As the Seattle Sounders travel later today to Commerce City, CO to take on the Colorado Rapids this has been set-up as a battle between the annually good and the suddenly Cup Champions. The Rapids did not just sit on their hands during the off-season, but traded a few players away, acquired several Seattle players through various mechanisms and even added a fringe EPL player in Caleb Folan. UZ at Burgundy Wave tells us the minimum that a Seattle fan needs to know.
DC: Colorado's "struggles" coincided with injuries to Conor Casey and Pablo Mastoeni. Is Seattle going to be that fortunate?
UZ: After gaining striker depth over the off-season, Casey has become a luxury - he's still probably the best pure target forward in the league and his raw experience next to Omar Cummings has given the two almost a sixth sense around each other on the pitch - but not necessarily an incredibly important loss for the Rapids. Seattle will not have nearly an easy time as Dallas did because Pablo Mastroeni will be back. Pablo's experience and play-creation in the center of the pitch is not only underrated by just about everyone - including Rapids fans! - but he really can't be replaced easily in a way that keeps the Rapids style similar to how it is when the team is at full strength. Pablo being back will be a huge boost for the team, especially since they'll be at home. A wildcard that you forgot was Anthony Wallace, our young and immensely talented left back. He was injured around halfway through the Dallas slaughter and was forced to sit for Real Salt Lake. I'm sure you know Tyrone Marshall fairly well after his time in Seattle, he will be the most likely replacement if Wallace is forced to sit again, taking over center back while Drew Moor slides over and plays the left. Obviously that won't be as important a game time decision as Pablo will be, but still something to take into consideration.
DC: The Rapids added Caleb Folan this off season. He has experience with fringe EPL sides as well as it seems like a dozen other non-EPL teams in England. What kind of player is he?
Burgundy Wave: It's really not much of an exaggeration to call him [Folan] 'Conor Casey lite'. He's a big target forward with an unusual amount of finesse for his size, very similar to Casey. His footwork isn't quite as good and his positioning isn't quite on par with Casey, which is why I would say that they're clearly ranked 1-2 in that category. He scored two very impressive looking goals against DC which showed what he was capable of, but against a better defense in Salt Lake he looked a lot less effective, something which Casey probably would have improved upon - the guy is an RSL killer, as much of one as the Rapids have any way - so having him around is a pretty good replacement but not ideal. His fitness is still building up to the point where he can comfortably play a full 90 minutes, which he will need to do with all the striker injuries that Colorado is facing. If he can do that and continue learning how to adjust to the MLS game, he should be a fine target forward in the future, specifically if Casey leaves soon.
DC: Remember that trade. It sure seems to have meant nothing in the end?
Burgundy Wave: Yep. Even stranger is that Earls wound up being a Rapid again at the end of the whole ordeal. I heard Vagenas was trying out with the Whitecaps too, of all teams! Looks like it really was just to dump a couple of international slots for the Rapids.
DC: Ok, I lied, you wound up with Sanna Nyassi. How has he looked in Burgundy?
BW: Similarly to how he looked in rave green, actually. He's still a fast, speedy winger with fairly good but not great ball skills and a strange tendency to play mediocre in league play. He played very well against DC United and the Timbers, but against better teams like FC Dallas and RSL he looked terrible. Even worse, a lack of strikers after a Quincy Amarikwa injury forced him to play forward against Salt Lake, which I'm sure you can imagine didn't quite work out as planned. Basically, a pretty good option off the bench late in games and an occasional spot starter if you have no other options - we know how much I prefer Wells Thompson for that situation - but not the guy you're going to put out there a goal down hoping to get a game-winning spark from.
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And the other way
UZ: Seattle's offense seems to have perked up after that slow start. What was causing such a terrible offensive output in the first couple of games, bad luck? Bad finishing? Something else?
Dave Clark: It had to be the classic bad finishing, but here was a combination of luck, extraordinary goalkeeping (Tally Hall) and some poor shot selection. Seattle put up plenty of shots, many on goal. They just didn't convert. With quality like Steve Zakuani and Fredy Montero Seattle's offense should be fine over the long term, particularly with players like O'Brian White and Mauro Rosales around to add some diversity to the attack. Friday should also be the first time when Sigi Schmid can select from a full squad of healthy player as Mike Fucito and Nate Jaqua are fit and able to play. That can't hurt the offense.
BW: What are the biggest weaknesses of this seemingly solid Seattle squad? (And why did I go out of my way to alliterate that?)
DC: Seattle continues to be prone to the over the top counter. If a ball can be punted past Osvaldo Alonso into a land with just one or two of the backline and a sprinting technical player bad things seem to happen. Juan Agudelo being the best example of that. The other weakness comes from occasional sloppy passes around 20-30 yards out as the defenders may try to force action past a pressuring opposing forward. Juninho's strike was off of a turnover in a similar circumstance.
BW: Speaking of the trade, can we get some more in-depth knowledge on why neither of our guys wound up sticking with Seattle?
DC: Julien Baudet was easy to figure that he wouldn't stay when he still wanted starter money and at best was the 4th CB on the team. In that role he shared something with Danny Earls in that Tyson Wahl is part of the reason he was a spare part. Wahl is now a LB/CB for Seattle and so provides cover for both roles.
Earls also had the misfortune of competing with Generation Adidas player Michael Tetteh who was drafted after the deal. While I saw Earls as the best piece in the trade, and most capable of contributing this year, the selection of Tetteh had a person with higher upside and was a natural choice. I'm in no way surprised that Earls is on a Reserve squad and I expect him to get some first team play over a season. I just wish it had happened here as Seattle's fullbacks outside of Tetteh are old and older.