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Keys to Game: Sounders at 'Quakes for Heritage Cup

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This week started out with a win over the Colorado Rapids, which meant that the Sounders and its fans could start thinking about a Playoff run. That feels like a month ago, as the week was packed full with other interesting things.

It is obvious to anyone that has followed this team that this week will be one of the defining moments for the 2010 season. One DP in, another DP out, only 1 loss 2 losses in competitive play since the World Cup break, Nate Jaqua and Osvaldo Alonso have returned to health and Tyrone Marshall has lost his starting job. For people who blog, or who read blogs there are plenty of distractions these days.

For the team itself there is only one thing that matters, can they win tonight? A few things will have to happen for the Rave Green to get the win down in Buck Shaw and claim the Heritage Cup, but more importantly it will be a "six point" game. San Jose sits ahead of Seattle no matter how look at the standings.

KEYS TO GAME

Offensive spacing - The addition of Blaise Nkufo has given Seattle the best target forward in the league. At this same time though Seattle is dealing with having some younger players at center mid and right wing. In order for the team to take full advantage of Nkufo and the very hot Fredy Montero the players that are new to the lineup have to capture the proper spaces. Clogging the center with four Sounders will make it quite easy for the Earthquakes to defend with only two in the zone and one as a marker. That provides them with an advantage in the Counter, and makes it nearly impossible for Seattle to score.

Generally you will want your shape to have players about 15 yards apart. This allows speedy passes to succeed and prevents multiple offensive players from being guarded by one guy. If a wing player dives inside either on a cut to the corner of the 18, or to the center of the pitch, it must be by design so that another Sounder shifts to provide width. When that change occurs the player diving inside must be aware of where their teammates are so that they can look to pass if they force a double team, or shoot if the angle is correct. They must not try to force the action through 2,3,4 players for the opposition.

With Buck Shaw's narrow pitch spacing becomes even more important. Often teams will try to play more direct when a few yards of width are lost, but a dramatic shift in tactics is not necessary. Minor shifts in spacing and running the team's standard offense are more likely to succeed. A team should remain what it is.

Riley v Convey - While Bobby Convey has slowed down since the last meeting this is the only match-up in our projected starting lineups where Seattle is at a disadvantage. James Riley has had to provide width in the offense often enough throughout his time with Seattle that a quality winger can take advantage of the broken defensive shape during a counter. This will mean that Patrick Ianni and Osvaldo Alonso will need to stay alert and prepared for such a counter.

Over-committing by Riley will leave Convey with an available pass to add to tally on the season. Early success by Riley or whoever starts as the right midfielder could help force Convey to play both ways more than he would like. This is probably a great way to take this mismatch away from the 'Quakes.

Take advantage of their lack of physicality - Seattle is a team that struggles when fouled a lot. The more physical the defense the more they struggle. The good news is that San Jose does not foul a lot, in fact the commit the second least amount of fouls in the league, while Seattle suffers the most, and by far.

First, this will mean that Seattle doesn't need to get sucked into the silly responsive fouls, as per Wednesday night. Second, this means that Sounders will be more likely to have those fluid quick passes that we have come to know, love, expect, and unfortunately don't see enough. Today we should be able to see the Sounders offense as it was designed.

 

NOTES
TV is KING5 tonight - Radio is 97.3 KIRO FM - Arlo with the call on both
You get an away match gamethread hosted by Jeremiah
Other results that help Sounders most

Rapids v FC Dallas - Draw
Wizards v Toronto FC - Wizards
Dynamo v Red Bull - Draw, although a Red Bull win helps quite a bit too
Galaxy v Fire - Galaxy
Union v Revolution - Draw
Chivas USA v Crew - Crew
Real Salt Lake v United - while the numbers say United, I think that there's no way that Seattle catches RSL and so I'd go with rooting for an RSL win to bury DC United

Essentially points won by RSL, LAG and Crew don't matter. Seattle needs to hope for drops from everyone else, but most importantly the Fire, not because they got FL10, but they have four matches in hand and are slightly ahead of Sounders on pace.

The multiple DP era has started, and all rankings to this point no longer matter.