It's a match that will help determine an eventual US Open Cup winner and trip to the CONCACAF Champions League. That end result is months and many games away. The journey for Seattle Sounders FC 2 starts in their humble home of Starfire Stadium against a local PDL side that is not amateur, but not quite professional. This second round US Open Cup contest is not streamed, so if you want to see a couple dozen players show that they have what it takes to be fully pro, you will need to be at Starfire tonight.
Let's use the power of Sounder at Heart to find an expert on "non-league soccer" around Puget Sound. Randy Meeker answers Three Questions about tonight's contest between S2 and Kitsap Pumas.
Clark: Pumas are in preseason ahead of their 2015 PDL season. How'd they look against FC Tacoma 253 in the 1st round?
Meeker: The Pumas were very aggressive in attacking FC Tacoma in their match last week. They started the game in a 3-4-3 formation that played even more assertive than you would expect out of a 3-4-3. That tactic paid off, giving Kitsap an early goal that they continued to build on throughout the remainder of the first half. They finally built a 5-0 lead early in the second half. At that point, most teams would stay back defensively to kill off the remainder of the game. Kitsap opted to keep its foot on the accelerator, knowing that more chances would come with Tacoma chasing the game.
Clark: After giving up two goals to the newer than new FCT 253 should S2 fans think they have an advantage?
Meeker: The problem with using an aggressive attacking strategy is that you leave yourself vulnerable at the back. This may have been a calculated risk in a match against an amateur team, but Tacoma had several good chances after getting in behind the Pumas defense. A better side would have converted more of these chances, particularly early in the game. The Pumas could be in trouble if they opt for a similar strategy against S2, because players like Garza, Craven, Rossi, and Anderson will make them pay. It's worth noting that Kitsap again went with the 3-4-3 against Lane United in a regular season league match last weekend, so it's pretty likely that S2 will face a similar look to what we saw in Tacoma last week. It's also worth noting that Kitsap gave up a goal on a direct free kick at the edge of the box in that game, so I'm sure Pablo Rossi is anxious to get some set piece opportunities.
Clark: What player should Ezra's team try to control to win the game?
Meeker: Against Tacoma, Kitsap's main attacking threat was Joe Masumiya, who scored a brace in the first half. Masumiya is a midfielder who played with Gyasi Zardes at CSU Bakersfield for a few seasons. In Zardes' final season at CSUB, he and Masumiya connected for a total of 3 goals (2 Zardes goals assisted by Masumiya and 1 Masumiya goal assisted by Zardes). The year after Zardes left, Masumiya tied for the team lead in points, with 5 goals and 4 assists. Although he's listed as a midfielder, Masumiya played as a LW in Kitsap's 3-4-3 in Tacoma. In that role, he's equally capable of creating chances and finishing chances.
S2 will also have to worry about Spokane native and Toronto FC draft pick Mike Ramos, who scored in Kitsap's 2-0 win over Lane United last weekend to open the PDL Northwest Division season. Ramos was taken 50th overall in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, just 2 picks after the Sounders took Andy Craven. Ramos played for the Spokane Shadow in the Evergreen Premier League last year, helping them win the inaugural league title and finishing second in scoring with 11 goals. Ramos played for Walla Walla Community College in 2009 and 2010 and Seattle University in 2011 and decided to see if he could launch his pro career in Europe. After spending a couple of seasons playing for semi-pro clubs in Scandinavia, Ramos took the momentum he built with the Shadow into the 2014 college season at Whitworth, where he led the team with 14 goals and 12 assists, which earned him Division 3 All-American honors and an invite to the MLS pre-draft combine. Like Masumiya, he is capable of both creating and finishing chances. S2 should do what it can to prevent the two from linking up.
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Meeker: Several Sounders first team players have seen most or all of their playing time this year with S2, but if any of them get in the game for S2, they'll be cup tied and unable to help the first team later in the tournament. Who, if anybody, can we expect to see in the lineup from the first team?
Clark: It might be as shallow as just Darwin Jones. Lyon isn't starting, so that means Academy keeper Saif Kerawala gets the nod. With a limit of five international spots and most of the loaned defenders being internationals that will put Ezra in a bind too (Lowe, Correa and Fisher are internationals). Andrew O, the S2 GM, also says that several new players will debut tonight. If you love the Academy, you'll love this game.
Meeker: Some of the better S2 players on USL contracts are internationals. How could the tournament's limits on the number of international players affect Ezra's lineup, and which internationals do you think are the most likely to play?
Clark: International roster limitations are going to create issues. Not only are three regular loanees internationals, some of S2's brightest talents are as well. Pablo Rossi should get a run. Qudus Lawal and Oalex Anderson are both young, but are likely to feature. Sanyang probably has his green card. There's still holes throughout the roster due to the combination of the international limit and the 1st team trying to keep their options open for their run in the Open Cup.
Meeker: If S2's perfect record at Starfire is disrupted and they crash out of the Open Cup, is Ezra on the hot seat?
Clark: Almost certainly.
Clark: Not, I mean almost certainly not.
Meeker: S2 has a perfect record at Starfire, scoring at least 2 goals in every match and averaging 3. Despite that, S2 has conceded the match's first goal in each of its past 3 home games. Is that cause for concern, given Kitsap's attack-heavy tactics?
Clark: Sounders 2 will have a few players that are clearly more talented than those on Pumas and those guys love to run-and-gun. But, that type of game can be unsettling for much younger players who are used to playing a more conservative style while trying to develop into professionals. It will be interesting to see how the Academy kids adapt to the open match. This will be a huge test for some native sons who are next in line for an HGP deal.