Everyone that reads this site knows how important this match is for the Sounders and their ability to make the MLS Cup Playoffs. It is even more important for Kansas City, would be eliminated with a loss. KC was so poor early in the season that they fired their coach, and it hasn't really gotten any better. Sounders fans might be thinking that Davy Arnaud is the key, but the fact is that he hasn't scored but once since his early season tear earned him the call to the Gold Cup.
For those that dream of me talking "form" KC is 2-2-1 for 8 points in their last five. If you think that Kei Kamara is the reason, maybe you think that KC is a decent team right now. Their previous five matches though were just awful at 1-0-4 for 3 pts. At best, you might say that KC is streaky, but not good. They are capable of short runs of success, but their off-field and on-field struggles stretch through the season. Form isn't going to tell us who will win.
Controlling the Second Ball - Sounders Off-5 - Committing to the attack
Controlling the Second Ball
Sounders are quite susceptible to attacks by midfielders. The league average from goals by non-forwards is basically 40%, for the Sounders Goals Against by non-forwards is at 50%. We've seen it too often, but Seattle has controlled most of the best of its opponents, but given up goals to the 2nd, 3rd, 4th goal scorer on the opposition. Part of this is because even when the Sounders win the first ball on a deep insert, too often it winds up at the feel of the opponent. Winning that second ball defensively is key. It is the difference between stopping Wolff, Kamara and Lopez, and instead stopping Arnaud and Hirsig. Pay attention to where Marshall knocks the headers he wins.
On offense the Sounders actually need to incorporate their midfielders more, through this same method. We haven't seen much from Zakuani, Evans and whoever is at Right Mid. If it feels that way it is because 70% of the Sounders offense comes from the men playing forward. It is time to get those forwards to integrate their mates into the game. This action is what we saw when Jaqua was at his best. As an target pivot he is his best, as a target scorer he does not fit.
What starting lineup will we see in this "win and in" match? Jaqua has started, played as a RM and been a bench man. Each has its own strengths, but since it seems that the best way to play the Freddyain is both up top, how Sigi integrates the other offensive players will be key.
Considering the narrower pitch there is generally a temptation to play this as a punt it forward counter-attack, and so I expect Seb Le Toux to be a starter, at the Right Midfielder. With the lack of offense for the Sounders (11th in league), it is key to put the man at CM/CAM that best accentuates that without giving up defensive responsibilities. While that defense is likely to be skipped quite a bit in a direct game, that gives a chance that Jaqua play centrally. This isn't going to happen though since he hasn't practiced there. Probably Brad Evans again to the more attacking role of the two CM. Hopefully his defensive tactical knowledge leads to the same on offense. He'll have forward and wing options, he'll just need longer passes onto the running men.
Committing to the attack
Sounders are now the worst team at putting shots on goal. They are 12th in shooting. Too often they search for the beautiful pass while in the 18, instead they need to shoot. Here in the land of the Rave Green, we aren't looking for beautiful, as much as we are a reason to go to the MLS Cup Final come November. Sounders need to move more bodies forward. The Wizards aren't a great attacking team, and so Leo Gonzalez and James Riley should get forward allowing the wide mids to dart on diagonals from the elbow. If Ianni is at the Right Back that strengthens their ability to defend the counter and so Alonso should push forward more than usual.
Solving the lack of offense is what will determine if Seattle Sounders FC is going to be a good expansion team, or a good MLS team.
Down the Byline's Preview
Don't panic, the Sounders are NOT going to sacrifice home-field advantage if they pick up the 1st or 2nd seed in the West.
The TFC v RSL match could have the West move into having six teams in the Playoffs. Preseason most thought that the East would get five. Part of that was underestimating Seattle, the rest by underestimating Chivas.
FC Dallas already named their team MVP - Jeff Cunningham. Sure, it was a no brainer, but why do that before the season ends?
Update: Jose Romero seems to be describing a 4-2-3-1 if the lineup shifts. I would prefer that Jaqua be the lone forward in that formation rather than the RM. Also an odd way to play on a smaller pitch with the more likely counters.