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Sounders vs. Orlando City SC: Three Questions

A decent home team hosts a bad road squad.

Orlando City SC takes one of the largest trips in MLS, midweek, absent their best attacking player and with a captain who is hampered by injury and age. If there is a time for Seattle Sounders to pounce on a weaker opponent it is Wednesday night’s game (7:30 PM, JOEtv). But the Sounders themselves are also weak, if not injured. Neither the Seattle attack nor defense is in top form.

In the confines of CenturyLink Field, the Sounders are 4-1-2 +4 in 2017. The Lions are 1-4-1 -7 on the road.

Michael from The Mane Land answers Three Questions. Our agtk provided answers from Sounder at Heart, while Dave Clark provided the predictions and questions from us to them.

SaH: Who fills in for Cyle Larin? How does that change the team?

tML: If Saturday night is any indication, it’s Giles Barnes. The veteran utility man played up top with Carlos Rivas and had a hand in some of the offense in a 3-3 draw against the Montreal Impact, sending a ball forward for Kaká that ended up being a Matias Perez Garcia goal.

As for how it changes the game, it certainly makes it less likely for Orlando to chuck it up the field and hope Larin gets on the end of it. The Lions are more likely to build their attacks more deliberately. This worked well against an away Montreal side that was comfortable conceding possession. I’m not sure that will work as well in Seattle.

SaH: What did the time without Kaka teach the team about itself? Will he play on Field Turf in a midweek game?

tML : I’ll start with the second part of that first. My guess is that he’ll play because Orlando City has had some problems with creativity in the midfield and Kaká is the team’s most dynamic player. However, the plan could be for him to come off the bench in the second half, which has happened in the past. If Jason Kreis plans on resting the Brazilian, he would likely not even travel.

The time without the captain taught Orlando to grind out results in tight, low-scoring games. The Lions were able to put together a good run of results without Kaká and it actually took a few games to get used to having him back in the lineup. That time also showed that Barnes can play a left attacking midfield position and it allowed Luis Gil to get some minutes to get re-acclimated to MLS a bit, after he largely went unused in Liga MX.

SaH: Is there a flank that's worse defensively and how have teams exploited that?

tML: Both flanks seem solid but I’d say if there’s been some opportunity for opponents to exploit anything down the flanks it’s been teams that have extremely pacey players that have been able to turn the corner on Donny Toia on Orlando’s left. Toia’s pretty good at falling back so as not to get beaten by faster players but in periods of congested fixtures, he’s struggled a bit when his legs are heavier. However, we may see the faster Victor “PC” Giro play the left flank at Seattle as part of the typical squad rotation. This would mitigate a heavy-legged Toia from getting beat outside with pace and it also gives Orlando a better attacking presence on the left side, as PC is good at getting forward.

Projected Lineup:

I think with some squad rotation we’ll see Kaká come off the bench and the Lions could line up in a flat 4-4-2 like this: Joe Bendik; PC, Jonathan Spector, Tommy Redding, Scott Sutter; Luis Gil, Antonio Nocerino, Will Johnson, Matias Perez Garcia; Carlos Rivas, Giles Barnes.

tML: While it certainly is too early for Seattle fans to panic, the Sounders don’t seem to be clicking on offense the way they did down the stretch last season. What’s going on with the attack?

SaH: The Sounders’ attack has been hampered by injuries, national team call ups, and an unsettled starting XI that seems to shift from week to week as players show better or worse form. Harry Shipp started the season injured, Will Bruin has been injured, Jordan Morris has been injured almost all year, and that’s just in the attack. The Sounders seem to have two primary modes of attack: through-balls on the ground or over the top to Morris or Joevin Jones and building out of the back when there are no lanes for through-balls. With Morris injured, and the defense shifting through fifth-and-sixth stringers due to the aforementioned injuries, the Sounders have had to try and find other ways of getting goals.

Honestly, Nicolás Lodeiro seems to be the one who is missing the same sharpness that he had last season, missing great opportunities to put crosses away, delivering meandering crosses (especially corners) himself, and not quite hitting Morris or others in stride like he did last season. He’s still usually the best player on the pitch for the Sounders, capable of delivering a dose of magic at any moment, but he hasn’t connected this year with the ease he did last. Perhaps that’s the short offseason, perhaps it’s a combination of all the other factors adding up to hamper the Sounders, but if the Sounders are to defend their championship, Lodeiro likely needs to bring his game back up a notch.

tML: Statistically, it looks like Jordan Morris is the player who is having trouble linking up with Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro, etc. Has Morris hit a sophomore slump or is he just being snake bitten?

SaH: Maybe? It is really tough to tell with Jordan. We know he’s been literally hamstrung for part of the season and then earned himself a bum ankle, both injuries which he mostly played through. He’s also been shuffled back and forth from forward to wing, depending on how Schmetzer sees the tactical approach for the day (usually a choice between Bruin and Shipp/Álvaro Fernández). There have been games where Morris looks great on the wing with Bruin clearing space for him up top, and games where Morris looks best pushing the backline with more possession-oriented, defense capable wingers/mids behind him. Not to mention Jordan’s extremely short offseason, having less than a month between winning the MLS Cup and joining the USMNT Camp in January.

On the other hand, Morris should be doing much better statistically than he has been. He has been clear on breakaways where his shot just wouldn’t fall right. He has served up balls to guys like Lodeiro and Clint Dempsey on a platter that they couldn’t finish. Just this weekend Morris watched his beautiful through-ball to Shipp, who was clear on goal, die in a puddle of water that stopped the ball in its tracks.

All that is to say the jury is still out. We think Morris will return to form with a bit of health and a (hopeful) settling into the lineup, whether that’s at wing or forward. But we are expecting more from the young man than he’s achieved so far this year.

tML: Flipping from offense to defense, only a couple of teams have conceded more goals than the Sounders so far in 2017. Is this simply a matter of getting through some injuries on the back line or is there more to the issue than meets the eye?

SaH: This we can comfortably say is almost entirely due to injuries. The Sounders were one of the best defensive teams in MLS last year, especially through the MLS Cup run, and have only gotten better by swapping Tyrone Mears for Brad Evans. Unfortunately, Román Torres and Evans have not been able to stay healthy, leading to constant shuffling at the back as Chad Marshall and Jones have also missed a handful of games. Simply put, the Sounders have had to give way too many minutes to Jordy Delem, and Tony Alfaro has shown he is not ready to be a full-time starter. The Sounders have been eaten alive on the road, totally falling apart in the second halves of certain games, largely due to mistakes from the youngsters. Of course, at home, the Sounders are giving up less than a goal-per-game, posting shutouts in their last three home matches, while also usually fielding slightly stronger lineups. I would expect the Sounders to be a top five defense with Jones, Marshall, Torres and Evans all healthy, and Gustav Svensson filling in where needed.

Injuries/suspensions/projected starting XI/score line prediction?

Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Brad Evans; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris; Will Bruin

2-0 win

Oniel Fisher and Jordy Delem are at the Caribbean Cup with Jamaica and Martinique, respectively.

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