Photo courtesy of SoundersFC.com
The Sounders' depth is fully intact and we may have even found out a few more things.
Before we get too deep into the analysis of the Seattle Sounders' win over Marathon on Wednesday, it's worth remembering that only one team really had anything to gain. The Sounders had a chance to complete a perfect run in CONCACAF Champions League and improve their quarterfinal seeding, while Marathon was only it for pride.
As the Marathon manager pointed out after the game, this also isn't the same Green Monster that has tormented the region in past years. Marathon is also in the midst of a rebuilding project and is also trying to improve their standing in their domestic league. Still, they brought a decent that gave the Sounders some trouble.
Given all that, I still think we learned a few things about the Sounders:
Their depth is intact
For all the debate we've had on this site about whether or not the Sounders are as deep this year as they were a year ago, I think this is a pretty good point in favor of the 2012 squad being deeper. Guys like Steve Zakuani, Mario Martinez, Servando Carrasco and Marcus Hahnemann are all probably starters for most teams. David Estrada and Sammy Ochoa would be strong rotational players. None of these guys are seeing regular minutes in league play for the Sounders.
No, I don't think that means we can roll out a lineup of reserves and compete for a MLS Cup or even expect to win big games on the road. That's not what depth is about, especially in MLS. This team could tread water, I fully believe, and might even make a good run at the playoffs. More appropriately, they are perfectly capable of handling the early rounds of U.S. Open Cup and Champions League.
In looking just at goal-scored/allowed, the Sounders are actually better in all competitions than they were a year ago, another sign of improved depth. They've now scored 82 goals and allowed 47 in 44 matches. A year ago, it was 78-49 in 48 matches. Their 14 shutouts is also equal to last year's total. Although the Sounders used 30 different players last year as compared to 28 this year, that 2011 team had three players with just one appearance while everyone who's played this year has appeared at least twice. The Sounders also have a chance to equal or even surpass last year's win total of 27, which was a MLS record.
Servando Carrasco has grown
Make no mistake about it, Carrasco is a step down from Osvaldo Alonso. But EVERYONE is a step down from Alonso. For a second, let's not use that as our point of comparison. Carrasco was absolutely stellar against Marathon. He completed 48 of 54 pass (89 percent) and only lost possession six other times. The one thing that still seems to be a bit lacking in his game is the ability to really push the ball forward, but that's something he can develop.
A year ago, he was a brash defender who always seemed to be a red card just waiting to happen. This year, he's playing under control. His heatmap shows a player that is basically controlling the middle of the field. I'd be crazy to say that this makes Alonso expendable, but I think we can have some assurance that the Sounders are not immediately vulnerable if Carrasco has to spell him.
Mike Seamon is no longer playing out of position
Ok, so 150 minutes is still a ridiculously small sample size but Seamon looks very comfortable at right back. Although he didn't get forward a ton, he was effective when he did. Discounting the throw-ins he made, Seamon was 6 of 7 passing in the offensive third. His best moment was on the Sounders' first goal.
After controlling a tough pass off his shoulder, Seamon worked a nice interchange with Mario Martinez that put the playmaker into space. Martinez made good on it by whipping in a cross that found Sammy Ochoa. Not to take anything away from Zach Scott, who's still the superior defender, but Seamon seems to make more sense as Adam Johansson's primary backup. Seamon plays a more similar style and would be a good conduit between the offense and defense.
A month ago, I would have told you Seamon was one of the players I would be surprised to see back with the Sounders in 2013. Now, it looks like he's at least solidified his chance to compete for a spot and is probably in line for a significant upgrade in minutes next season.
Marcus Hahnemann can still play
Admit it, when Hahnemann signed you thought there was a pretty good chance it was a publicity stunt. If you were being kind, you thought the Sounders were merely giving him a chance to go out with some good feelings. He was far from perfect against Marathon -- maybe his distribution could have been better, maybe he could have been more aggressive coming off his line on the goal -- but that's getting a bit nit-picky.
After the game, Sigi Schmid called Hahnemann and Michael Gspurning the best goalkeeping tandem in the league. That might be a bit hyperbolic, but I know I'd love to see how Hahnemann looks with a whole offseason worth of training. Here's hoping he wants to give it one more season.
Steve Zakuani can take a tackle
Most of the big things have been checked off Zakuani's list to recovery. One that really hadn't been, though, was his taking a tackle and coming back. It's not exactly clear what happened to him on Wednesday, but he clearly was in some pain in his repaired right leg. A collective scare was put into Sounders fans for the few minutes he was on the ground. He was able to run it off and even played a few more minutes. Afterward, he said he was totally fine.
Of course, it was also nice to see Zakuani looking like his old self before that. That burst of speed that got him behind the defense on his goal was vintage. More than a couple times he was able to use his patented stall-and-push to get open along the endline and set up a cross. Zakuani may never be a great two-way defender, but there's every reason to start thinking about him being a very productive offensive force by next season.
That Mario Martinez guy is pretty good
This was a weird week for Mr. Martinez. It started with an ill-advised tweet and ended with him playing against the team that was his arch-rival for most of his younger years. In between we learned just how highly the Sounders think of him.
The Sounders clearly see Martinez as having a future with them, even if his playing time wouldn't necessarily indicate it. We also got to see up close why the Sounders think so highly of the Honduran. He was obviously the best offensive player on the field against Marathon and looked dangerous almost every time he had the ball. The trick now is figuring out how to get him on the field.