Facing a weak team like D.C. United should give the Seattle Sounders an opportunity to regain their form. United—the original MLS version—is the third worst attack in the league by expected goals and worst in the league by goals scored. They also have one of the worst defenses. This is a truly bad team in a league where it is hard to have bad teams. They are also without their best player.
Wednesday’s game (7:30 PM, Q13) is the return of Sounders soccer after a two week pause for the group stage of the Gold Cup. It is also the time when the Sounders can return to their place above the red line (with help from LA).
Ben from Black & Red United answers Three Questions.
SaH: How did the offense get this bad?
B&RU: The short answer is players got old, and D.C. United didn't invest in appropriate backups; that, combined with the fact that Patrick Mullins and Lamar Neagle were never going to match their goal scoring tear from last season, and the bottom has basically fallen out.
The details are more systemic, and start in defensive midfield. Marcelo Sarvas is a shadow of the player he was last year, Jared Jeffrey isn't really up to being a full time starter at that position, and Rob Vincent is a converted winger who actually played decently there last year but has been injured all of this season (though he may make the bench for the first time tonight). Without an effective defensive midfielder, the rest of central midfield breaks down and United can't connect attacking passes through the middle, and then people try and do too much. Lloyd Sam is also a step behind where he was last year, and Sebastien Le Toux, their main non-rookie signing of the offseason, hasn't panned out. To top it all off, the team is also missing chances that it made last year.
SaH: What type of attack is OG United best at defending?
B&RU: The type of attack they're best at defending right now is crosses and free kicks swung into the box; Steve Birnbaum and Kofi Opare are both good in the air, and while Travis Worra is nowhere close to Bill Hamid level, he can come out and claim a ball as well. Running directly at the defense is the best way to force them into a mistake, as both Birnbaum and Opare have been making uncharacteristic ones throughout the season, and like I said above the defensive midfield isn't really able to help.
SaH: How damaging will the Gold Cup be to the remaining roster?
B&RU: For being one of the worst teams in MLS right now, the Gold Cup is surprisingly damaging. Bill Hamid was the only goalkeeper that remained with the team after the six changes after the group stage, and Hamid is United's best player, the key to the defense, the best goalkeeper in MLS when he's not injured, and the only way they can win games right now unless the offense starts scoring regularly. I'm glad to see that Bruce Arena rates Hamid in a way that Jurgen Klinsmann only rarely did, but it is still a harsh blow for United.
SaH: Do Neagle and Le Toux still have value in MLS, and what would that value be on a playoff team?
B&RU: Lamar Neagle definitely still has value in MLS and value to a playoff team. Even though he would rather be a starter, he showed down the stretch last season that he is great as a super-sub who can create off of the bench. His starting stints both this year and last year were more mixed, though I'm not sure you can blame him for the implosion of the offense this season.
Sebastien Le Toux has a more limited usefulness. I could see him deployed late in games as a forward destroyer, to try and help keep an opponent pinned back, but his creativity and service from the wing has not been evident so far this year. He scored in two games in a row in April, but has nothing since then and hasn't looked particularly threatening, either.
Projected Lineup: Travis Worra; Chris Korb, Steve Birnbaum, Kofi Opare, Taylor Kemp; Jared Jeffrey, Ian Harkes; Nick DeLeon, Luciano Acosta, Patrick Nyarko; Deshorn Brown
B&RU: How much did you expect out of Will Bruin this year?
SaH: I didn't expect this much. I though Bruin was starting to fade, underestimating how poor his service was in Houston last year. But the thing is, the service in Seattle is pretty darn good. Will Bruin has picked up the slack while Jordan Morris has been off. Even if Morris was performing at last year's level, as he could when he returns from the Gold Cup, Bruin offers a different look. He is becoming the hard worker who creates space for the band of three. He already was the guy who could head in a good cross or corner. It's a great addition, whether off the bench or starting.
B&RU: Who out of the reserves has stepped up during the recent absences?
SaH: In some ways it has been a collection of talent, but the one I'm most excited about getting time against United is Aaron Kovar. After missing a year with a broken clavicle and then a groin injury that required surgery, the technically proficient winger is back. Kovar provides width up top, quality set-piece and run-of-play service, is defensively astute, energetic in defense and is becoming goal dangerous. He was a regular starter just prior to his injury sequence and is now getting bumped by more high profile players, but his skill set is unique on the roster. Playing well now could bump him up the depth chart.
B&RU: What will the Sounders midfield look like with Ozzie Alonso dinged up and Cristian Roldan having just returned from international duty?
SaH: Do you have that friend that runs? Like they get up early before work and take a nice little 5k and then after work they toss in some interval training, maybe later they play a soccer game? Cristian Roldan is that guy, except he's actually good at soccer things. Lodeiro is Seattle's player that puts in the most mileage. Roldan's goal this year is to put in that same range. He's getting rather close. Roldan will start.
His partner back there will be the offseason steal of the year -- Gustav Svensson. After China changed their rules about how many internationals were available, Gustav's agent contacted the Sounders, who needed a DM/CB on the bench. Svensson talked to former Sounder Erik Friberg. It was the best blind date ever. Svensson is still getting China-money, but at a reasonable cap hit. He doesn't have the range that Seattle fans are used to from Alonso-Roldan, but he is their equal when it comes to passing. Svensson is also solid in the air, never goes to ground and now has 18 starts with 1 sub appearance for 1641 minutes across three positions. He should be bronzed already.
Projected lineup: Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Brad Evans; Gustav Svensson, Cristian Roldan; Aaron Kovar, Harry Shipp, Nicolas Lodeiro; Will Bruin