New England represents so many of the problems with MLS 1.0. They are treated like step-brother by their NFL partners, a minor tenant in a stadium that should be beautiful. This game though will feature a team that on the pitch has scraped together through adversity and managed to teeter on the edge of the MLS Cup Playoffs (pacing # is 42 and 10th).
Taylor Graham recently tweeted that for the Sounders are basically already in the Playoffs, and for many reasons this is true. While the Rave Green haven't entered the elimination rounds, they are in a stretch where every week should see an opponent or two drop off the board. Consider the next month almost like Group Play heading into the knockout stages.
What can the Sounders do though to counter the Revolution?
Gillette is just like Qwest - Control the Center - Fire the First Shot
Gillette is just like Qwest
It is the same brand of artificial surface. The sightlines are similar. It just doesn't have the crowd. Playing on the oppositions pitch in this case should feel very comfortable. Sure New England have the 8th best home record, but that's really just middle of the road.
Sounders should be able to play free and loose on a pitch that they basically know as well as anyone else. Sounders have a great record on Field Turf, and should use those skills. They know that the ball tends to travel faster, they are ready for it even.
The front office of Seattle should also recognize that Gillette is what Qwest could be if they make mistakes like pricing families and the under-30 crowd out of the stadium. Success isn't an entitlement, it needs to be earned every year.
Control the Center
New England is running a 4-2-3-1 these days, and that puts their two best players in a central ninth of the field. Sharlie Joseph though playing as a defensive midfielder is also a key to their offense (6G, 8A, 1.07 PP90). Steve Ralston is playing the point, #10, CAM, WF whatever you want to call it in this offense and he's got numbers just like Nate Jaqua's (7G, 7A, 1.24 PP90). Those are two great "midfielders" who generally play centrally when the ball is sent wide it is almost always sent back to the middle and either Joseph or Ralston. Oh, and Joseph on defense is probably the best CDM the league has.
Seattle has to counter that in their 4-1-3-2 by having both central players being both offensive threats, and playing stellar defense. While I have been a proponent of Peter Vagenas recently, the Sounders need better offense from the middle in this match, rather than the patient and tactical play of Vagenas. This may be a case where the Sounders should bring Brad Evans back into the starting lineup, but as the defensive midfielder so that Alonso can continue his solid play in a more advanced role.
This tactic would allow Evans to match-up with Ralston and Alonso with Joseph. I know that most would look down on the idea of man-marking in the central third of the pitch, but New England is truly a two-man game. Shut that down and the Sounders stand a strong chance.
Fire the First Shot
Not just a one off reference to Concord and Lexington, but a necessity to victory. Sounders are 8-0-1 when leading at the half and 8-0-3 when scoring first. New England is 2-6-3 when trailing at the half and 2-7-4 when allowing the first goal. Seattle is +5 GD in the first half, and New England is -8.
Early pressure is key to this match. In order to best accomplish this, Seattle has to put their strongest offense on the field to start. Later they can bring in their defensive stalwarts (Vagenas, Ianni) and harriers (Le Toux, Levesque). While Jaqua isn't popular at this time with the Sounders faithful, he's still one of the top second forwards in the league. No he doesn't dominate in the air, but he does require a second defender on set-pieces.
Considering that on various set-plays the Revolution are -4 GD while the Sounders are +4 GD playing these numbers are vital. I am not saying that Jaqua will score on a set-play, what I am saying is that he frees up his teammates to play in a more open box. Jaqua deserves this start, and will likely figure in the win.
The Golden Boot might be down to Connor Casey or Jeff Cunningham
Jay Heaps is still a basketball player first
Sounders have a +30% chance available with the proper results this weekend, but a -34% if they all go the other way. That's what draws against United, New England and Chivas will do to you. A 2-1-1 final stretch likely doesn't even get them the 2 seed in the West. The focus now has to be to avoid the East and to avoid playing at Colorado.
I will be on KJR-AM Seattle at 1:05PM with Dick Fain on Saturday
Yes, the Sounders are launching the 2010 season. Not just because we will be 35,000 strong, but also because it is the easiest stadium for ESPN to use. Here's a hint for those planning future SSS, set it up so it is easy for HD TV to film.
Sol Campbell quit Notts County after one game. Looks like Sven's dream is over.
Get ready to renew your seats for 2010. Online renewals are active.