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Sounders vs Toronto FC: Three Questions

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Seattle and TFC were blessed by Jurgen Klinsmann and so Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley will actually play in this matchup between two MLS heavyweights.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday's 7 PM (JOEtv) contest between Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders FC will lack some of the best talent. Giovinco is injured and even if not would be with Italy. Jozy Altidore is off with the United States. Marco Pappa is with Guatemala and Roman Torres is with Panama. Still, two top American talents are going to be at CenturyLink Field plying their trade as both teams try to remain above the red line and in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

James from Waking the Red answers Three Questions and will make you smarter.

SaH: Lacking their top two attacking options, how will Toronto FC find goals?

WtR: It is correct that Toronto appears as though they will be without their two first-choice attackers on Saturday. 

That said, they have plenty of options up front and will arrive in town with a largely-intact midfield, seeing how Michael Bradley has deferred his call-up to the US National Team until after the match and Jonathan Osorio was shockingly left off the Canadian one. Along with those two, Marky Delgado has been in excellent form, while Benoit Cheyrou is a bit of question mark after a collision with Johan Venegas of Montreal on the weekend. Even if Cheyrou misses out, that just allows the other three to play together with Collen Warner solidifying the middle.

Toronto's forward battery should be considered potentially one of the best in the league. Aside from the two designated players, there is also Robbie Findley, who has been lively of late, and Luke Moore, who is to be underrated at peril, not to mention the recently-added Herculez Gomez. Gomez is a sparkplug, has looked eager to find the back of the net in training, and helped inject some life into a listless TFC performance in New York against the Red Bulls a few weeks back.

Some combination of those players will be called upon to supply the goals, and while it is true that Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore have accounted for the majority of goals, they did not do that alone. Toronto is a side that can outscore any side on their day, and even with the absences, Seattle would be wise to not relax.

If TFC really hope to be a contender this season, getting those secondary and tertiary means of scoring on point is essential. Bradley has been on fire of late, while Osorio will undoubtedly be playing with a chip on his shoulder. And Gomez would love to tally his first goal back in MLS against one of his former clubs.

SaH: TFC has major questions about the defense. They can't just bunker and hope to steal a point, can they?

WtR: If they were to do so, it would very much be against their character - they are more likely to go toe-to-toe with an opponent than grind out a result - but that has changed somewhat over the past few weeks.

Granted it is a small sample size, and both matches were played at home, but through the last two, Toronto has only conceded once. The match against Montreal in particular was an ugly, scrappy game, where TFC were not at their best.

Despite that, they muscled through a potentially troublesome opponent - as Seattle knows, a derby is never easy - and managed to see out the result. As Greg Vanney said himself, past Toronto teams would have succumbed on the day. This side is made of a sterner stuff than TFC-past.

The back-line has been a revolving door all season, but Vanney seems to have settled on a partnership of Ahmed Kantari and Josh Williams. They have still made the occasional mistake, it's true, but they have not had to pay for such missteps. 

Defending is as much an art, as a science. Sometimes there is a kind of magic that overtakes a group, allowing them to achieve more than the sum of their parts would prophesy. The back-line is still a work in progress, but this current duo has looked as solid as any. 

Whether they can stop the rampaging Obafemi Martins and Nelson Valdez, is another matter.

SaH: Toronto's goalkeeping situation has been all over the place, what exactly is the current status in goal?

WtR: The goalkeeping situation has been a rather muddled affair for most of the season.

At the start, Joe Bendik was the obvious starter, but an injury allowed Chris Konopka, who had been viewed as a serviceable, but largely unknown, back-up, a run of games, in which he excelled. That created a 1A-1B situation; the rub is that nobody is quite sure who is A and who is B.

Each keeper has their supporters and detractors, both have strengths and weaknesses, and both are prone to the odd gaff, as is every keeper. Efforts have been made to compare and contrast the two in myriad ways, but at the heart of the matter is that Toronto has done better with Konopka in goal.  

There are plenty of reasons that could sway such an impression in either direction: Bendik has played a majority of his matches on the road, including that long start to the season, while Konopka has featured more at home; both have made mistakes, but Bendik's end up in the back of the net, while Konopka's do not; and Bendik may be more likely to make the impossible saves, while Konopka is merely steady, doing what one expects.

And it cannot be ignored that wins and losses, the concession of goals, is more a team matter than falling on the shoulders of the keeper alone.

That may be unfair to Bendik, who has done little wrong to warrant losing his spot, but, as with the back-line, sometimes it is best to just go with the hot-hand. When the soccer gods smile, to spurn such luck would be folly.

Predicted Lineup:

This is a little tricky so early in the week, given the injury situation and the forced changes in the side, but a rough projection would be: Chris Konopka in goal; from right to left - Justin Morrow, Josh Williams, Ahmed Kantari, and Ashtone Morgan across the back-line; Collen Warner sitting deep with Marky Delgado, Michael Bradley, and Jonathan Osorio across the midfield; Robbie Findley paired in attack with Herculez Gomez. 

It will be something like a diamond 4-4-2, but do not be surprised if Delgado and Osorio sit a little deep, making them function more like a 4-3-1-2, or something like that.

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WtR: Seattle appears to have woken from a months long slumber that saw them drop nine of eleven matches through the summer. What were the reasons for the slump, have they truly emerged from it, and if so, what has been responsible for their turnaround? Also, what sort of concerns does such a run bring to the fans?

SaH: The reasons for the slump were pretty simple - absences. Those absences were due to injury (Alonso, Martins, Frei, Gonzalez, Barrett, Dempsey), international duty (Dempsey, Evans, Pappa), and suspension (Dempsey, Pappa). That's all three pre-Summer Window Designated Players and four other players that won the Supporters' Shield in 2014. While the Sounders may have been deeper than most teams, the damage was large.

But, starting throughout August that started getting corrected. This weekend they may only be down new signing Roman Torres and Marco Pappa. Since they added Ivanschitz (who probably plays this weekend) and Valdez (who certainly plays this weekend) and Friberg (who certainly plays this weekend) they are stronger than they were prior to June 16th, even with those national team losses.

The justifiable panic is now being toned back. Seattle isn't in the clear. The hole they dug themselves is quite large, but we have hope again. It's so nice to have hope again.

WtR: Sigi Schmid knows MLS, there is no doubt about that. The poor run of form saw a variety of additions brought to the club in the form of Roman Torres, Nelson Haedo Valdez, and Andreas Ivanschitz. All three of those players are proven quality, but working new pieces into the squad at such a late point in the season can be tumultuous. How will they fit into the side and is it possible that there will be disruption as a result?

SaH: The Summer window started with Erik Friberg. The former Sounders/Malmo/Bolgna center mid. Friberg helps anchor possession and improve defense, plus he knows several players on the team already so his addition was simple. Most people in Seattle overlook it. Then the flood of new talents came.

First up was Nelson Haedo Valdez. The club had previously tried to snatch him away from a La Liga side, but couldn't get it done. Now three years later the former teammate of Obafemi Martins is a third forward/winger who loves being here. He's getting paid on time (see time in Spain, Russia), enjoys the crowd and enjoys the contact level of MLS. Valdez is hungry for the ball and applies high pressure after turnovers. He's only got one goal, but looks to score more.

Second in the late wave was Austrian winger Andreas Ivanschitz. We haven't seen him play yet as he suffered a minor injury, but should factor this weekend. His playing style is kind of like Mauro Rosales with a strong cross and great set-piece delivery. With most of the staff speaking German he should integrate fairly well.

Lastly Garth Lagerwey scored his big coup - Roman Torres. The Panamanian CB is one of the top defenders playing club ball in CONCACAF. Torres is a beast. Seattle now has two towers guarding their line with possession fullbacks flanking them. Where Marshall can start a break with his head, Torres is a much better long passer. He also improves Seattle's set-piece attack.

WtR: A couple of TFC legends now ply their trade in Seattle - it is a term applied loosely in these parts. How are former Toronto players Stefan Frei and Chad Barrett doing these days?

SaH: If Bill Hamid didn't exist Stefan Frei would have a chance at keeper of the year. In 2014 he was a pretty good keeper, but what we've seen in his growth to 2015 is an exceptional keeper. TFC fans will know him for his shot-stopping capabilities. What's been great is seeing him start commanding the line. At any given time he has a three-time Defensive Player of Year, US National Team player or Panamanian National Team player in front of him. He still tells them what to do, what they get right, what they get wrong. He's learned this game and is currently a top three keeper in the league. Thanks for sending him our way.

Chad Barrett had a great 2014. It was one any player would love to have with his seven MLS goals and two more in the Open Cup he seemed to be a quality supplemental forward when Dempsey or Martins was out. This year is different. He looks bad, has been injured as well and is struggling with just four goals.

WtR: It is well established that Seattle invented soccer, supporter culture, coffee, and MLS, yet they have still never won the damn thing. Is this the year it finally happens?

SaH: We'll invent winning the whole damn thing in December.

Predicted Lineup: Frei; Fisher, Marshall, Evans, Mears; Thomas, Alonso, Pineda, Friberg; Martins, Haedo Valdez

Dempsey and Ivanschitz will be available off the bench.