1 - There are only nine players with double digit starts still on the squad. This isn't due just to injury, but a seemingly constant reinvention of the roster. Has that stopped?
Not yet, no, but hopefully this will be the last year that we have to do this. It's been very much about getting rid of the big contracts left over from previous regimes, ie Torsten Frings, Eric Hassli, Darren O'Dea, (maybe Danny Califf as well though that's a stretch as Kevin Payne was around when he signed up) in order to create space and flexibility to rebuild going forward. That has meant players leaving throughout the season. As for those coming in, it was a bit rushed at the end of February, with Ryan Nelsen using his British contacts to bring in a bunch of players on loan. A few of those have already gone back home with more new guys brought in throughout the season. Hopefully there's not that much demolition left to do and they can get on with rebuilding. In that respect this transfer window was a bit of a disappointment, there was a lot of big talk, Tim Leiweke looking for big names and not getting them, and Payne going after young Argentinians and not getting them either. There's still a lot of work to be done on getting this roster into shape.
Having said that, there has actually been a fairly stable lineup by TFC standards over the last couple of months, injuries and Gold Cup callups notwithstanding. Joe Bendik's a constant in goal, Doneil Henry and Steven Caldwell seem settled upon as the centre back partnership, Matias Laba, Bobby Convey and Jonathan Osorio are mainstays in midfield. Up front, well that's a different story, though Robert Earnshaw's return from injury might improve the situation there.
2 - The defense is one of the areas under the most reconstruction. What's the system like as pertains to preventing opponents from scoring?
It's your fairly standard 4 man defence. Steven Caldwell has been a rock in the middle of that since coming over mid season, he's your typical no nonsense British defender, tough and experienced, more suited to defending big centre forwards rather than tricky speedy ones. He's also done a great job organising those alongside him, he's been the 'bossman at the back' to borrow a Paul Mariner phrase, that Danny Califf and Darren O'Dea couldn't be before him, and as an illustration TFC have allowed only 14 goals in the 12 games since he arrived, including 3 clean sheets.
Doneil Henry alongside him has had his ups and downs for sure, he's still young and learning and makes quite a few mistakes, often getting too close to an attacker who can then slip by him for example. He's got the physical attributes to make up for them though, quick and with a good tackle. he's also dominant in the air, and wins the majority of long balls that are aimed in his vicinity.
The full backs, there's definitely adventure to be had there, both Richard Eckersley and Ashtone Morgan are good going forward, but can be dodgy in defence at times, Morgan especially has struggled this year after looking like he could be ready for a breakout season, but had probably his best game of the season last week against New England, hopefully that continues.
Behind them Joe Bendik has had a very good year, though he does love to kick the ball far, usually to the opposition, often as far as to the opposition goalie. Ahead of the defence, it's been a 2 defensive midfielder formation all season, with a revolving cast, the latest to be played there was Jonathan Osorio and he did alright, but mainly that's all about Matias Laba.
3 - Talk to me about Laba.
You can debate whether a defensive midfielder is a good use of the designated player spot, but there's no debating that Laba has been Toronto's best player this season, the one signing even the biggest Kevin Payne detractors will give him credit for, especially given he's young enough to build a team around and be here when those mythical good times finally arrive. He's good at tackling, and though he's not really a dirty player, he's always ready with a smart and cynical foul if needs be. A lot of his defensive work is done by reading the game and anticipating what's about to happen, blocking off holes and all that sort of thing, he's a very smart player.
With the ball, he generally keeps it simple but is a very tidy player, he can get out of tight situations and get the ball to a teammate more often that not. Recently we've seen him a bit further forward as well, creating the odd chance here and there, and even scoring a fabulous first ever professional goal last weekend.
Significant Absences (injury, suspension): Inuries, Danny Koevermans is out still, Robert Earnshaw played a half against Roma midweek, his first action in a while, so I'd upgrade him to probable status. New winger Alvaro Rey left that game with an ankle injury which was described later on that night as just bruising, but is probably still doubtful. Don't think anyone's suspended.
Projected Lineup: Joe Bendik; Richard Eckersley, Steven Caldwell, Doneil Henry, Ashtone Morgan; Matias Laba, Jonathan Osorio, Reggie Lambe, Bobby Convey; Jeremy Brockie, Robert Earnshaw
1) Go on then, get it out of your system, tell us about Clint Dempsey. Can he possibly be good value for $8m per season, and how's he going to fit into the team?
While he may not be good value, Seattle is uniquely positioned within MLS to make up more of that contract than any other team in the league. He's still pricey. It's very unlikely that they can generate that much revenue, but there are revenue streams to tap that no other team has. So if we say that it is a risky business proposition what will it be like on the field? That's a the real question.
This move has to be about collecting trophies again. Dempsey is a great player, who both provides midfield service and a scoring threat from advanced positions. Over time his presence will force a more fluid offense that should make up for the fact that to this point is not generating enough shots on goal to win games despite being one of the best defensive teams in the league by attempted shots. Going from a slightly above average but oft injured team to a league favorite by adding just one player may seem extreme, but in this case it is likely true.
2) Though they sitting right on the edge of the playoffs, it seems to a casual observer that this has been a disappointing season for the Sounders, one that just hasn't really ever got properly into gear. What's caused that, and is it fixed and they're getting going just at the right time of the season. Do the fans still have faith in Sigi?
Most fans still have faith in Sigi, but vocal cries for a new coach were raised this season. Oddly, they were probably loudest during the opening stretch of the season when Sounders FC was making history in the CCL while having a pretty crappy start to the MLS season. There are people who think that he's tactically static (though he's used at least three different shapes/strategies as his primary with Seattle), some also feel that his coaching style is too old fashioned in modern MLS with Porter and Kreis (they ignore failures of coaches that used similar tactics poorly), and others have even suggested that players don't want to play for him (Dempsey says hello). If he fails to make the MLS Cup Playoffs with this roster he probably loses his job. If they bomb out of the first round that will likely remain true. There's also little reason to think that either of those are likely unless you are the type of person that bathes in misery.
3) DeAndre Yedlin, all star. How's that happened?
Some of it had to be that he's the best HGP this season and Garber wanted to promote the program. He's a good, maybe great, right back, but arguments could be made for a half dozen others at that position. What Yedlin has on them is personality, a US passport and a flair for dramatic moments. As a symbol of what the future is here in Seattle and around the league he's perfect.
Lineup prediction: Gspurning; Gonzalez, Traore, Hurtado, Yedlin; Alonso; Neagle, Evans, Rosales; Johnson, Martins
Dempsey is likely to come on as a sub for any of the five most advanced players.