Over the past three seasons, Sigi Schmid has masterfully maneuvered the Seattle Sounders lineup. Many times, he's rolled out a lineup that has made more than a few of us want to rip out our hair. But more times than not, it's worked out in his favor.
His willingness to go more than 20-deep on his roster is part of why the Sounders have been able to do so well in multiple competitions. It's why guys like David Estrada are now becoming regular contributors, why someone like Zach Scott has worked his way into a defined role as a defensive stopper, why a guy like Roger Levesque is still on the roster despite no clear position to play.
Tonight is a particularly tricky situation. Unlike in 2009-10, the Sounders' lower-division opponent is not an obvious rival. Unlike last year, they are not a semi-pro team. The Atlanta Silverbacks are a team about whom the Sounders know very little, but who have some legitimate talent.
I think it would be a mistake to force out a full first-choice lineup. Mauro Rosales is still nursing an injury and would be better off rested. Brad Evans could probably use some time off, as well. Maybe Bryan Meredith could use a mental break.
But using this is a trumped up reserve game would also be a mistake. Let Christian Sivebaek, Cordell Cato and Andrew Duran show how much progress they've made in Friday's game against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Here's who I want to see play tonight:
Goalkeeper: Andrew Weber. He's a veteran, who was considered neck-and-neck with Meredith before suffering an ankle injury. With Meredith's recent dip in form, it would be a way to see if Weber is ready for the No. 2 role.
LB: Marc Burch. He's been getting a lot more work than anyone really foresaw, but until Leo Gonzalez gets healthy there's no one else I'm comfortable starting.
CB: Jhon-Kennedy Hurtado and Jeff Parke. Like Burch they are getting a lot of work, but there aren't a lot of good options. They'll get a solid six days off if they win anyway.
RB: Zach Scott. Until Adam Johansson returns, it's a no-brainer. Plus, he has that Open Cup pedigree that's always helpful.
LM: Alex Caskey. I was up in the air about starting him or Alvaro Fernandez, but feel like Fernandez could us some time to heal.
DCM: Osvaldo Alonso.
CM: Andy Rose. The more I see him, the more I like him. He has really grown into the Brad Evans role nicely and don't think it's too far of a drop off.
RM: Roger Levesque. Just couldn't keep him out of my Open Cup lineup.
Forward: Fredy Montero. If he's healthy, he plays. No reason in saving him.
Forward: Eddie Johnson. Another guy I've gone back and forth on, but here's my thinking: If Caskey is on the field, some of what David Estrada does is redundant. Johnson was a sub on Saturday and this is a good chance for him to start creating some real chemistry with Montero.
It's almost a first-choice lineup, which is a long way off where I started the week, but I've decided that the week between games should be sufficient for most of these guys. We'll see, maybe I'm crazy.