The measuring stick for the Seattle Sounders is simple. Take the LA Galaxy and compare. There is no better team in MLS 3.0. Two of the owners live there and tangentially experience the Galaxy every day. But the Galaxy are only decent right now, sitting just two points up on Seattle though the Sounders have a game in hand. The Sunday night match on national television ends the toughest month of the year. A month of May that was defined by success, not failure.
Guiding us through Three Questions (actually four this week) is Josie from LAGConfidential.
SaH: Jose Villareal is now Keane's partner up top. Is there a more age diverse pair in the league? How are they working together?
LAGC: I can't think of one off hand, but I think more significant is this group of young strikers he belongs to. Juan Agudelo has seen three clubs before he could legally drink (doesn't that just beat all), but behind him has come this wave of young strikers who are having a huge impact on MLS. Russel Teibert had that impressive brace against the Galaxy, Jack McInerney is leading the MLS Golden Boot race from over in Philadelphia. LA has an embarrassment of riches with Jack McBean and Gyasi Zardes all on the roster.
It's most likely the case that had Jack McBean not gotten injured he'd be the official Keane partner up top. Villarreal is coming into his own but he's not quite fully there yet. He works better as a sub, as the issue seems to be conservation of energy over ninety minutes more than anything else. On some of these Villarreal starts you can forget he was there.
However, with the right service he'll make teams pay dearly for that. He's awful quick and sees the pitch really well. He knows when to go down as a striker (not diving, just graceful foul earning), and his scissor kick for what's been his lone goal this season was just something else.
Gyasi Zardes though, that kid is the future.
SaH: If I beg will Bruce Arena play the high line against Seattle? Since he won't are Omar and AJ back to their old selves?
LAGC: I like the high line, I like to boogie...
So yeah 2012 LA has a ton of issues with the back line, having to stick a green rookie Tommy Meyer in to replace an injured Omar Gonzalez. Then there was a revolving door of partners for DeLaGarza as Meyer was replaced with all manner of folk. Yet Meyer does well in MLS Cup and now he's a folk hero.
All is forgotten and now it's 2013, LA's issue is now lack of a wide midfielder so Arena shifts the backline around to get Sean Franklin in the midfield. The start, with Leonardo pairing with Gonzalez, wasn't as disastrous as 2012 but it wasn't super awesome. So Arena got the old band back together.
I will say that Gonzalez's international absences have hurt the back line's rhythm to a degree. With such a late kickoff, if y'all get the team bus lost maybe Gonzalez will have to skip out to catch his flight to Cleveland. But seriously, there's a bit of a cloud around the international breaks wherein mistakes are going to be made. Tired mistakes are still being made, LA have not shown well late in close matches. The 2011 version of the Omar-AJ back line saw 1-0 as cake. Not so much anymore.
SaH: Landon Donovan huh?
LAGC: Part of the reason 1-0 isn't cake is that the Galaxy aren't getting goals against tough defenses. New York, Dallas: LA can hold steady but finding a creative way to break through has been more difficult than in recent years. Now why could that be? Who isn't with the club anymore? I appreciate you not asking any Beckham questions, but watching Juninho drop that perfect ball in for New York against LA last weekend was like seeing how the other half lived all those years.
Not having that arial attack has forced the Galaxy into a ground game, which when it works is the best in the business. Donovan and Keane on a counter against the median MLS back line is unstoppable. However, throw in a Jamison Olave and the Galaxy have had issues. Remember when folk gave up on Olave last year, like talent can leak out or something?
Anyhow, you asked about Donovan. Just trying to set up that, the LA Galaxy offense depends terribly on Landon Donovan. When he was off on walkabout, Mike Magee really had to step up. There were some goals and victories, but there wasn't a clear offensive plan for the tough going. Even teams with so so defenses would play so far back in their own half, and LA didn't have someone with the creative spark in the midfield.
Obviously that's what Donovan brings. His vision around the box is something to watch. The way he picked people out against Philadelphia. Give him a window and he'll get the ball through it. He had shown flashes of that in earlier matches, though the finishing touches weren't always there. Alexi Lalas is right in saying Donovan isn't the player who takes a game over. He's the Chief of Staff, not the President. His job is to make everyone around him look better.
SaH: When Magee is out who fills in and why?
LAGC: Right now Mike Magee's replacement is Hector Jimenez, because Colin Clark has been a giant bust of a pickup. I remember when Clark was introduced to the media, he was asked directly if clubs were trying to exploit the Galaxy's lack of width last year. He admitted as such, and knew that's what he was brought in to give. It's what Christian Wilhelmsson was brought in to give. Yet, for some reason, no player brought in to give width seems able to sustain that role.
Clark has been in such bad form Arena is now starting to reserve team player that motivated him to go out and get a wide midfielder in the re-entry draft. Jimenez will do fine someday on a club that needs a holding midfielder, but he plays like someone picking up FIFA for the first time. He dribbles to the end of his flank, then hopes his horizontal pass will do something good. He scored against Philadelphia because for the first time in a dog's age he left the security of the touch line and cut inside.
So when LA says it's interested in Robbie Rogers, there's a reason. Mike Magee has said into a microphone that he wants to go this weekend, but I've begun to trust any and all injury reporting out of LA Galaxy camp about as much as I trust a hound dog with a hamburger.
Significant injuries: Jack McBean, (potentially) Mike Magee, (potentially) Juninho
Projected Lineup: Cudicini; Franklin, DeLaGarza, Gonzalez, Dunivant; Donovan, Juninho, Sarvas, Magee; Keane, Zardes
SaH: Three things have happened during this hot stretch. Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins are both playing, though Oba isn't starting regularly. They and Lamar Neagle are finishing, which has been huge. Seattle just was not converting at an acceptable rate until recently. Each has three goals during the hot stretch and Seattle could possibly have the best three headed attack in the league, even including healthy sets for San Jose and Sporting KC.
Lastly, the midfield defense is quite strong. Teams have to go through two natural defensive mids (two of Alonso, Joseph and Carrasco) as well as a wide mid that is a two-way player rather than pure attacker. This is leading to fewer passing lanes in the middle and rapid transition to attack from higher up the pitch. This change has helped the offense as well as an improved defense. With all of those things clicking Seattle is performing like the team people thought it was when they had it near the top of the preseason power rankings.
LAGC: Eddie Johnson collects player of the week as Seattle finds the key against FC Dallas. What's he been doing right?
SaH: Last year Eddie was all head. So much of what he did was from crosses and dead balls thrown into him about eight yards from goal. This year he's added his speed game back into his arsenal breaking away on all varieties of direct play. A defense that plays off of him will give him space to shoot. Playing tight means he can blow by them. Giving Seattle the opportunity to cross it into him and he's still got that great header that put him back into the National Team. He's better than he's ever been.
Seattle finally has variety in their attack. Plan A last year was a cross. Plan B was pray for Fredy to be awesome. Fredy isn't here this year. Plan A right now is Route One soccer and they are very good at it. Plan B is the cross. Rosales to Johnson is still as effective as ever.
LAGC: Very difficult stretch for Seattle with an Open Cup tilt in between two matches in Los Angeles. Also, y'all are losing the aforementioned Eddie Johnson to international duty. How does Seattle push through? Is this the year Open Cup takes a backseat?
SaH: Sigi Schmid has only thrown a full reserve out in a tournament when they've already been eliminated from it. They will send a mixed squad to Tampa and keep the rest in LA if I had to bet. Any player, coach and front office personnel that talked about getting knocked out of the CCL mentioned that they wanted to get back to that tournament. The US Open Cup is the quickest route for a Sounders return to international competition and will not be blown off. Plus they may want to add to their undefeated during MLS era Open Cup run.
LAGC: DeAndre Yedlin seems to be showing well as Seattle's Homegrown signing. How's he mixing in?
SaH: About perfectly. He still makes errors in positioning and needs to improve his crossing ability, but his speed means he can recover at a great rate. Yedlin is also pretty good at underlapping and running into the box leaving Mauro Rosales out wide. With his speed and decent touch this creates issues for defenses. He won't do it often, but when he does it creates a threat either from himself or the cross that Mauro puts into danger.
Projected lineup: Gspurning; Gonzalez, Traore, Hurtado, Yedlin; Carrasco; Evans, Joseph, Rosales; Martins, Johnson