When the Colorado Rapids comes to Seattle for their 1PM Saturday match most of the national attention will be on Brian Mullan and how the fans react to his presence. Some significant soccer storylines are missed if you focus on that; things that are more likely to affect the result. New Coach Oscar Pareja is shifting the team to a more dynamic 4-3-3. With Conor Casey out injured, the Rapids are using Omar Cummings up top. And Mullan? He's now playing as left winger in the system. Pareja is also not done adding players, though Colombian Harrison Henao almost certainly won't play this weekend.
During all this change the Seattle Sounders' next opponent earned a 3-2-0 record, after their recent loss to Real Salt Lake in Sandy. While many of the players are the same 'thugs' that fans around the league remember, they aren't playing in the same style, they are winning, and Seattle needs points. Helping preview the match is UZ from Burgundy Wave (also a guest on the latest Nos Audietis).
SaH: How's the fanbase feel about the new coach and system being installed?
BW: We've been pleased by what we've seen so far, on the whole. Pareja is still a bit new with tactics and roster management on game days so there have been some puzzling moves but he's shown that he knows what he's doing with talent evaluation and creating an attacking system so despite some strange line up decisions the future looks very bright in Colorado as soon as all the guys can gel into the system. Considering depth was the biggest issue for the team last season, Pareja's complete rebuild of the midfield with tons of new depth has been a breath of fresh air as well, probably one of the reasons why they immediately latched onto Pareja as their favorite coaching candidate.
SaH: You recently wrote about getting Cummings into different spaces by starting Akpan. Are there other ways to get Cummings going again, but maybe in a week?
BW: The way to get Cummings going again is probably a simple solution -- stop trying to play him at a position that completely exposes his every weakness. As an isolated target man up top, his speed is neutralized and his poor ball control overall has led to turnover after turnover every time he has gotten the ball. Back in Gary Smith's old 4-4-2 you saw Cummings as a striker but playing back and very close to the touch line so that he could collect the ball on the sideline and just burst diagonally into the box past every defender and let loose a shot from inside the 18, which are the sort of shots that he makes all day long. In his top man position he hasn't gotten into the 18 very often so he hasn't shot it very often, a complete waste of a player in an important position.
The way to fix it is to simply replace Tony Cascio or Brian Mullan with Cummings so that he can do his thing. That striker/winger position in Pareja's system seems built for Omar's strengths, one of the reasons why we can't wait to get Conor Casey back so we'll know who will be in the target spot week in and week out, giving Omar an excuse to swing back out to the wings. Unfortunately, he might still be up top against the Sounders unless Pareja feels like tinkering with the lineup again, and you saw how well the tinkering worked against RSL.
SaH: On Nos Audietis, the SaH podcast, you stated that Brian Mullan might be in poor enough form to not start. Do you think he needs to start just to add some finality to last year's incident?
BW: I do, just because if he doesn't, the calls will start for him to go into the next game, and the next game, ad nauseum until he gets in a game or just retires. I don't know if Oscar Pareja is going to keep him out of the game, but if he does it will be because he's not the best player for the situation. I don't think he is the best player to use considering his mediocre play so far this year, so if I were Pareja in a neutral environment, I would keep him on the bench. I do predict that in some manner, Mullan will make an appearance on the field even if it's as a sub.
* * *
BW: How did Sounders fans react on the whole to the Eddie Johnson trade, and who do you expect to replace Fucito and Neagle as the young bench spark sort of guys?
SaH: Sounders fans as a whole like the deal. Those few times when Eddie Johnson played so far he's been met with huge positive emotions. The little part of Sounder-dom called Sounder at Heart is a bit more cautious. Obviously a large part of that is because of a majority of the site's authors were fans of Fucito, but also because there is some caution based on EJ's recent history.
When EJ is the starter the bench offense will be David Estrada and Christian Sivebaek with Cordell Cato and Steve Zakuani eventually breaking into that role. There's also the option of Sammy Ochoa to play as a back to goal, big target man. Eventually that will be a great set of attacking options, but right now with two of those being newcomers to the league, two injured early in the season and Ochoa being off form, there are some issues with bench scoring right now.
BW: How has Michael Gspurning been in replacing Kasey Keller? Better than expected? And what has been expected of him replacing a great keeper like that?
SaH: Gspurning is more than adequate. He's not the leader of the backline that Keller was, but that isn't surprising. He's not a legend and English isn't his native tongue. His distribution is a bit different, not better or worse, just different. He's better on crosses, maybe a weaker shot stopper, but hard to know with so few shots on goal against. The most unique thing is that his first touch is strong enough that Seattle is more willing to pass back to him to get space and set up an attacking move. People have been patient and he's quickly earning the respect of the fanbase.
BW: Speaking of Mullan, do you think that him getting the start on Saturday and getting the Sounder fan treatment for a game (combined with Zakuani coming back some time soon) will placate the need for blood by the Sounders fanbase or is this more of a 'never forget' situation regardless of what happens on Saturday?
SaH: I'm a lot like you. I want it done and gone. My hope is that Mullan plays this game and faces boos as loud and vigorous as any player in the history of sport. That should be enough, that should provide a sense of partial closure, with the other moment being Zakuani's return to competitive play. There will always be a group of Sounders fans that will never let this die. I just want that to be a very small group, and the sooner Brian Mullan plays in Seattle the sooner we know how small it is.