The winner of the 2016 US Open Cup will advance to the next CONCACAF Champions League cycle. That means allocation money. They also get an awesome trophy. With 14 MLS sides and two NASL teams still competing the tournament's rough, and fun, beginning is over. Now, it's all about squad rotation in the heat of the Summer. Real Salt Lake hosts Seattle Sounders FC in a match that should show two different approaches to such a rotation.
Matt from RSL Soapbox answers Three Questions. He had a Phad Thai salad. I had a General Tsao's salad. Matt and I only eat salads.
SaH: How important is the Open Cup to the Real Salt Lake of 2016?
RSLSB: It's important enough that Jeff Cassar more or less sacrificed Saturday's match against FC Dallas, playing a 10-change lineup that featured three players making their 2016 MLS debuts. Of course, it's not the first time the team has done this in recent memory, sending second-choice lineups out when other coaches might prioritize the league.
Of course, for all that talk, there's still no Open Cup trophy in Rio Tinto Stadium — and that has to eat at the coaching staff a bit. It's a trophy each of the staff has won — Tyrone Marshall won it with, well, you guys; Daryl Shore won it with Chicago; Jeff Cassar won with Dallas and Miami; and Ted Eck won it with Dallas.
That's the making of a coaching staff that really cares. But the biggest thing? The team wants to get back to CONCACAF Champions League. This is one path, and it's one of the more achievable. We hope.
SaH: Will beating Seattle mean more because Garth assembled the team?
RSLSB: You know, you'd think that would be the case, but surprisingly, the narrative around Garth Lagerwey seems to have simmered down. Our motivation to beat Seattle Sounders is the same as ever — RSL fans see them as a "big team" favored by MLS (see: Dempsey-watch), and the anti-authoritarian attitude in Salt Lake City is surprisingly strong. Now, we could talk about the factors behind that, but I get the feeling a sociological look at the intersection of religious and irreligious communities might be a bit of a windy road better suited for other venues.
SaH: Is there an infrequent MLS player that will be key to beating the Sounders?
RSLSB: Actually, probably not. Expect RSL coach Jeff Cassar to deploy his strongest-possible lineup, which means it'll look a little something like this:
Jeff Attinella; Tony Beltran, Aaron Maund, Justen Glad, Demar Phillips; Kyle Beckerman, Luke Mulholland; Joao Plata, Javier Morales, Burrito Martinez; Yura Movsisyan
That's an MLS-caliber team, and it's going to be fun. Jeff Attinella is the only player you wouldn't expect to start in MLS right now (despite starting on Saturday), but Jeff Cassar says he's the tournament starter. He's quite a capable goalkeeper, even if he doesn't quite have the pedigree of Nick Rimando.
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RSLSB: This is clearly an important competition for Seattle — but will the lineup reflect that?
SaH: Probably not. With the MLS season drifting away Sigi Schmid will have to choose his lineups carefully. Clint Dempsey is certainly out, due to last year's referee assault. Plus Seattle leans a bit on older internationals which makes it easy to rest a few of them. There's also a road game Saturday in Toronto with the team coming back to Seattle in-between the two matches.
All together that looks like a lineup that will either be heavily rotational or just plain B-team.
RSLSB: Your start in MLS has been less than stellar — is there a root cause or a set of concerns?
SaH: It's the offense. Sure, the attackers aren't getting off that many shots, but they are about average in that realm. But the shots aren't good ones. Some of that is because the forward band of three is not getting into quality spaces and the rest of it is because the creative forces on the team are the not-really-a-10 Andreas Ivanschitz, fullbacks with poor crosses and longballs from the center mids. Seattle's lack of creativity in the attack compounds an already iffy set of forwards who outside of Jordan Morris are under-performing reasonable expectations.
That's why the organization is looking at adding a classic #10 as well as a hybrid striker/winger who is both creative and can score. But until it happens the Sounders will be a good defense put under duress because they know if they give up a single goal they cannot win.
RSLSB: Will Seattle go for a full-strength lineup in the Cup, or is the focus on turning things around in MLS?
SaH: I'm expecting a full B-team. Coaches don't get fired for losing the US Open Cup. They do get fired if they go 1 for 9 two years in a row. That was the low point of 2015 and the Sounders are currently in a 1 for 6 spell right now. After Toronto are home games against the Galaxy and Dallas.
Miller; Fisher, Scott, Alfaro, Jo. Jones; Roldan, Mathers (if signed on callup, if not Sturgis), Farfan; D. Jones, Valdez, Gomez
And yes, that's a B-team with a quite famous Herculez Gomez and a DP at forward. But they are regularly getting beaten for playing time by a left mid/left back prospect who is turning himself into a pretty decent right winger.