One of the difficult parts of the whole three games in six days is trying to keep up with our regular features. But, we're on a great network, and in this case The Bent Musket reminded me of the Sunday 1PM game against the New England Revolution. Let's just ignore the future game for a moment and pay some attention to the whole issue concerning their supporters' groups battling with the front office. Here's what Keith Hodo, Co-President of ECS, said to me regarding that issue;
We want to show solidarity with other supporters groups because we believe that it is a fundamental right of the supporter to support the team in the manner that they see fit. Of course, there are things that we may not see eye to eye with all groups on but we are 100 percent behind their RIGHT to do so.
No one has given me any indication, but Sunday would be a solid time to show solidarity, as their front office will be here for the game. That game could have the Seattle Sounders battling for 3rd by PPM and put even firmer footing to the notion that this League is dominated by the West.
SaH: Steve Nicol once led this team to be the best non-Cup winner over a multi-year stretch, but it has struggled recently, what has changed?
tBM: It comes down to personnel. Early in Nicol's tenure, John Murphy was his assistant and the Revs were able to take advantage of his extensive player network at home and abroad. He was responsible for the drafting and acquisition of players like Joseph, Dorman, Dempsey and Noonan. It was on the backs of those incredibly strong teams of the mid-2000s that the three consecutive finals appearances were made. Since then, the combination of Nicol, Mike Burns and Paul Mariner (now Stephen Myles) have struggled mightily to acquire that level of talent again. The Revs have drafted decently at best, and the majority of their overseas signings have been unmitigated flops. There may be more to it, but that's the most obvious and poignant reason why the Revolution have fallen so far so quickly.
SaH: The Revolution seem to be lacking a consistent scoring threat since the Taylor Twellman concussion several years ago, who will step up and replace his production?
tBM: In short, I have no idea. The idea was to have Rajko Lekic become the go-to goalscorer for this team, but so far he hasn't shown the ability. Granted, he's been suffering from grave lack of service and misuse, but you still expect more out of a guy who averaged better than a goal every other game for his clubs abroad. No one in their right mind thinks that Kenny Mansally, Kheli Dube, or even Zack Schilawski is going to be a 15-20 goal scorer, and Ilija Stolica has completely disappeared since being loaned out. At this point it's Lekic or nobody.
SaH: When Feilhaber and Joseph are both healthy they could be the best centermid pairing in the League, but we've seen Shalrie used in a wide variety of roles. How do you think they should be used?
tBM: Benny is a good creative central midfielder who can defend but isn't really great at it. Shalrie is one of the most versatile and talented players in MLS history, but his strength lies in his ability to be a skilled holding midfielder who can play the dynamic box-to-box when the opportunity arises. Lately Joseph has been asked to be a holding midfielder, attacking midfielder, trequartista and target striker, all at the same time. I personally would like to see Shalrie playing a slightly deeper role to Feilhaber, creating out of the back while Benny plays the final ball from an attacking midfield position.
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tBM: Seattle is a team that I feel like should be doing so much worse than they are. My image of them since their entry into the league is a dynamic team skipping along rainy turf, picking up wins and draws along the way with style and frequency. This season, it feels more like they've been trudging through the season and underachieving; but there they are, third in the West with 25 points and a respectable, if unspectacular, record of 6-4-7. What do you think has been the secret to their consistency so far this season, or lack thereof, considering the lack of production from marquee players like Fredy Montero?
SaH: At their best Seattle was a dynamic team that should be exciting to watch, but when you lose the player most responsible for that excitement to injury, and in the expansion draft they lost Sanna Nyassi who also added that speed if little else. Instead of that speedy flank play they are now a team that at its best will advance the ball through a more patient build-up through technical players like Alvaro Fernandez and Erik Friberg. That and the lack of an effective target forward have shifted how Fredy Montero is now getting space.
Where in the past space for Montero was because of a body like Blaise Nkufo or Nate Jaqua, the current answer is through tactical shifts and more freedom of movement. This is a recent shift since his return to the starting lineup, and in Seattle's last five games they have 3 wins and 2 ties. While Fredy's only goal was that sublime free kick in Toronto, the offense may be starting to click, in those same five games they have 9 goals, getting them from all over the place. The team may not be lacking for scoring any more.
tBM: Steve Zakuani was a major attacking piece for the Rave Green and losing him had to be a major blow not just emotionally (considering the manner and severity of his injury) but on the field as well. How well do you think the team has coped with his absence, and what sorts of changes have you seen made that might be a direct result of that?
SaH: The changes are best captured in the style of player of Alvaro Fernandez. The Uruguay World Cup player isn't as fast, but he has a bit more height and even better footwork. That one shift between two solid to great MLS players is the shift of an entire team. No longer a speed on the flanks 4-1-3-2, Seattle is now a more traditional narrow diamond team that counts on patience and quality passing. Even the long balls have shifted from a vertical deep ball to spring a speed player to a diagonal to hit the open man.
tBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revolution fans should watch out for.
SaH: Normally I would say Mike Fucito, because I can't rave enough about him, but today I'll have to go with Mauro Rosales. A former youth Argentine National who spent time with Ajax he still has some speed and certainly lost his flair. Mauro can still change the game with quality dribbling or through crosses into traffic that still find their target.
tBM: Who do you think the Sounders fear most on the pitch for New England?
SaH: You probably tire of this but Shalrie Joseph. He's caused Seattle trouble in the past and will likely do so again. His combination of height, speed and tenacity from a usually deep central position cause trouble going both ways. While he may not be at a once MVP caliber that he was, Joseph still is one of the best two-way players in MLS.