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Michael Azira is a recovery specialist, while Andy Rose wins the air war

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Pineda may be coming back soon, but the three non-Alonso central midfielders offer slight differences when Sigi inserts them into the lineup.

Jane G Photography

Andy Rose and Michael Azira offer different things to Sigi Schmid, but not much different. While Gonzalo Pineda looks likely to return to action soon, Schmid told the media about his choice in usage for the other two non-Alonso center mids.

"They're each different players," Schmid said. "Rose gets forward, gets into the box a little bit more. Azira helps us a little bit more in our possession in midfield. It was a situation where I thought Andy came on through the Open Cup run and through those games there played really well for us and provided us with some really key moments and goals as well. And then because he'd been out for a while, just the accumulation of those minutes wore on him a little bit. I thought it was a chance to get Micheal back into the mix, and the last two games Micheal has played very well also. I thought he had a good game against Chivas, and I thought he had a good game in Colorado. I think he was like 80-percent pass completion in both games, and he's provided us what we've needed in those games. But Andy is still a very big part of our mix, and sometimes it's going to depend game to game."

Interestingly enough, while Azira had a great last match completing 94% of his passes and was an incredible eight for eight on long balls. Those long balls are where the primary passing difference shows up between the two. Rose is at 81.8% pass completion on the year. Azira is at 86.1%. Andy is 13 for 34 in long passes on the full season. Michael is an Alonso-like 27 for 38.

Passing is not the only way to help possession. Rose is clearly a great ball winner in the air. Thirteen regular midfielders are ahead of him in aerial duels per match. Of note Rose is mainly a sub and doesn't meet qualifying requirements. Also of note Evans and Neagle are both ahead of Rose in that rate stat. Azira is not nearly as good. Much of this has to do with his size, but it's also because Rose is actually good in the air.

Both are pretty decent at winning ground tackles, the differences here can be counted on a single hand.

Rank Player Rec / 90
1 Alonso 10.69
2 Garrido 9.74
3 McCarty 9.70
4 Tchani 9.30
5 Claros 9.24
6 Azira 9.22
7 Koffie 9.11
8 Juninho 8.65
9 Piatti 8.60
10 Edu 8.43

The place where Azira sets himself apart from Rose, and from Pineda, is in recoveries. Both recoveries and duels do correlate to winning. Both are ways to maintain or acquire possession. But Azira is much better at recoveries than Rose is in the air. Among non-keepers with 300 or more minutes Azira is sixth in recoveries per 90.

That's a great advantage, and it happens to be one of the areas where Seattle Sounders FC are relatively weak. Per sidereal's Crunchy Power Ranking data they are 7th in net recoveries, while the LA Galaxy are 1st (On overall CPR Seattle is 4th and LA a clear 1st). It is a difference that could be made up by starting Azira.

This may just be why Azira could start while Pineda sits. Pineda's long passing is only slightly better than Azira's long passing. His overall completion rate is nestled right in with the other two. He's not as good in the air as Rose and he isn't anywhere near as good at recoveries as Azira. He stands out as a set-piece specialist, but Sounders already have Pappa and Evans for that.

So with the three non-Alonso CMs all healthy Sigi's choice is simple;

Win recoveries - Azira
Win the air - Rose
Set-play kicks - Pineda