Sunday's return to MLS action for the Seattle Sounders offers another chance to show that their road win before the Copa break isn't an anomaly. New York Red Bulls offer a strong test.Red Bull has three wins in a row and are 5-2-0 at home. The Sounders are a paltry 1-4-1 away from Seattle. Both teams will be down a DP. Gonzalo Veron is suspended and Clint Dempsey is still winning games at the Copa America.
Austin from Once a Metro answers Three Questions.
SaH: If Red Bull can't get a set-piece goal against Seattle, how will they create their chances?
OaM: The basic tactic is to be constantly pressuring as high up the field as possible, with the movement of the front four creating openings and opportunities to score. That won't change. When defenses stay compact and don't take the bait - our bluff gets called and we're often reduced to just hopefully passing around the edge of the 18, looking for gaps that aren't there. Patience is not part of our game plan, and it shows. Too often, a solid back line draws us in to hopeful crosses to Bradley Wright-Phillips, who is good in the air for a man generously listed at 5' 8", but shouldn't (and doesn't) win many headers against competent center backs.
Still, when things are firing, we're a team that creates a lot of chances from open play. They don't always go in - indeed, they weren't going in at all for a while - but the system is built on the simple idea that the rightful place of the ball is in the other team's net, and holds getting it there as its near-constant objective. Creating chances isn't usually a problem for RBNY. Finishing them...yeah, we had some issues, and may yet have them again.
SaH: Seattle likes to shoot from distance. How is Luis Robles at stopping long shots? Is there a better way to break him down?
OaM: He wouldn't have held the starting job for this long if all that was required to score was just to punt the ball at him from 25 yards a few times. If the sightlines are clear, he'll get behind all but the unstoppable shots for the most part - like any decent 'keeper, in fairness. And, like most 'keepers, if the sightlines aren't clear, or there's a deflection, or he slips - well, it's a toss-up after that.
The best way to get past him is, unfortunately, a natural consequence of our system: force him into one-on-ones. We're not a sit-deep, stay tight sort of team. We attack the ball and the back line tends to stay high. Also, our full backs are often encouraged to roam forward. Catch us on the break, and you'll often catch us with too few at the back to protect the 'keeper. And then it's up to Robles to see if he can put the man on the ball off his game. That's a low-probability scenario for most 'keepers at the pro level, and Robles is no different.
SaH: What has Sacha meant to the 2016 squad?
OaM: Much the same as he meant to the 2015 squad: he's crucial. Our set-piece wizardry didn't really take effect until Sacha started taking almost all corners and free kicks last season. He takes our penalties too. And one of the most encouraging sights a Red Bulls fan can see these days is Kljestan on the ball, in space because the runners ahead of him have dragged the defense with them, and as much time as he needs to pick a channel for the pass that will break the back line and set one of our attacking players loose on goal.
He's rarely going to beat a man for pace, or fox anyone with his dribbling. But he is clear-sighted and decisive when he has time to pick a pass - part of why he is so effective at set pieces. RBNY has more exciting players to watch with the ball at their feet than Kljestan. It definitely has faster players. But he's thriving in the Red Bull soccer system (we like to call it RalfBall at OaM), and he's a big part of the reason that system is thriving at RBNY.
Projected Lineup: Robles; Lade, Collin, Zubar, Zizzo; McCarty, Felipe; Grella, Kljestan, Sam; BWP
Score: 2-1 to RBNY; I think the Sounders will ruin our recent run of clean sheets, but the home team will pull through with a late winner.
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OaM: What is Clint Dempsey's impact on the Sounders this season?
SaH: It hasn't been enough. He will be out with the United States in the Copa America semifinal, but even when he was here his value to the club was fairly average. Clint Dempsey, when he's on, is an MVP caliber player. Some of that might have been related to his partnership with Obafemi Martins, but he just did it with Bobby Woods. Sure, Jordan Morris isn't at the Copa, but he's pretty good too. Nelson Valdez was at the Copa. Clint does not fit with those two, yet.
There are some hopes that Seattle can learn from what Dempsey is doing in the tournament and get that type of production here. If they do that they offense might only be MLS average, but with such a strong defense that is enough to be a playoff team, and maybe more.
OaM: Your Sounders and our Red Bulls have very similar records: lost 7, drawn 1, won 5 or 6. That's a losing record, of course, but RBNY went into the break with a string of wins, so we're feeling pretty alright about ourselves. What's the mood in Seattle?
SaH: Poor. The mood is poor. There is anger, disappointment and rage. Fans of the Sounders are not used to regular season failure. The Sigi Out chorus gets louder everyday. Recently an undertone of Lagerwey Out joined in as well. The problems related to both roster construction and in game execution. Both will probably be corrected during the season, but will they be corrected in time to make a run at a trophy?
At this point it feels unlikely.
Outside of the Sounders Seattle sports fans know failure. Now, the expectation of failure is part of our soccer psyche as well. While there are those that think a single year missing the playoffs will help the organization. I would disagree with that for what it will do is plant the seed that the Sounders are just another Seattle sports team that is incapable of greatness (Pete Carroll being the exception).
OaM: How do you expect the Sounders to set up against RBNY?
SaH: They will probably play a cautious game with a lot of passing in their own defensive third and the central third as they patiently wait to spring one of Jordan Morris and Aaron Kovar. Those two and Joevin Jones are the only speed threats, but with effective long ball service from both centerbacks and both central midfielders the Sounders can strike out quickly and just maybe steal a goal on a break. The other route to a goal will be through a set-piece goal. Marshall, Evans, Gomez and Morris can be effective targets and both Ivanschitz and Kovar can serve the ball well.
Seattle can be confident in their defense. While there are five matches with two or more goals, most of those involve horrible calls. The standard defense from the Sounders is to sit back and let the other team shoot from distance. They play a low line, and play it well.
Predicted lineup and score?
Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall, Brad Evans, Tyrone Mears; Osvaldo Alonso, Erik Friberg; Andreas Ivanschitz; Herculez Gomez, Jordan Morris, Aaron Kovar