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Sounders at Columbus Crew: Three Questions

Prepare for tonight’s match at 4:30 PM on Q13.

Over the life of this one-way rivalry (it’s HatWeek for a reason), the Seattle Sounders have dominated Columbus Crew SC at MAPFRE Stadium (3-1-1, +5). Due to a series of injuries and national team call-ups, it will be difficult for Brian Schmetzer to extend that dominance another season. Wednesday night’s match is at 4:30 PM on Q13 FOX in Seattle and on ROOT Sports NW throughout the rest of their coverage area.

Patrick Murphy from Massive Report answers Three Questions. Questions were exchanged prior to the probable loss of Chad Marshall, but the lineup guess was adjusted after Patrick’s scoop.

SaH: Why was Justin Meram pulled in the first half of the TFC blowout loss?

MR: Tactics. Simple as that.

Crew SC came out in a very aggressive 4-1-4-1 formation, looking to pressure Toronto high and create problems. It was working early on, but the team was not able to snuff out transition opportunities, which is how the first goal occurred. Berhalter realized this and elected to bring in a true central midfielder in Artur to help this problem. Unfortunately for Columbus, TFC was able to keep the ball in play and get the second goal before the substitution could be made.

Berhalter spoke yesterday about Meram's frustration at being taken out early and stated that the two had discussed it. He also said he wouldn't want a player who isn't upset when he comes out after just 40 minutes, but he expects him to handle it professionally, and it appears he has.

SaH: Manneh and Finlay seem to be redundant attackers. Who is more likely to start and why?

MR: They are similar in the sense that they both use speed to attack opponents, but they do it in different ways.

In his first four games for the Black & Gold, Kekuta Manneh has shown an ability to take guys on as well as get in behind the defense. He wants the ball and is capable of tucking in centrally if needed, similar to what Meram does for Crew SC. Early in his career, Ethan Finlay was a speed guy who looked to get in behind the defense and either go to goal or serve a ball in (back then to Kei Kamara). Now, Berhalter likes to use Finlay tactically to exploit defenders, as they keep a close eye on him due to his speed.

I certainly see the comparisons, but I think they do different things, at least in how Berhalter is going to use them.

As for who plays this week, it will depend on health. Finlay was out for a few weeks with a leg injury and his appearance last week off the bench was the first time he'd made the 18 in a bit. If he's fully healed and fit, I think Finlay makes the start. He is back in full training but it will come down to how things go on Tuesday in training.

SaH: What has Berhalter done to try to emulate 2015 rather than 2016?

MR: One of the major things is his willingness to adjust the tactics rather than stick with the same approach/formation. Sometimes it has worked (road win at D.C. United, home against Orlando City) and other times it hasn't (last week at TFC). What's allowed him to make these changes is the health of the team. Last year, Federico Higuain missed time, which meant trying to find a replacement for the No. 10. The team also had to work in different center backs with Gaston Sauro missing out with a knee injury.

With his team healthy, not only have they performed better, but Berhalter has been able to make tweaks when necessary, which, ideally, can throw off an opponent or at least keep them guessing.

That would be the biggest difference and something they did a little in 2015 as well.

Projected lineup:

Zack Steffen

Harrison Afful-Nicolai Naess-Alex Crognale-Jukka Raitala

Ethan Finlay-Artur-Wil Trapp-Justin Meram

Federico Higuain

Ola Kamara

MR: A year ago it was a rough first half of the season for the Sounders before Sigi Schmid was let go and the rest is history. It's been another slow start. What's stalled Seattle's title defense this season?

SaH: It comes down to two significant problems, both of which should be fixed over time. But, there is a chance that the Seattle Sounders fall too far back in the standings if they do not get fixed soon.

The first of these is injury. For the first eleven games the Seattle Sounders lacked their ideal right back. Now, every team goes through injury, but they also lacked their second string right back, and their third string right back needed to start at center back. That meant that Jordy Delem, who was with S2 last year, started the majority of games at right back. He was far from good. We also addressed a bit the confusing situation that has their 3rd string RB at CB. Svensson is rather good in central defense, but on five occasions he had to be paired with the 5th string CB, Tony Alfaro. Svensson is only the 4th string CB, as Brad Evans would likely be the third at that position if he weren’t the 1st choice RB. That's a lot of depth defensive players starting games all at once. It wasn't a second choice backline but at best a third choice situation. The Sounders defense held strong for a while, then they took a road trip to Chicago and Kansas City and it fell apart.

Secondly, the offense is underperforming. In nine of their 13 games they scored zero or one goals. That isn't good enough. Two of their multi-goal games happened when they were coming back from deficits. Check your favorite expected goals website and you'll see that Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro are not their best this year. There are times when they are timid, passing to each other rather than shooting. They look likely to set the record for hitting the woodwork too. It is unlikely that this will continue throughout the season, and the main reason why is Morris.

MR: There were a lot of expectations on Jordan Morris' shoulders when he came out of Stanford. Are these expectations fair? Are you seeing signs of him being the next top U.S. and MLS forward?

SaH: Jordan's signs as the next top US/MLS forward were clear last year. He joined elite company with his record-breaking rookie season. It would be easy to say that he has hit a sophomore slump, but that ignores why he is performing so poorly this season. Morris' only world-class skill right now is his speed. He is a decent finisher, makes decent runs, and has a good right-footed pass, but his speed is what sets him apart. At the start of the year he left US camp early due to a hamstring issue. A month or so later he left US camp with an ankle issue. Now, he played through both of those, but didn't have his speed, at all. So far in 2017 Jordan Morris looks like a rather average MLS forward, maybe even below average. His best tool was gone until the past couple weeks. And just as it came back he's off to rep the US, rather than the Sounders.

Hopefully while there he focuses on his on-field relationship with Clint Dempsey. There are times when Jordan passes the ball when the better idea would be to shoot. The two of them will be more effective if defenses have to respect them both, plus Dempsey is rather great at cleaning up rebounds and deflections. Lastly, Morris needs to spend time with Bobby Wood and gain a bit more knowledge about which types of runs to make and when to make them.

If he comes back from Arena's training, friendly, and two World Cup Qualifiers healthy, Morris will be as good as he was last year. If he works on his partnership with Clint and his USMNT coaches/teammates teach him how to make just one more run, he will be better than his 2016 tally of 14 goals and 5 assists in all competitions.

MR: Nicolas Lodeiro took the league by storm last season with the run to the Cup. How important has he been to the Sounders this year and is season two going to live up to year one?

SaH: If Nico was to match last year's performance, but over a full season, he would be the MVP. It won't happen. There are a few differences. First off, the Seattle Sounders are not in a desperate situation and going full-blast for just a few months. This season is a long haul, and they will pace themselves. Secondly, some teams have adapted to him, a bit. It was always going to get more difficult for him the longer he plays in MLS. Third, in 2016 the scoring was up to Lodeiro and Morris. This year the responsibility is much more spread out - the scoring threats of Dempsey and Bruin give Lodeiro even more outlets for his creativity.

Lodeiro will still be quite good, on the edge of making the Best XI and/or All Star Game. He is the primary creator on the team, so when the offense picks up it will do so with Nico collecting those assist totals again. He will likely find a way to be great and carry the team during this time of depleted rosters too. He was not called up, so other teams will be without a few of their best players and Seattle will still have Lodeiro. On the year, he could still get 5-7 goals and 15-ish assists. That's good, but not what last season indicated he could be capable of doing.

Projected lineup: I really have no idea. There's no forward with experience available as Dempsey/Morris are with the USMNT, Will Bruin is hurt and that's it for experience. Seyi Adekoya is the only other forward on the roster. He only has 13 minutes in MLS and just 204 in USL. Here's my best guess.

Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall , Gustav Svensson, Roman Torres Brad Evans; Cristian Roldan, Osvaldo Alonso, Harry Shipp; Alvaro Fernandez, Nicolas Lodeiro, Aaron Kovar

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