove a blood clot from his leg - which certainly sounds scary enough. And this all comes at a time when the team's depth will be tested with a Saturday-Wednseday-Saturday week of matches which includes a long road trip to face DC United and the Columbus Crew.
It is probably pretty obvious to state that the Sounders have reached a stretch where they will need to grind out results, and anything north of 4 points from this next week will probably have to be looked at quite favorably. This may not be what any of us want to hear at the moment, but it is the reality.
The first question to be asked is whether Nate Jaqua is fit to go 90, or at least the better part of 90, as the team's starting target forward. If he isn't there are options, but any of them require a subtle shift in tactics that may manifest themselves in a slight change of shape to the team.
It seems at this moment that any Sounders attack will need to include Fredy Montero and Mauro Rosales - who has been the revelation of the season so far. The most likely option is Rosales on the right and Montero in his usual 2nd striker role. Left wing is wide open, and Sigi actually has plenty of choices, but the fact that he will have to manage minutes with the busy week ahead means he may set up a rotational system for who starts in the attack.
if I were a betting man, I would wager that Mike Fucito will see considerable action - including even a spot in the starting lineup, either tomorrow or Wednesday. The intriguing possibility of seeing him on the wing - a spot many of us have been clamoring for since the end of last season - seems to have become pretty likely.
We all know that the past examples of Montero as the top forward have been mixed, at best, if not actually disappointing. However, it is legitimate to ask how much that had to do with Freddie Ljungberg, who was either paired with Montero up top, or behind him as a CAM when Sigi went to 4-3-3 (actually 4-2-3-1) for a few matches last Spring. Plenty was written about the lack of chemistry between the two, and there is no real reason to believe that a similar lack of chemistry necessarily exists if Montero is forced to play at the top of the formation with other partners involved.
This may open up possibilities for another flirtation with the 4-2-3-1, which overall implies only a very subtle or absolutely no appreciable shift for most of the 11 men on the pitch. Rosales seems a perfect fit for the CAM role, and Sigi clearly has plenty of options for either wing. Jaqua would be available off the bench either as a straight swap for Montero as the center forward, or for a winger to shift Rosales wide and return to the usual 4-4-2-based shape. Of course, this is all just idle speculation...
The good news is that the "foundation" of this team is still very much intact, and the back 6 are unaffected by the recent turmoil. We have 3 starting calibre center backs, two solid - if far from perfect - choices at left back in Leo Gonzalez and Tyson Wahl, and there has been little to complain about from James Riley at right back so far this season. Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans will likely be asked to continue to man the middle and it seems unlikely Sigi will swap either out, even with the busy week. Of the two, Evans is obviously more likely to go to the bench, but to the chagrin of some, it wouldn't surprise me to see him replaced with a more defensive option; Servando Carrasco or Patrick Ianni can both come on as a 2nd CDM and perhaps liberalize Alonso to push forward a bit more.
There are times when the resolve of a team is tested, and a positive outcome isn't necessarily manifested in dominating performances or even victories, but in simply persevering. These next 9 days strike me as just such a time, and at the risk of perhaps writing some purple prose, we may look back on this as this team's finest hour...