Bruce Arena is trying to figure out how how to use youngster Zardes, MVP candidate Keane and aging Landon Donovan. That's led to the use of a diamond lately. Seattle Sounders FC will get to see exactly how that diamond works on Monday night at 7 PM (ESPN2 for the TV).
Let's chat with Josie from LAG Confidential and answer a three questions.
SaH: What's going on with converting Landon Donovan to a CAM?
LAGC: Donovan at the point of the lance has been the subject of much consternation, not to mention wailing and gnashing of teeth. On some levels the concerns are valid, in six appearances as an attacking midfielder Donovan has no goals and no assists. Not exactly a Javier Morales level of performance. His best position has been forward, where he has three goals and two assists.
So, you say, just put Donovan at forward with Robbie Keane and go nuts. The issue there is you're effectively putting Zardes back on the bench as he's not the best midfield option, his passing hasn't developed like his shooting has, and he shows so much promise when allowed to get minutes and figure this whole soccer thing out.
Stefan Ishizaki has two goals and an assist as a CAM, but that was typically with Donovan at forward and we're back at the Zardes problem. So the Galaxy are stuck with Donovan where he's at in the hopes that Zardes can pay off his full potential. Now about that Zardes guy...
SaH: Gyasi Zardes shift to forward has unlocked a goal machine. Tell us about this young man.
LAGC: From the moment at the MLS Superdraft where he told fans he was going to blow our minds with his skills, sales of Magneto helmets have gone through the roof. Fortunately for those who found the helmet store sold out, Zardes had a typical rookie season. Adjusting to a full season and the speed of play at the professional level took time. It also took Bruce Arena time to find his natural position.
He's got five goals as a forward this year in six appearances. Holy conversion rate Batman! That's really been the key. His first stint as a forward was a disaster as he felt the need to take every available shot like it was still college and he'd get like seventy-thousand opportunities a game.
Now he's come to see the ball as the precious, life giving object that it is. Over two matches last week, all his shots were on target with almost half of them resulting in goals. Zardes has discovered selectivity, waiting for his moment, making runs without the ball. It's exciting.
SaH: How can a defense that doesn't have a healthy Omar Gonzalez and shifted AJ to fullback defend the combo of Oba and Clint?
LAGC: Omar Gonzalez just returned to full training this week after the Galaxy pulled a 2011 Sounders against United, so we'll see how fit he is once things get going. The question becomes whether Bruce Arena risks him on the playing surface which shall not be named, or if it's a young combo that takes the pitch against Oba and Clint.
The young combos have done well in Gonzalez' absence, and the consistency is admirable, especially keeping a clean sheet against Real Salt Lake. However, it'd be foolish to think they wouldn't meet their match in the Sounder duo. My personal feeling for this matchup is either it's a tight affair with both teams dealing with elements of fatigue, or there's a dam break moment and it gets out of hand.
Significant Absences: David Beckham
Projected Lineup: Penedo; DeLaGarza, Meyer, Gonzalez, Rogers; Juninho; Sarvas, Ishizaki; Donovan; Zardes, Keane
LAGC: Martins credits Captain America Clint Dempsey with making his job easier. How have you seen Martins' role change since Dempsey came aboard?
SaH: When Obafemi Martins first got here he either played as a high forward in parallel to Eddie Johnson, or behind EJ. It was a way to take advantage of his great speed. Now he generally plays as a target man, a very unconventional target man. If Seattle boots it forward to Oba the goal isn't for him to head it down and wait, instead his feet are the target. Though short his muscle mass and great ball control mean that he can put his back against a vast majority of MLS central defenders and maintain possession. He will either curl around them or drop the ball off to Dempsey.
There are also times when Seattle drops both Clint and Martins back into the midfield shifting to a 4-6-0. Both are good enough with the ball at their feet that they can charge at a line. They'll use a skill move or a subtle pass to get someone an open shot.
LAGC: Chad Marshall has had a Loki-esque resurgence. How has he improved the Sounders' defense this year?
SaH: He controls the air. He's probably lost an aerial duel, but it's rare enough that one should start wondering why teams are still going for high crosses against a prepared Air Marshall. One of the things that puts him a cut above is that when he wins the header it isn't just a clearance, but a pass. The Sounders can get out on the break when Marshall cuts out a cross attempt and that's down right special. Seattle clearly had errors early in the season, but it was seven competitive matches ago that they gave up more than a single goal. Their expected goals against has been in the top quartile for some time.
LAGC: How can Seattle sustain this run of form? What could be their Kryptonite?
SaH: Now that the defense seems settled things feel real good up here on the Puget Sound. But they also felt good last year when the club was in control of its own Supporters' Shield destiny. Injuries could end things, that's pretty simple. If a couple transfers that are too good to ignore came about that would slow things down quite a bit. Teams are going to continue trying to attack the space behind Yedlin. That sometimes works.
Bonus question: Which Seattle Sounder is most likely to be a secret Cosplayer?
SaH: It's got to be one of Yedlin, Ford and Neagle. Those three are always dressing in ways that only the uber-confident and fashion forward can. Yedlin would make a great elf. Ford could be a superhero. Neagle could pull off the suspender and long coat look of Mal.
Significant Absences: Brad Evans (as of Saturday)
Projected Lineup: Frei; Gonzalez, Scott, Marshall, Yedlin; Neagle, Pineda, Alonso, Pappa; Dempsey, Martins