After their loss at Chicago the Seattle Sounders did not return home. Instead they went to KC to get ready for their Wednesday night match against Sporting Kansas City. Sporting is one of five teams two wins off the Supporters’ Shield lead. Seattle is just 19th. While the Sporks’ fortune would not change with a loss the Sounders are desperate for their third win in 2017.
Cody from The Blue Testament answers Three Questions.
SaH: Both teams have to deal with playing a midweek game after a weekend. How much squad rotation did Sporting do on Saturday and what will they need to do on Wednesday?
tBT: Aside from Dom Dwyer's suspension for yellow card accumulation, Vermes played his preferred lineup in Orlando. Latif Blessing got his first start and cleaned up two messes in front of the goal to record a brace. I half expected to see a couple guys get rested with a Western Conference match-up around the corner, but perhaps he was looking at the standings and wanted his best lineup against the Lions.
Personally, I'm of the opinion these guys can start again. They have three subs to use and Vermes has shown a willingness to do that this year. I am really afraid to see this team without Ilie Sanchez and Roger Espinoza and hope to see both of them out there to start the match. Moreover, the last time there was squad rotation they looked like a different team and lost 2-0 to Minnesota. If PV decides to rest guys, I don't see it being more than one or two. That is, unless he is confident his backups can get a result against a Seattle team with just one win in their last seven matches.
SaH: What's the key to the extraordinary defense that Vermes' boys have displayed this season?
tBT: It is all about the cohesion these MLS veterans have together. Everyone has been playing under the Peter Vermes system for a long time and they understand what is required of them. They know each other's tendencies like the back of their hand. On the left side it is Besler and Sinovic who were literally youth club teammates growing up in KC. On the right side it is the insane, absurd athletic ability of Ike Opara. Plus Graham Zusi has brought a technical ability and veteran presence to the right-back position.
But beyond how well the back four have clicked, Tim Melia and Ilie deserve a ton of credit as well. Melia has bailed out the defense on countless occasions with some truly amazing saves. He has been worth several points to this team already. Ilie has finally given Vermes another holding midfielder he can count on. He has a great defensive instinct and he's key in keeping possession and starting the offense.
But the way this team operates, Dwyer is the "first defender". Everyone on the field fights for every inch, every second of the match. If you don't, then you won't play. So the quality defense is a product of Vermes finally finding an XI who each understand their role and can stay focused for 90 minutes.
SaH: Is the offense Dom Dwyer and a prayer?
tBT: Dom is definitely tasked with scoring the lion's share of this team's goals. My answer to this question last year would have been, "Yes. That is absolutely the offense." He was on an island having to create chances alone and he could be seen trying to do too much a lot. But while last year Dom was being asked to do it all by himself, that is not the case this year.
If all goes according to plan, SKC simply need Dwyer to be in the right spot at the right time, and tap in goals when given service. There are nine guys with assists already this year. Feilhaber, Espinoza, Ilie, Gerso, Medranda, and Zusi all have the ability to put Dom into dangerous areas. He will still score very Dom Dwyer goals where he does create them himself, but he has way more support this year.
Goals will definitely come from all over the field as well. Benny will contribute, Gerso looks more dangerous every week, and even Espinoza is starting to look goal hungry. Medranda on the left wing is capable as well, though that has yet to show this year. There are goals on the bench as well with guys like Blessing, Saad and Salloi. Sporting KC is in a way better position to have an effective offense this year.
Projected Lineup: (4-3-3) Tim Melia, Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, Ike Opara, Graham Zusi, Ilie, Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber, Jimmy Medranda, Dom Dwyer, Gerso
tBT: What kind of squad rotation are you expecting from the Sounders on Wednesday?
SaH: If they were healthy I would suggest heavy rotation, but they have a mix of suspension (Joevin Jones), injury (out are Torres, Wingo; questionable are Alonso, Kovar and Nouhou), and not fully fit due to recent injury (Evans, Fisher, Morris). Plus, they only have 24 players on the First Team roster. It's so lacking in depth that two players flew from their S2 game to KC (Nouhou, Miller) in order to bolster training and maybe even the bench.
So most of the players that got crushed by Chicago will need to start against Sporting. It's a lineup that should be as good or better than the one that went on the miracle run at the end of 2016. It's not, but it should be.
tBT: Is the 2017 version of the Sounders better or worse than last year's squad who made the late run to hoist MLS Cup?
SaH: The players lost were generally old. Will Bruin is a better scorer than Nelson Haedo Valdez, though his defensive effort is nowhere near as good. Harry Shipp is a better defender than Andreas Ivanshitz, but Ivanschitz was a set-play specialist. Tyrone Mears was replaced by ... well, we have no idea. There are now four players with a start at right back and some day Brad Evans will start there too. That single position is the one where the team is not as good as it was, or for the most part better. They are better, because in 2016 they started Alvaro Fernandez instead of Clint Dempsey.
tBT: Clint Dempsey is clearly back in form with 4 goals including a screamer vs Chicago last weekend. Are the heart issues completely behind him, or is this something he will have to deal with moving forward? Professionally and/or in his personal life?
SaH: Clint Dempsey is back. The heart issues will never be gone. He will be monitored forever. There is no day-to-day impact. He practices in full. He's a bit more light-hearted in practice. Dempsey is hungry. The effort he puts in on defense is the greatest he's displayed as a Sounder. He makes runs from 18 to 18 just to get assists. This is the Clint Dempsey that is capable of winning an MVP - if his team performs.
He still doesn't open up about his personal life. That's not who Clint is. He is once again a great soccer player, for both the Sounders and the US National Team.
Projected lineup: Stefan Frei; Brad Evans, Tony Alfaro, Chad Marshall, Jordy Delem; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan ;Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro, Harry Shipp; Will Bruin