Both the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake are at the end of a week with three games. Garth Lagerwey is/was the GM of both sides. The two teams have two of the stronger legacies of the three-DP era. Both teams have poor records as they enter the central third of the season. The Saturday match (2 PM, JOEtv) is nearing must-win territory for the Sounders. RSL is driven to create a winning streak after their midweek win over NYCFC.
Matt from RSL Soapbox answers Three Questions.
SaH: Are injuries or the US U20 team going to impact the 18 on Saturday most?
RSLSB: You know, a week ago, I would have said injuries. But this time, it's not. We'll still be missing a few players who aren't on long-term injuries — Tony Beltran and Jordan Allen, for example — but we have a number of our injured players back. Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are back in contention, and that will make as big a difference as anything — I hope. On the other hand, we have four players who could be regular starters that will be absent at the U-20 World Cup with Danilo Acosta, Justen Glad, Sebastian Saucedo and Brooks Lennon.
But for the first time this season, I actually feel OK about that. Maybe it's that we just won a game after a four-game losing streak. Maybe it's that the four-game losing streak just took it all out of me, and another loss just doesn't phase me at this point. I don't know. It's probably somewhere in the middle.
SaH: Which side is having a more disappointing start to the year?
RSLSB: That's probably a question I should be asking you, really. Does it feel better to have bombed out at the end of 2016, start poorly, have your coach fired, and continue struggling; or to have an absolutely stellar end to 2016 and come plummeting back to earth when the new season starts? I don't know if there's an easy answer, but I can at least relate my feelings on my team.
It's not fun to start poorly. And even when you suspect a coach might not be the best fit at your club or that he's really, truly struggling, it hurts to lose him. I'm guessing you understand that a bit. And it hurts, after that coach leaves, to bring in a new one and see him struggle, too. It makes you face questions about your players that, frankly, are easier left unanswered. Sometimes, I think I'd much rather see every player being mis-coached than unable to adapt to a new system. And maybe we're finally starting to see the end of that, but it's still stinging. And 3-1, 3-0, 3-0, 4-0? Again, I think you know how that feels.
SaH: What has Petke done to try to make Real Salt Lake his team?
RSLSB: Part of me feels like Mike Petke is doing his absolute best to bring the current set of players at Real Salt Lake under his wing, and to some extent, it's working. He's talking a lot about instilling a hard-working, no-nonsense attitude, and we're seeing that resonate from him. It's the opposite of what Jeff Cassar provided — and I don't mean to pass much judgment there, because it really is about preference — but it's a whole lot closer to what Jason Kreis did at Real Salt Lake. To some extent, that fits the team well — Kyle Beckerman, for instance, is the perfect player under Mike Petke.
But at the same time, Petke's having to work through some difficult forces right now. The team has been training in one particular formation for three years, and he's now trying to introduce new elements to that, and he's trying to shift formations slowly, I suspect. He played a 4-1-3-2 recently, and we lost 4-0, but it also didn't look too bad (individual mistakes did us in against New England). We'll see where exactly his tactics land us, but right now, he's stuck in a sort-of middle ground between Cassar's style and his own.
The big thing Petke's doing is saying the right things. He's speaking his mind freely, and he's very serious about those things. When he isn't happy about something, he will, at some point, tell the press about that — but he's doing it with purpose and not to fill the air. He's an interesting coach, and I'm excited to see where he goes.
VanOekel; Wingert, Schuler, Maund, Schmidt; Beckerman, Sunny, Mulholland; Rusnak; Plata, Silva
* After being held back from the second half with head injury concerns, I suspect Yura Movsisyan will sit this one out. Also, Chris Schuler is questionable, as he doesn't often play on turf.
RSLSB: Hey, so, things aren't going well, huh? What's that about?
SaH: [insert visual of The Scream]
It's bad. The results are worse than when Sigi lost his job. It's bad. The results are worse than when the team went out and pumped big money into the 2015 Summer Transfer Window signing Valdez, Friberg, Torres and Ivanshitz. They were expected to struggle. Sounders fans saw Portland's regular season failures after their Cup. We pointed fingers, and laughed.
Maybe this is a cosmic curse due to that.
The problems, in no particular order: They possess without purpose; The attack has decent opportunities they don't finish; They give up the first goal too often; The defense is usually third string due to injuries; Too many road games were on the early schedule.
RSLSB: Do you still believe in Garth Lagerwey?
SaH: Yes. He's made a couple errors, but mostly on the backend of the roster. The concepts he's instilling feel sound, but due to a massive amount of injuries the lack of competition on the replacement level side of the roster they are buried playing 4th/5th string players who didn't earn the start, but instead are just healthy bodies. It's not fair to those back-of-the-roster players.
The team is short another veteran who can play fullback and another forward who specializes in hold up play. Neither of those need to be expensive players, just good enough to force competition within the 18. They also need to fill that third DP spot at either forward or winger, and hopefully young enough that they extend the trophy window past Dempsey's contract ending.
These are things that should work out, but if they don't then the opportunity to implement a long-term vision will be crushed by short-term problems.
RSLSB: If you could bring in one top-level player in any position, what position would that be? What's the biggest need your team faces?
SaH: I want a winger, a DP version of pre-injury Steve Zakauni. They need someone who is aggressive towards goal, who can assist on occasion, and who has the burst of speed that works well with Jordan Morris. Adding that type of talent, preferably under 25 would take an offense that is good but underperforming to great.
An argument could be made for a Fanendo Adi type target forward as well. That would result in Morris being forced to become a winger, but I don't like his defense out wide. Maybe he could learn that part of the game, but I think results come faster if Jordan can remain a forward who sometimes plays wing rather than a convert to winger.
Can I also take Yedlin back? That would be cool. Not a good use of a DP slot, but cool.
Projected Lineup: Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall, Gustav Svensson, Brad Evans; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Harry Shipp, Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro; Jordan Morris