Well, let's start with the assumptions:
- Saturday's game at RSL is very big. 2nd v 4th current positions in the Western Conference.
- Yedlin is in Turkey crushing some French dudes in the U20 World Cup.
- Evans is going to start at right back.
- Sigi wants to start Neagle, Oba and EJ.
- Neagle has played too well recently to not play somewhere.
- (and the one no one wants to say out loud: EJ and Oba have been, well let's call it not good when played up front together. Small Sample Size alert.)
As noted on this blog, the Sounders have thrived since a lineup switch that involved playing one attacking wing (typically Rosales) with one wing that was more of a box to box winger with good tactical awareness (typically Evans). That included starting Alonso and most recently Carrasco in the middle behind two of Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle.
Lamar Neagle became the de facto fill in forward after Zakuani deputized in the role early in the season. For one reason or another Zakuani was not good in a forward role. But Neagle has been better than anyone outside of the Neagle household (who are we kidding, even his mom is surprised) could ever hoped. He has quickly developed a very nice chemistry with Martins.
It would be silly to bench Neagle because EJ is back from National team duty. So how do we get them all on the field at the same time? Here is my solution:
EJ starts as an attacking wide left mid. The lineup would look something like this:
------- Neagle -- Martins -------
-------Carrasco -- Alonso ----------
Leo -- Traore -- JHK -- Evans
-------------- Gspurning --------------
Now clearly this upsets the recent trend of having one holding mid and one attacking mid on the wings. The inverted midfield that is working so well. But my theory is that Carrasco and Alonso are both very good defensive midfielders. EJ is a plus attacking winger. He will play for the Sounders as essentially the same position he played for the USA (except on the other wing) at the CLink against Panama. Yes, he is a winger and he has some defensive responsibilities. But he is mostly there to join the attack and create width. With a central midfield of Carrasco and Alonso, they have to be aware that EJ is going to leave Leo on an island at times and be ready to support. And in this setup that is fine. Neagle or Oba can drift back a bit leaving room for EJ. And when Rosales has the ball on the right wing then EJ needs to make it a priority to be a crossing target.
Thoughts on Saturday's lineup? After arguably the worst half of the year playing at RSL on March 30th, it will be nice to get a win on Saturday.