On Wednesday, Seattle Sounders FC finds itself facing a familiar foe for the opportunity to advance in the CONCACAF Champions League, this time on home turf. Luckily for Seattle Sounders fans the game is part of the season ticket package so you can get to CenturyLink Field and enjoy live soccer. Beware though: President Xi's stay at the downtown Westin will attempt to make traffic a nightmare. Fox Sports 2 is carrying the match to those that have it.
This is Seattle's final match of the Group Stage. With a victory they advance to the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League Knockout Rounds. With a loss, the team will watch one of Vancouver Whitecaps or Olimpia take the Group Stage from their individual living rooms. Since advancing to the Knockouts earns an MLS club Allocation Money, it is a key way to help alleviate salary cap hell.
Jon from 86 Forever answers Three More Questions ahead of another match with Vancouver. He foresees a strong lineup from the Whitecaps.
SaH: Life without Matias Laba is quite different than life with him on the field. How will he change the game on Wednesday?
86er: Laba is quite possibly the Whitecaps most important player, and they'll be lucky to have him back on the pitch. Laba is dominant defensively and is a calming influence on the pitch with his play. The Whitecaps are deep in the defensive midfield, with Gershon Koffie and Russell Teibert both showing tremendous upside at the position so far this season. However, Laba is in a class all by himself.
He's endeared himself to Canadian fans because, as Carl Robinson has put it, "He does all the nitty gritty jobs as good as anyone in the league." He's got an endless motor, and his sublime defensive prowess allows players like Kendall Waston to take chances. He's easily one of the best players to wear a Whitecaps kit in their brief MLS history.
SaH: How much confidence can Vancouver take in the fact that they've been so strong on the road this year?
86er: It's reassuring to know the Whitecaps can play on the road, because they haven't been as dominant at BC Place this season as they have been in years past. The 'Caps tend to play a very safe, simple game when they venture outside Vancouver, and I think it's a game they're comfortable playing. A typical road game plan will see the 'Caps try to own possession, lead with their defense, limit shots on David Ousted, and find chances with a quick counter attack. It's something they failed miserably to execute over the weekend.
SaH: Will Robinson punt the CCL with a chance to win the Group to focus on League play?
86er: It's tough for Robinson to punt it, because even when the Whitecaps play a younger roster, they're still competitive. The Whitecaps boast plenty of youthful talent, and I really like Robinson's game plan of trying to work them into as many matches as possible. I'd like to see Robinson work with a strong veteran presence, sprinkled with a few youngsters that have impressed him lately. The 'Caps are competitive because they keep finding young talent, and that talent needs to be developed.
Projected Lineup: Ousted, Beitashour, Waston, Parker, Adekugbe, Laba, Koffie, Techera, Rosales, Morales, Rivero
SaH: This is the team that everyone thought they saw back when they were preseason favorites for multiple trophies. It was a long, winding road to get there and now there is more talent than there was then, but they are for real. Seattle has a top 3 offense and a top 3 defense. There are weaknesses, so nothing is assured, but any team that can go into BC Place and do that damage is a quality side.
86er: Which team do you see as the biggest threat to the Sounders in the west?
SaH: There is a possibly irrational fear of the LA Galaxy. They've stopped so many previous Playoff runs that they are the bugbear. It's not that they are the most threatening this year (their pathetic road record being a signal for playoff struggles.) That title would lie with Vancouver. Seattle is a touch weak on defending the counter (both Whitecaps and Galaxy are great at it) and so need to find a way to stifle that in a couple November matches. But there is reason for hope. No club looks unbeatable. All it takes is a good couple of matches and the one annual unclaimed trophy can find its home in Seattle.
86er: What would you say is Seattle's biggest weakness right now?
SaH: Set-pieces, both offensively and defensively. Having an ineffective dead ball attack means that other teams are willing to foul aggressively and there is little to punish them for it. The defense is a larger issue. Sounders are best when they aren't giving up goals, because this is soccer. Unfortunately the set-piece defense is poor enough that it is a surprise when they do not give up a goal on a corner or a free kick.
Projected Lineup: Perkins; Remick, Lowe, Ockford, Fisher; Neagle, Friberg, Roldan, Pappa; Barrett, Valdez