D.C. United is good. It's important to remember that. They have the second best record in the league and are doing that without the power of Eddie Johnson. They are particularly good at home (5-1-3 +6). Seattle Sounders FC have to travel east with all those usual Seattle going east caveats.
It's going to be a diminished match in some sense. Two of Seattle's best are still in Brazil. D.C. has injury concerns. While those things must be taken into account, they can not be the narrative. For this team to be the hydra it needs to win without its best.
Let's check in with Black & Red United's Ben to get an idea of what's going on over in the District.
SaH: Eddie Johnson isn't scoring, but the team is winning. When EJ gets hot what will that mean for the club?
B&RU: If Eddie Johnson can get out of his funk, this team will become very dangerous. Fabian Espindola has shouldered the creative and goal-scoring load so far this season, but with him being out with an injury suffered at the hands of Felipe Martins for six weeks, EJ doesn't have any more time to waste. He will likely partner with Luis Silva, so some of that creative burden will be taken off his shoulders; all he needs to do is score.
SaH: Parke and Boswell and Hamid created one of the best defenses in the league off the scrap heap. Who is the key to that?
B&RU: It has really been the defensive combination of Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke that has been key to D.C. United's defensive resurgence. Over the past few years, United has used players like Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, Daniel Woolard, and Ethan White as center backs. Now, with two experienced and intelligent center backs running the show, and with Perry Kitchen in front of them, United can force attacks to the outside, where they cross the ball into the middle where Parke and Boswell are waiting. Parke was injured for the past few games, but rookie Steve Birnbaum filled in well.
SaH: Is there an unsung hero to the year?
B&RU: It would have to be Davy Arnaud, who is suspended for this game. In the first two games, D.C. United played a diamond midfield that had Davy Arnaud on the left wing and Luis Silva at the point; D.C. United lost both of those games. After Silva got injured against the Chicago Fire, United moved to a flat 4-4-2 with Davy Arnaud partnering with Perry Kitchen in the center of midfield; that is when United took off and when their string of good results started. Lewis Neal is likely to start in Arnaud's place, and is a similar sort of player. Out of players who will actually play, Chris Rolfe has been a great acquisition for United, immediately slotting in on the left side of midfield and providing some creativity that United has lacked due to the long-term injury to Chris Pontius.
Significant Absences: Davy Arnaud is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Fabian Espindola and Chris Pontius are both injured and will not play. [Note form SaH: Parke is now listed out as well]
B&RU: Osvaldo Alonso has been the rock upon which the Sounders have been built in seasons past; how is he doing this year, and how important is he to the team?
SaH: Alonso is a bit off this year. His partnership with Pineda is not as strong as it's been with other CMs. This isn't showing up in the attack, but in defense. Alonso is a great passer and can get forward effectively, but if he and his partner are both forward there's a big empty space that can be exploited on the counter. It's a communication and familiarity issue that is complicated by some nagging leg injury that reduced his burst speed. That's supposedly better with the World Cup break.
If he can defend the counter like in past seasons Seattle will be the magical team I like to claim it already is.
SaH: Think back several years - 2008 and 2009 to be exact. Marshall won back-to-back MLS Defender of the Year. He surged into the US National Team picture. He was in the Best XI both years. He then missed a few games with concussions. Columbus started aging and giving him no support in defense. It looked as if he was fading away and his contract was awful.
In Seattle's he reconnected with Sigi Schmid and is controlling the air. His passing from the back is good. Frankly, Chad Marshall is exactly what he was when he last worked with Sigi. The list of better MLS CBs than Chad is short and includes a couple guys at the World Cup. If he was on this form at the end of last season he wouldn't be a Sounder, but he'd probably be in Brazil.
B&RU: After years of being the next big thing, how has Kenny Cooper adapted to being a substitute off the bench?
SaH: Things are kind of funny for Cooper. He may only be the third, or even fourth forward on the roster. He's had an even split of starts and sub appearances in league play with seven of each. Here's the thing, he's still scoring (3 goals) and he's getting assists (4) and he's winning games while getting paid pretty well. Sure, he'd start on several clubs, but he's wanted again and performing. Would he rather start? Yes. But things are going really well for him here.
Injuries/Absences - Dempsey and Yedlin are still in Brazil. Martins is suspended. Traore, Rose, Remick, Lowe and Parsemain are all injured. Two dudes are on loan. Twenty-one players to figure out an XI and 18 isn't awful.
Lineup - Frei; Gonzalez, Scott, Marshall, Evans; Neagle, Pineda, Alonso, Pappa; Barrett, Cooper