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Sounders Face Crowded May

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Christian Sivebaek hasn't played much so far. A crowded May schedule could change that. Photo courtesy of Chris Counter / <a href="http://www.SoundersPhotos.com" target="new">SoundersPhotos.com</a>
Christian Sivebaek hasn't played much so far. A crowded May schedule could change that. Photo courtesy of Chris Counter / SoundersPhotos.com

After a bit of a rest the Seattle Sounders will face one of their busiest stretches of play in their young MLS history. For some players the amount of travel is now common, their roles are well defined and they know as long as they are healthy they will start a majority of those games. Others will be able to take this opportunity to show Sigi Schmid and the coaching staff that they are ready and deserve more playing time. From the outside, theories of depth will be tested. At practice yesterday Sigi Schmid admitted that there will need to be a bit of a rotation due to fitness levels of some of the players that were injured.

"I think we probably have to have a little bit of rotation for our team, especially with Johansson and Rosales coming back from injuries because they’re not going to be able to play a Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday type of sequence of games. Same thing probably with Eddie Johnson. We have to look at our players and see what makes sense in terms of the rotation, but there will probably be some sort of rotation."

Alvaro Fernandez is also one of those that will need to be rotated as he's a bit further away from being ready, though there is still a chance he's available on Saturday against the Chicago Fire.

One of those that could get more playing time in the crowded May (and last game in April) is Christian Sivebaek. The Danish midfielder is still learning the opposition in the 19-team MLS v the 12-team Danish league, but he sees this schedule as an opportunity to show Sigi and the staff that he's ready for more:

"It depends on how you do in training and how Sigi sees you. I think I've been doing OK in training the last couple weeks. Hopefully he'll look my way and use me as one of the options."

Talking to Sivebaek after practice he also noted the significant differences in travel. At least four of the May+ matches will be on the road, with a fifth possible depending on how the Open Cup draw works out. In past years his longest trip was a couple hours with rare overnight stays. In the United States that isn't possible.

"In Denmark the longest drive you had to take was like three hours. The rest of the games were like two hours, one hour. That's a big difference as here you travel two days before the game. Also, it's something you have to get used to. I'm getting used to it. We stay in nice hotels. You can just relax in the hotel so it's good."

The right midfielder is still getting used to the more box-to-box and physical nature of MLS. He doesn't feel quite fit to play 90 at the pace and physical level of MLS, yet. He feels he's getting there and learning the players in the league. That education is about two months away while the fitness could come anytime now.

For Sivebaek, a newcomer and bubble XI player the crowded schedule is a chance for playing time. For Brad Evans, who did fitness work on the side in order to stay healthy, the crowded schedule is simpler. He doesn't see parallels to last August's run in MLS and CCL play.

"You guys [media] pay attention to that, maybe the coaches. But if you ask anybody, nobody would know what our record is during each month. Sometimes you remember going on good runs and winning games, but as far as the number game goes we don't really pay much attention to it. For us the focus really is one game at a time. If we can take care of this game we can kind of go on a roll. It's a streaky team; it's a streaky league. We've got a couple good results lately on the road and then at home. I think it's a team that we can do well against."

While the players may be looking one game at a time there are things that we can look to right now in the current state of MLS. Every team has played at least five matches, some as many as eight already. Sagarin ratings start to carry some weight. Home v Road records begin to have meaning. Some offenses are good (LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake) while others are struggling (Philadelphia Union, FC Dallas). The same is true for defenses.

The following chart shows how teams are doing overall (PPM). Their record in the location of the game this season is also displayed. Last five matches is shown, but in a couple cases there could be five more matches before Seattle sees them. The Sagarin ratings are based off of Seattle's predictive rating minus/plus the home field advantage then subtracting the opponents predictive rating. Lastly you can see goal scoring rates for each team on a per game basis.

Team

Location

PPM

locPPM

Last 5

Sagarin

GFper

GAper

Fire

Away

1.60

2.00

8

0.14

1.20

1.20

Galaxy

Home

1.50

1.50

9

0.67

1.67

1.67

Union

Home

1.17

1.00

7

1.01

0.57

1.00

Toros

Away

1.43

2.50

6

0.24

0.80

1.00

RSL

Home

1.88

1.50

9

0.48

1.50

1.00

Whitecaps

Away

1.57

1.75

6

0.07

0.86

0.86

Crew

Home

1.17

1.00

7

1.17

1.00

1.50

Goats

Away

1.29

0.00

9

0.28

1.14

1.43

Yes, by this metric Seattle is favored in every match. Half of those favored matches are by a significant amount. The stretch of eight MLS games in less than a month (since the Open Cup opponent is unknowable at this point) will be a sorting of the League. The Sounders travel twice across two or more time zones while hosting two opponents across that same distance.

It is not a particularly arduous schedule, besides the fact that there will be few days to rest. First up is Chicago and as Evans said, there is no need for the players to get into the mud and overthink. Instead, a simple focus is needed.

"I think for us we focus all this week on Chicago and we take one game at a time."