It seems odd to say, but on Match Day Fifteen I see a must win on the road. It isn't necessarily to stop the bleeding, 4 points in 2 at home is a great average. If Sounders do that over the season at home they would be 75% to the playoffs.
This is a must win, because Osario has lost the team and Red Bull should likely fire him. Sounders have to get the easier road points. An @ Dallas type situation will be unsatisfying. While some that cover the league might say the Sounders have it better than most clubs due to the Field Turf situation, that ignores the generations of Turf being used, and the high bounces that the Meadowlands cause.
So how does Sigi take a team 3,000 miles on short rest and win? The keys to this one seem a little simple.
Steve Zakuani - Freddyain - Focus of the Pentagon
Zakuani has to be key in this match, he is as rested as any offensive player and his speed should let him slip past the woeful Red Bull defense (2nd worst in league, 2nd worst at home). But if he's in the 4-1-3-2 who else plays. To this point we've only seen Steve as the Left Wing, but Seb Le Toux did very well there playing both ways. Offense though will be a key element to winning this road match. A team that gives up 1.25 at home has to be hit early and often. Since the Freddyain can't both play centrally (CAM, WF) there are a few things that could be done.
Since we have yet to hear that Zakuani has played centrally (we've seen him switch to the RW and a WF) and Le Toux doesn't have the deft touch that is necessary for a CAM, and yet Ljungberg has certainly played best as the RW when he's there for the majority of the match switching with Montero and Zakuani to cause fits to the opposition, there would seem to be one way to get the top five offensive players on the pitch at the same time. Up top go with Le Toux and Jaqua with Zakuani - Montero - Ljungberg from left to right. That sticks with the 4-1-3-2 that Sigi has used in the majority of Sounders matches. While I still feel that the 4-1-4-1 would be ideal (Dallas' recent better play is using it) considering that the Rave Green are strongest in attacking midfield and wing play.
You may notice that I'm leaning against Brad Evans starting. That would be because he has played the 3rd most minutes among outfield players and he played the full 90 the past two matches. It would seem a good time for him to get slight rest, plus his positional flexibility is great coming off the bench. Sigi in the past several years has used him in the following roles - Withdrawn Forward, Central Attacking Midfielder, Central Midfielder, Right Midfielder, Central Defensive Midfielder, Right Defensive Midfielder, Left Midfielder and Right Wing Back. Starting talent that can play in 8 roles in the Sigi system will always have value, but sometimes that value might be better in the 60th minute. If Alonso, Zakuani, Montero or Ljungberg need to rest Evans can slip in while increasing the defensive posture of the club, but not by moving the center of the formation backwards.
The biggest worry at this point is that Ljungberg will have to play limited minutes on the worst pitch in the league. So while Freddie the Swede is on the field he will need to be included in the run of play whenever he breaks past his opponent. This will take vision and awareness from Montero, who doesn't have the instinct or coaching in the type of system that Seattle is running (quick touches, tactical use of space). This is improving over time, but hopefully the Swede and Colombian can talk in their second tongue while going over tape. In fact I would love to see the airplane dynamic of this club. Who sits next to who. Who is studying tape, that kind of thing.
One of the great improvements that the Coach has put in place is the swapping of roles for 10 or so minutes so that when a defender starts to learn the habits of one of the Freddyain they suddenly get hit with the other. The next step on this is to see the swapped players get a goal from their new space. The Freddyain both have the threat of getting pulled over their heads, and so should likely play with great energy early. The first half of this match should involve waves of action crashing into which ever of Conway/Cepero start .
Focus of the Pentagon
Keller called them out, all five in the defensive pentagon. From Alonso to Riley to Marshall to Hurtado to Wahl. Not one individual, but the lot of them. Each made forward runs, and the cover for the open space left Sounders FC vulnerable to the counter. How they focus on their primary responsibility of defense, while communicating clearly with each other who takes the empty space is the key to the stopping the scoring.
Kasey Keller, while great, can only do so much. So the focus of the Pentagon must be on limiting shots at Keller, on limiting the flow of the opponents, and limiting their counters particularly on the punt and deep cross. All is not lost, for the Sounders outfield defense has done a solid job overall.
Here's a snapshot on the defense
+ 6 Goal Differential, ranking them 3rd in the league. Goal Against Average of 1.00 for 3rd in the league. Only 14 assists against in 14 played 4th in league, only 139 shots against for 5th in the league despite playing an uptempo game. By most measures, Sounders FC's defense is in the top 3rd of the table, and would be on measures that Keller doesn't control (assists against, shots against).
Notable is that Red Bull has given up 24 assists against, they are susceptible to the offensive style that the Rave Green Run.
To Sum up
Tonight there must be 3 points. Sounders are facing a bad team that matches up poorly to the rapid quick pass style of Sigi's game and that has defensive struggles. Red Bull really only has two players on offense and their PP90 are lower than four of the Sounders.
Kandji at 0.67 (and Sounders should know how to control him as they usually do)
Angel at 0.62
There shall be goals tonight!