To get to #SE4TTLE the Sounders need to pass by Eric Wynalda's Cal FC. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
It's fun to talk about narratives and storylines, but most of the time those don't have to do with the actual game being played. In the case of Cal FC at Seattle Sounders no matter how many fans travel to support Eric Wynalda's team (hello TA and SS?) the game will be determined by the performance on the pitch of Starfire at 7 PM Pacific. FOX Soccer is carrying it on cable because of the story, but the story will be written by the likes of Derby Carrillo, Danny Barerra, Fredy Montero and Osvaldo Alonso. Soccer is a game played between lines. It is not determined by words on the Internet or speechifying to the media by coaches.
With no game for the Sounders FC until June 16th the lineup should be fairly close to max strength. Of players that generally figure as starters the following are injured - Michael Gspurning (getting a second look on his hip), Patrick Ianni (expected back next week-ish) and Adam Johansson out. The rest of the usual suspects are as healthy as they've been in months. Sigi Schmid is likely to play a strong lineup. He isn't going to do so to prove a point. Sigi will do it because they need to learn to play competitive games together. His typical 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 hybrid (the Arrow) should see Meredith; Burch, Hurtado, Parke, Scott; Alonso; Fernandez, Evans, Estrada; Johnson and Montero or something very close. Rosales and Gonzalez should be expected on the bench for a little bit of rest, but prepped to play.
Eric Wynalda on his conference call with Seattle media expects that level of lineup. He even thinks that Cal FC match up well to it.
If you look at Seattle, if they play their guys, that setup kind of allows us to not just absorb some pressure but to push one number into the attack than we did against Portland, which allows us to get a little more of the ball and all these guys to create the triangles they like to create
And, if Cal FC likes to play in space, push a number into attack and work triangles, Seattle matches well with that as too. A bunkering team causes an issue for Seattle, one pressing? Not as much.
Defensively Cal FC uses a system that Wynalda has called slip 'n slide. The defined roles are very undefined. You'll see three, four and five at the back and according to Nick Webster on Nos Audietis they use two more defensive midfielders usually. They can bunker and absorb, particularly against a team that plays direct and physical, as Portland did.
The attack is a bit different. It is defined by technical and creative play. Roles are even less defined and Wynalda the talent scout becomes more apparent.
Once the ball gets in the final third, I have no idea what they're going to do. But I trust them. Sometimes they get a little bit ahead of themselves, sometimes they try the killer pass a little too often, but if you go back and watch that Portland game we missed the final pass by about a foot about six times and the game could have been very different.
And that's a lot about what the Cal FC experiment is. It's about showcasing the players, not necessarily Wynalda's coaching acument. That's probably a big reason as to why he's going to be mic'd up by FOX Soccer. Because he's allowing free-wheeling players to highlight their technical skills. He's said that six or seven players will be pro by the end of the various summer transfer seasons.
If he kept them together he thinks they'd be an MLS quality team. Sigi disagrees, but not by much. At Monday's practice he said, "Technically, they’re a much better team than, say, Atlanta was. Individually, their players are very good technically and individually they can cause you some problems, for sure." He thinks they could compete in either of D2 and D3. And while Sounders FC (that's the MLS era) has yet to lose to a lower division team, they've also given up a goal in each of their four meetings with teams from D2 and D4.
Cal FC isn't going to surprise the Sounders. Many of the players have gotten looks from Schmid and staff, some they think are of the talent to be in MLS if the circumstances were right. Seattle and Wynalda have been in contact with a few of them. Ventura County (the PDL side edged by Chivas USA) also brought a name or two forward to the Sounders. The matches against Wilmington and Portland were streamed, and of course Seattle had access to players and coaches at Kitsap, even if they and the Pumas are less close than when Pete Fewing was there.
The Sounders aren't taking this match as a given. The 2012 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup already made that mistake clear to the eight remaining MLS teams. Schmid on Monday pointed out the preparation;
We always try to do our homework and prepare in the proper matter…That’s the one thing we don’t want to ever do is shortcut in any way. We look into it. We look into the history of the players, we research what we can find out and see what information we have on them. Having tape and being able to watch them play is very important.
Sounders fans in attendance, watching on the webstream (www.SoundersFC.com with Fletcher and Hinton) or watching on FSC should see an entertaining game (all can join our liveblog). The talent differences will only be a extreme in a few cases. The passion and effort will not be lacking from either side. Both have the opportunity at history, and in a knockout competition, only one will get to after tonight.