Decision Day is a big deal. Just look at all the MLS hype around it. Seattle Sounders FC need a single focus. If they win, they're in the playoffs and might even take 2nd in the West and 4th in the Shield. The opponent for Sunday's 4 PM (JoeTV) match is a moribund Real Salt Lake team with a coach on the hot seat and missing one of their top players. Sigi has a full roster to choose from, and also may be on the hot seat.
Matt from RSL Soapbox answers Three Questions.
SaH: Who replaces Beckerman and how will they prevent Dempsey and Martins from operating in the hole?
RSLSB: The short answer here is John Stertzer, and to be honest, I don't know if I have an answer for the second part of the question. Stertzer has been reasonably good this year, but he's certainly not up to Beckerman's level. The best I can see is that RSL could push their back line as far forward as they can, hoping to prevent that sort of play by springing an offside trap. It's risky business and probably wouldn't work.
Of course, Stertzer and Mulholland could operate a little closer together and defend as more of a unit than two midfielders on separate wavelengths, but that's both unlikely to happen overnight and would leave more gaps in the channels, and that's hardly preferable.
SaH: Which of the young players excites you most when you consider 2016 and beyond?
RSLSB: My list is too long to appropriately answer this question, but I'll point at two players: Jordan Allen and Justen Glad. Now, that's not really fair, because both of them are widely talked about, but bear with me here.
Allen is incredibly exciting because he has shown well at every position he's played. He's very good with his feet but smarter with his head, and that gives him the right tools to succeed. He's not a natural goalscorer, but he's contributing excellent wide play right now, and that's been at least fun to watch, even if actual matches haven't been particular.
Glad is interesting because he's shown surprising intelligence in his play. He's not the strongest (yet), but he reads the game better than most defenders his age, including his US youth team compatriots playing in Europe.
SaH: Will RSL want to win, or just to show up and get the season over with?
RSLSB: Yes, RSL will want to win. Will they be properly motivated to? That's harder to say. This group of players has never seemed like a 'just show up' sort (even if they sometimes ended up doing that at times through the season), but at times, they just haven't looked ready for what they face. And with your lot pushing as hard as they ever have (or something like that), let's just say I'm feeling a little uncertain about things.
Although I really should note that it's when I feel the most uncertain that RSL has pulled out wins, so maybe it's not all lost.
Projected Lineup: Rimando; Beltran, Olave, Maund, Mansally; Stertzer, Mulholland, Morales; Burrito, Sandoval, Allen
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RSLSB: The stakes are huge for this match. Are you worried that Seattle will fail at the last moment?
I should include more words, but sometimes yes is enough. Why?
Because this team has wasted so many chances to lock in seeding, or even make a late run for the Supporters' Shield. When healthy they can be extraordinary. Two-thirds of this season have been awful and merely good.
Sunday's game offers the opportunity to bathe in greatness and wash away the nasty dirt of disappointment, but we're still covered in that disappointment and so while "there is hope" is are calling card this season, I may not believe it.
RSLSB: If you don't make playoffs, what's next for Seattle? If you do, is there any sense that you have the right pieces to succeed?
SaH: Missing the MLS Cup Playoffs is a failure. In middle of the injury crisis the calling for Sigi's head was premature, but in the late season he had the talent and dropped points against KC's B team, Houston and RSL would be a signal of something very wrong. Seattle was/will be mostly healthy in those games. Missing the playoffs because they only pull in two or three points would be on Sigi, and the players. A very simple case could be made to tear the roster and staff to shreds and start over. At most the window for this core ends in 2016. There's a lot of age in key roles - Dempsey, Martins, Alonso, Pineda, Valdez, Marshall, Evans.
But those same key personnel do have another year in them, and if they enter the MLS Cup Playoffs with an 8-game unbeaten streak and a strong performance they can ride the best defense in the league and the Clinfemi duo up top to the Final. Because when Clint and Oba play the offense is at worst average in MLS and at best is an unstoppable force raining fire and brimstone down on the opposing keeper. This is a team that when clicking is good enough for a deep CCL run even.
Those are two wild swings in confidence, but are a representation of how fine the line of greatness in MLS can be.
RSLSB: Has Garth Lagerwey actually been a big impact for Seattle Sounders, or have his changes not really shook out yet?
SaH: Most of the scouting of the four Summer signings was done before he joined the team. What he did was add polish and the final diacritical marks. This will be his first full offseason and third transfer window. If Garth has magic this is when we will see it.
Projected lineup, too, would be great.
Frei; Fisher, Marshall, Evans, Mears; Ivanschitz, Pineda, Alonso, Pappa; Dempsey, Martins