Three points on the road in LA make the home game against the Chicago Fire vital. This is the chance for the Seattle Sounders to pull themselves over the red line. The Fire are just 1-11-2 on the road (merely 6-14-9 -12 overall). Seattle is 3-0-1 +4 at home in the Schmetzer-Lodeiro era (5-1-3 +6 overall post-Sigi). This is the time for a another run - right now. Not in a couple of weeks, not in 2017. The opportunity is in front of the Sounders. Like a mighty wave of water they should flow through and over a sputtering Fire.
Jeff from Hot Time In Old Town answers Three Questions.
SaH: Is Veljko Paunović in danger of losing his job, or will he get another year to establish his team?
HTOT: Veljko Paunovic’s job is about as secure as Bruce Arena’s heading into 2017. There is no chance he is losing his job. Paunovic came in with general manager Nelson Rodriguez and the tandem has openly spoke about a three-year plan. I don’t really know what that means and why three years is some magic number, but I would be shocked if either man was let go before those three years are up.
He has plenty of time to change the team as he sees fit and bring in the players he wants. I think he has done an OK job in his first season, but I’m not willing to watch another season like this for two more years. Hopefully Paunovic takes a big step forward next season and this team is at the very least competing for a playoff spot. The whole "three-year plan" thing seems like an arbitrary number pulled out of nowhere for no apparent reason. There is no precedent in MLS for it taking three years to build a contender. The whole thing just makes me very frustrated. But yeah, Paunovic is super secure.
SaH: What is his style and can that work in MLS?
HTOT: I think Paunovic is still finding his style a bit, or at least just started to find it. Early in the season he would use a 5-3-2 pretty regularly. His focus was definitely on defense and trying to right that ship after the Fire had a historically poor defensive year in 2015. And to his credit, it worked, but it stifled the offense which was more or less bombing long balls to David Accam on a hope and a prayer.
As Paunovic has added players he wants in his system such as Michael de Leeuw, Luis Solignac and David Arshakyan, the offense has matured. De Leeuw in particular can create in the middle of the field and the offense has opened up a bit. He runs a 4-2-3-1, but Matt Polster will get up the field more than a standard No.6 and create some overlapping run opportunities. The team in general is much more attack minded and will leave some opportunities for teams to break on them.
SaH: How will Chicago handle two road games so close together?
HTOT: If you want to count Friday in New York, the Fire actually have three road games in about a week since they play in Columbus on Saturday. It will be tough no doubt but we already saw some squad rotation with the addition of Michael Harrington into the starting XI on Friday. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some changes Wednesday as well. The Fire likely will have their strongest lineup for Saturday against Columbus, but at this point results really don’t matter so it is anyone’s guess as how to Paunovic will handle lineups.
With everything on the line for the Sounders, I don’t see the Fire getting close to three points with whatever lineup they put out on Wednesday.
No Projected Lineup
HTOT: The Sounders are surging in a last-ditch attempt to make the playoffs. At only three points behind Portland with two games in hand, how confident are fans feeling that the playoffs, which looked out of reach earlier, are a real possibility?
SaH: With the games in hand essentially being two midweek home games against the two conference bottom-dwellers confidence is as high as it can be in this situation. That isn't to say that it is high. The offense can sputter at times, but the defense is still strong. Midweek games can be rough on a team with a two-year track record of lacking depth. The October 12th match against Houston will be particularly hard because it is the day after the international break.
But the team and the fans also know that it has to happen one game at a time. The only way that Houston match matters is if the club gets points on Wednesday and then against on Sunday (preferably four or more points). Confidence and fan passion aren't going to get the Sounders to their eighth straight MLS Cup Playoffs - Lodeiro, Morris, Alonso, Marshall, Torres and Schmetzer are.
HTOT: Nicolas Lodeiro has been a juggernaut since debuting for the Sounders. How has he changed the team since his arrival and is the style of play different with him in the fold?
SaH: He made the Sounders fun again.
Even without Clint on the field Nico manages to find space and spray throughballs. Other players are getting used to his vision and making runs that they didn't make earlier in the year. The attack is not as dynamic as it was in 2015 with Oba and Clint, but it is more mobile. The rest of the team knows that if they move they can expect to see the ball. Lodeiro keeps them involved in the game. His numbers are staggering. Three goals and eight assists in just nine games would be something like 10/20 over a season. But his impact isn't just in the stats column. Players are moving again.
HTOT: The Sounders have ruled Clint Dempsey out for the rest of the season. How big of a blow is that for any hopes of a trophy in 2017 and more importantly how nervous are fans about his future as a whole?
SaH: Expecting the Sounders to win an MLS Cup with only two great attacking players is probably a bit much. They have the talent to make the playoffs without Clint. Just look at their record and performance without him.
The big issue is Clint Dempsey the man. We have no idea if he'll be a soccer player again. This is an issue with his heart, very little could be more important than that. People are worried about Dempsey, more so than "Deuce." He may never tread again. That's bad for the USMNT and bad for the Sounders. If he can enjoy life still that's good for him, that's where my hope lies now.
SaH: I hate predictions. 3-1, Sounders
Projected Lineup: Frei; Remick, Marshall, Torres, Mears; Alonso, Roldan; Ivanschitz, Lodeiro, Fernandez; Morris
Yes, this is a near repeat, but I think the Sounders try to smash the Fire and rotate on the road against Vancouver.