It's the final trip to the East Coast for the Seattle Sounders. When asked about the benefit of that Sigi Schmid reminded all that they would also be taking a trip to Trinidad and Honduras for the Champions League. The team will still get a couple extra training days a month after Sunday's match against the New York Red Bulls. But the match still matters. While some may think that it is less important as it's against an Eastern team, three extra points picked up that most Western teams wouldn't get. In fact the top 5 teams in the West all have more than 1.44 ppm (13 pts in 9) versus teams in interconference play, while most likely challenger for that final slot LA Galaxy have only 7 points in 8 played. If Seattle can pull 18 in 10 (with the road win) only RSL and the 'Quakes would be ahead of them as West v East teams. That would create a 5 to 11 point cushion on the Galaxy.
But Red Bull has a dynamic offense that just got better through the acquisition of Sebastien Le Toux. The former Sounder can slot at the right flank when both Kenny Cooper and Thierry Henry are healthy. In the fairly frequent games that Henry misses Seba can then play in the same hole that his French compatriot uses. There are defensive weaknesses for New York. Their backline is inconsistent. Most games with RBNY are up-and-down affairs that involve outscoring rather than defensive efforts.
SaH: While Seattle has used three starting keepers and a fourth on the bench, the Red Bulls are pretty narrow in their usage of Ryan Meara. What has his discovery meant for New York?
OaM: Stability. Goalkeeper has been a problem position for the Red Bulls for years. Bouna Coundoul was amazingly athletic, and would make spectacular saves, followed by a string of jaw-dropping blunders. Frank Rost, who was meant to solidify the position last season, was never able to develop a good understanding with his defenders, but was probably not helped by constant lineup changes. Meara has been aggressive in his decision making, mostly steady on crosses and corners, and very assured in his distribution, whether passing to defenders or kicking. In short, he’s been a revelation and well worth a second round draft pick. The whole team just looks more assured with him playing behind them.
SaH: While trying to avoid Batman/Robin in Gotham jokes, Cooper and Henry are pretty damn amazing. How are they working together so well?
OaM: Well it’s been a while since we saw them paired, to be honest. Henry has been injured and missed a few turf games, so Cooper has been forced to work alone up front quite a bit recently. But when they were clicking earlier in the season, I think it was due to Cooper’s ability to anticipate. Coop is a daunting physical presence, but he has also has very good feet for a big man, and that’s a nice match for Henry’s preference to play the ball on the deck.
SaH: The backline and defensive mid situation is confusing. Marquez and Pearce are defenders with strong reputations, but both have been used as D-mids. Who is playing where and what is Backe trying to maximize from their usage?
OaM: I think the Pearce in midfield experiment was a one-off, unlikely to be repeated, especially on Sunday since he’s injured. Marquez really is better suited to the central midfield role now, if we have to play him at all. As a defender, he just doesn’t have the wheels to keep up with speedy forwards and has a tendency to lose concentration when he’s not involved in the play. Rafa is still a tremendous long passer, and he gets to show that off as a midfielder. The problem is pairing Rafa with Dax McCarty. Neither is especially adept at moving forward, so when they are played together the Red Bulls tend to struggle in the attack, forcing Henry to drop deep to collect the ball.
Projected Lineup? Meara; Miller, Conde, Holgersson, Barklage, Lindpere, McCarty, Marquez,
Richards*, Cooper, Henry *Richards did not take part in training today. If he is out, Backe might slot in Ballouchy since Jan Gunnar Solli is still recovering as well.
SaH: Note: This was provided before the acquisition of Le Toux. It would be likely that Seba slots into Richards spot.
Projected Seattle Lineup: Gspurning; Gonzalez, Ianni, Parke, Johansson; Alonso; Fernandez, Rose, Rosales; Montero, Johnson