Roughly two weeks ago, I sat in front of my computer monitor looking at Seattle's schedule over the following two weeks. in front of me, I saw a schedule that threw five games at the Sounders in fifteen days, one of the most congested stretches in our short MLS history. My feeling at the time was that simply coming out on the other end of May 12th with a result in each match would be a win, especially if the club got through without any serious injuries. If someone had told me that day that Sounders FC would head to Vancouver next week with ten points more than they had previously, I would have said "awesome, right on schedule".
The road trip is now four-fifths of the way through, and the Rave Green have collected all 12 points, with a game remaining. That remaining match is against the west-leading Real Salt Lake, who are looking pretty good with their 23 points total. Over 12 games.
Seattle has 22 points in nine matches. I am a notorious braggart, but right now I could be the Dalai Lama sitting here in my green shorts and Xbox kit and I'd still be telling you Seattle is the class of the league right now. Which, you know, is probably what the Dalai Lama is doing at this moment. A guy with that much free time has to have a subscription to MLS Live.
But as high as the Sounders are riding right now, this day-after could have easily been... not as sweet as it is right now. Because as banged up as FC Dallas is, as many red cards as they've sustained, they gave Seattle everything they were worth for 45+ minutes. Like Selina Kyle in that "Dark Knight Rises" trailer, FC Dallas was a storm for the yacht-boating Sounders to weather. Time after time, Fabian Castillo managed to get behind the ninth Sounders lineup in their nine games this year. Zach Scott, who in previous matches against the non-red Bulls has been a kryptonite for Brek Shea, couldn't handle Castillo's speed and ball-handling (hah). And it wasn't just Castillo. The Hoops ran circles around Jeff Parke and crew for most of the first half. Seattle had a single worthwhile attempt on goal, a Rosales incident right in front of the end line that I'm still not sure how to label; as a great pair of saves or a poor pair of shots.
But lucky for Seattle's back line, we learned that Bryan Meredith had not simply been a product of a solid defense and defensive scheme in his previous three halves of shutout ball. Unlike the match against Philadelphia, Meredith was tested early and often, both on routine saves and one HOLY CRAP HOW THE HELL DID HE GET HIS HAND ON THAT I THINK I JUST POOPED MY PANTS save. That one save that I singled out in the previous sentence was so good that it got on Sportscenter. Not even Fredy Montero's 35 yarder from last week got on Sportscenter. I'm pretty sure the last time anything Seattle was seen on Sportscenter was the Beastquake.
I'm also confident that when the team saw that, they suddenly believed that it was Kasey Keller in goal, and not a second-year keeper making his second start in MLS (silly players, they should have seen that bald behemoth up in the press box!) because after that save, the visitors finally started to wake up a little bit. Dallas could have easily been up 1-0 or 2-0 at this point in the game, but Meredith's stop made the defense feel unstoppable again. (Even though Scott still wasn't getting a handle on Castillo)
The rest of the story goes like this: Seattle subs on Montero, Dallas' backups BURN themselves out trying to keep up with Seattle's speed, and when Cordell Cato came in, the Cows/Steer/Beef couldn't keep up anymore. Like farm animals trying to wade through Puget Sound, Dallas players were tripping over themselves trying to make one good pass. It almost seemed inevitable when Montero pulled off that sweet little move in the box to beat two defenders. Those legs looked awfully heavy.
- I can only assume Hyndman, knowing his side wasn't fielding many starters, wanted to try to score early and hope they could bunker to keep Seattle off the board. Without Shea in the starting lineup, it was probably a smart tactical decision. But when the first half came and went with goose eggs on the board, their fate was sealed. Much has been made of Seattle's depth, but perhaps not enough. They only had five projected front-line players in the lineup and still pulled out a solid win. They've given first minutes to three players over the last three games, and rested key starters. It hasn't mattered. Between Cato, Andy Rose, Alex Caskey, and Meredith, (not to mention the "seven starters" on the defensive line) it's becoming clear just how interchangeable Seattle's pieces are.
- Speaking of Cato, I've been privately chatting with Jason about getting him minutes. The Trinidad and Tobago transfer's tangibles have sounded fascinating to me since we first signed him, and he showed what he was all about against Dallas. SPEED, SPEED, and more SPEED. The guy loves speed so much we may need to check him into rehab. Okay, that was terrible. Not doing that one again. Maybe. Regardless, I think we'll see more of him in the Open Cup and Champions League, and it's a fun prospect.
- I was pretty surprised that Mauro Rosales got minutes at all in the match, let alone a whole half. He's going to be an important piece against Salt Lake if the Sounders are going to finish their two week conquest, so you'd think they want him at his best (especially considering the MLSsoccer.com article about how he's still in pain). For Jehovah's sake, they even sat Osvaldo Alonso for this match. I think it has been about two or three years since he spent an entire game on the bench. Still, Rosales looked fine on the field, and had a couple of dangerous plays (though it sure would have been nice to see that ball sitting in the back of the net like in my swimming days.)
- That tsunami known as Fredy Montero has reached shore and is rapidly moving inland. My hope is that it doesn't peter out just before the playoffs the way it has the last two years. If there is a singular, uniting reason that I can point to and say "this is why we didn't move on to the next round those years" it'd be because Fredy had stopped scoring about a month earlier. He's going to score more than 15 times this year. I just hope that he saves a few of those in his back pocket for November and December (jeez, the playoffs this year are going to be COLD).
- Jeff Parke deserves a rest against Salt Lake. I still consider him part of the first team, and I think we need our starting XI against Salt Lake, but he ran himself ragged backing up Scott on the right flank. Everyone has bad games, but Scott looked like a USL player for close to 90 minutes. Ianni and Hurtado have proved they play well together, and I assume that the former is healthy enough finally to get after it. I'm just slightly worried about Hurtado, who is going to have some serious mileage on those tires of his.
- I wish I had super-awesome cool video editing skills, because I'd love to edit Meredith's save into Montero's goal from last week. It was in roughly the same spot, and would just look epic. Though I wonder if it would have a butterfly effect... You know, Montero doesn't score in that game, so his confidence isn't as high in Dallas, so he doesn't score twice, leading to one point instead of two, and the collapse of the season. The past is fragile, and we must be careful altering it...
- The starting group against Salt Lake should look something like this:
I'm not sure if they feel like Fernandez is healthy yet, but if he is, this would be a good time to have him back.
- I admit that I didn't watch midfield positioning much in the first half (I was too busy covering my eyes and seeing Castillo nutmegging everyone I've ever cared for) but Sigi said in his postgame comments that Evans and Rose were playing too deep, giving Dallas lots of room to advance. Likewise, I didn't notice how big an effect moving them forward in the second half made. But it makes me wonder why Servando Carrasco, who while no Alonso, is a reasonable facsimile, wasn't in the starting lineup. It would have allowed the squad to run a more normalized formation, and Evans could have played his normal position. Carrasco was on the bench tonight, but I wonder if he might be in the doghouse right now.
Salt Lake is next, and it may be as big as any match Seattle plays this season. Win, and they have a chance to take the sole lead in points leaguewide, with the first Cascadia Cup match the following weekend. It's a fun time to be a Sounder, folks.