Back before the season started the Columbus Crew SC were among Eastern Conference favorites. The same was said of the Seattle Sounders. Now the two teams combined point totals wouldn't be enough for third place in the Supporters' Shield standings. Seattle is only 2-4-1 -3 good for 16th on the combined table. One slot above them are Crew SC with eight points from a 2-3-2 -2 record. Gregg Berhalter's team doesn't have a road win and Sigi Schmid's side is merely .500 at home. Saturday's 1 PM match on JOEtv (10/22/110) is a chance for one of the two teams to declare that their early season woes are over.
Patrick M. from Massive Report answers Three Questions to prepare you for the game.
SaH: If Seattle had to make a coaching change this offseason why would they want to look at Gregg Berhalter?
MR: Do you like fun, attacking soccer with an emphasis on scoring goals? That would be the main reason to look at Coach Berhalter. Beyond that, Gregg is a micromanager. He has everything down to the tiniest details and he doesn't leave anything to chance. There are a lot of notes taken and PowerPoints made around the Crew SC facilities.
If you look back at how the organization has changed since Berhalter took over the Black & Gold, it's pretty remarkable. In one season, he took a pretty awful Crew SC team and transformed them into a playoff side that many picked to make a run. A year later and Columbus was in the MLS Cup Final. Despite the slow start to the year, the Black & Gold are expected to be in contention again this season.
Off the field, Berhalter (who is the sporting director as well as the head coach) has helped reshape the franchise. He was a big part of the rebranding that took place two years ago, which helped re-captivate the city after the lull during the Robert Warzycha era. Berhalter just understands what it takes to be successful in this sport.
SaH: Crew SC's attacking four might be the most complete and varied in the league. Is any one player more important than the others in this group?
MR: The obvious answer is Kei Kamara because of the number of goals he scored last year and his importance to the offense from that standpoint, but the right answer is Federico Higuain, at least in my opinion. He is the maestro and pulls the strings and without him this attack wouldn't amount to as much. Under Berhalter, his stats haven't been what they might be, but he still makes this team go offensively. His movement around the field opens space for the other three attackers to fill in.
I recommend taking a few minutes during this game and watching him specifically as so much of what he does goes unnoticed in MLS.
SaH: Can the Sounders attack Tyson Wahl as if he's the weakness in defense?
MR: That would be the obvious thing to do, but Wahl has played well recently in the absence of Gaston Sauro. As a guy that's been around the league for many years, he understands what it takes to play defense in MLS. While he's not the most physically gifted or talented player in the league, he's a solid veteran backup and Berhalter trusts him.
Wahl has also played in some big moments over the last few years including important playoff games. He can be targeted for sure, but I assume he'll have another decent performance at the least alongside Michael Parkhurst.
MR: Had I asked you before the season for your expectations for the Sounders through seven matches, what would your response have been? If you expected a better start, what hasn't gone the way fans thought?
SaH: All signs pointed to a squad that if they played at that level would compete for both the Shield and the Cup. Not only have they not performed at that level, they've been, at best, average offensively and great defensively with a horrible performance in the loss to the Rapids.
The reasons are numerous. They don't have Roman Torres yet, as he is still recovering from ACL surgery. A dynamic between Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris was always going to take time. With Oba, that would all be different. We're getting to that in a bit. There's still plenty of talent here. Shifting to a new formation with significantly different expectations for Dempsey, Andreas Ivanschitz and Nelson Haedo Valdez was going to take time no matter what. Still, the team looked really good against Club America. The fall off from that isn't just about the loss of Oba, it's deeper.
MR: Crew SC fans are familiar with Chad Marshall as a goal scorer from the MLS Cup year of 2008 when he scored a career high four goals, but he already has two this season, tied for best on the team. What's wrong with the offense right now? Is it as simple as losing Obafemi Martins?
SaH: Losing an MVP candidate with no replacement sucks. Ideally a combination of Morris, Valdez and Ivanschitz would pick up the offense that Oba brought and Morris would slide into the role as Clint's bff. Even if all of that happened the offense was going to take a dip until new talent showed up. Seattle also lost Pappa, Neagle and Barrett. President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey claims that they have space for both a DP and a TAM level talent. Those two additions are supposed to be a primary provider type, most likely a #10 but maybe on the wing and either a box-to-box type or a winger. Seattle will look better when that happens, but it is doubtful that both happen during the current transfer window. They also added Herculez Gomez, which has helped how the attack looks, even if he hasn't scored.
MR: Seattle and Columbus have had some open and entertaining games over the last two years. Do you expect this one be in a similar vein at CenturyLink Field?
SaH: No. I currently have no expectations for entertaining Sounders soccer. I think they can grind out wins still. The defense is good enough to do that. Dempsey and Jordan can nab a goal from nothing, and the set-piece attack is quite good. While there may be people entertained by a style that could be called bunker-and-hope I won't be. This game has 1-0, 1-1 written all over it. I expect long sequences of "huh." I hope to see the Crew again, because right now both teams are not what they were expected to be.
Stefan Frei; Dylan Remick, Chad Marshall, Zach Scott, Tyrone Mears; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Erik Friberg; Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, Nelson Haedo Valdez