Tonight we find out just how deep the Seattle Sounders really are. We're also going to get a pretty good idea of just how capable they are of winning the CONCACAF Champions League.
As we all know, this is not a do-or-die game for the Sounders. Even a loss would put them through to the quarterfinals and could well result in them grabbing a top 4 seed. Even the disaster scenario results in the Sounders finishing seventh.
But this game is important for reasons that aren't easily explained in those kinds of terms.
The Sounders will almost certainly roll out a starting lineup that only bears a slight resemblance to the one they use every week in league play. The Sounders will also be hosting what we expect to be a group of B-teamers from Marathon.
It's the kind of game where a former national team goalkeeper should be more than up for the task. It's the kind of game a rising international star should be able to dominate. It's the kind of game where a MLS rotational players should be able to shine. It's the kind of game the Sounders should win, if they really consider themselves CCL title contenders.
The defense will be led by Marcus Hahnemann, who might well be as motivated in this game as he has been for any game in the last few years. This could be his one and only time to shine in front of his hometown fans, even if it doesn't end up being his last hurrah. Sounders coaches have said he's made tremendous progress since basically coming out of retirement to give this one last go. Tonight, we find out if it was worth it.
In front of him will probably be a hodge-podge of players who are either seldom used or playing out of position. Considering the state of health on the backline, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Daniel Steres make his Sounders debut. Andy Rose could reprise a role he last played a couple years ago in college and be Steres' centerback pairing. Mike Seamon seems to have earned a chance to start at right back, but he's normally a midfielder. The left back position will be in good hands with Zach Scott, although it's worth noting that he hasn't played there since at least last year.
The midfield should be exciting, if not all that experienced. Servando Carrasco will likely be the general, doing his best Osvaldo Alonso impersonation. He's only played less than 500 minutes across all competitions, but he was the Sounders Reserve League leader in minutes played. Assuming Rose is playing center back, Alex Caskey will probably get another shot at playing the more attack-minded central midfielder. It's a position we've seen him play with mixed results this year, but this is a good chance to see him after he has a bit more confidence built up.
There are a few candidates for outside mid, with Cordell Cato, Mario Martinez, Steve Zakuani and David Estrada all viable options. Zakuani is reportedly healthy after dealing with an ab strain. If he's ready to go, he'll get the start on the left. I'm fairly certain that both Martinez and Estrada will start somewhere, with one as an outside mid the other at forward. After much contemplation, I think it makes more sense to put Estrada in the midfield so that he's able to help with some of the defending. That leaves Cato as a very good option off the bench.
Sammy Ochoa is a lock to start at forward, and this is the exact kind of competition he's been feasting on all year. Martinez's future with the Sounders is probably as a wide midfielder, but for this game it makes sense to put him in the Fredy Monter-role and let him have a bunch of freedom. Marathon is a team he knows well and he should be especially motivated after this week's drama.
I'm sure the bench will be stocked with plenty of starters, if for no other reason than to keep them loose for Sunday.
This is far from a perfect lineup, to be sure. But this is a team that has prided itself on depth and there's more than enough talent to get the job done.
Here's a better look at the lineup:
GK: Hahnemann; Def (r-l): Seamon, Steres, Rose, Scott; MF: Estrada, Carrasco, Caskey, Zakuani; FW: Martinez Ochoa.