Who You’ll Watch
The Sounders will finish up their brief two-game road trip when they travel to the Twin Cities to take on Minnesota United FC for the first time ever. This is the first of two meetings this season and the only one in Minnesota.
With the Sounders facing an expansion team for the second time this season, it got me to thinking. How have the Sounders done against expansion sides the first time they have faced them?
Since the Sounders joined MLS in 2009, eight new teams have joined the league. In seven previous encounters with newcomers, Seattle is 3-1-3 with 13 goals scored and eight conceded. This will be only the third time that they will have faced an expansion club on the road for their first encounter. In that scenario, Seattle is 1-1-0 with four goals scored and five conceded—four of those five came against the Montreal Impact.
Minnesota is coming off a 4-0 thumping of D.C. United, while the Sounders played to a 0-0 draw against the LA Galaxy. Minnesota is 10th in the Western Conference (6-12-4 in 22 games played; 1 PPG); the Sounders are in fifth place (8-7-7 in 22 games played; 1.41 PPG). Even with their 4-0 victory last weekend, Minnesota still has a -16 goal differential.
Notable Roster Changes
In: The entire team!!!
Out: Josh Gatt (trade to COL), Mohammed Saeid (trade to COL), John Alvbage (loan expired), Jeff Attinella (trade to POR)
Form: L-L-D-L-W; five goals scored, seven conceded
Top Goal Scorer: Christian Ramirez, 11 goals
Top Assist Leader: Kevin Molino, seven assists
Form: D-W-W-W-D; 12 goals scored, six conceded
Top Goal Scorer: Will Bruin and Clint Dempsey, seven goals each
Top Assist Leader: Joevin Jones, nine assists
Absences: Injury, international duty, suspension
Bernardo Anor (left lower leg injury), Thomas de Villardi (left Achilles injury), Marc Burch (sports hernia surgery), Rasmus Schuller (left thigh injury) and Joe Greenspan (head injury) are all listed as out. Sam Cronin (neck injury), Kevin Venegas (right thigh injury), Kevin Molino (left ankle injury) and Miguel Ibarra (left ankle injury) are all listed as questionable, but all four played in their most recent game. Christian Ramirez left their most recent match in the first half with a tweaked hamstring, and Adrian Heath has been hinting he may be ruled out as a precaution this weekend.
Barring any injuries during training, Osvaldo Alonso (left MCL sprain) is the lone player on the injury report.
What to Watch
Adrian Heath’s Minnesota are a struggling side. Despite the walloping they gave DC United, they sit only marginally above them in the overall table. The trade for Molino looks to have been a good one and has paid dividends in terms of goals and assists. The trade for Cronin and Burch has been much more of a mixed bag. Burch has dealt with injury issues, and Cronin, as important as he’s been to protecting their defense, hasn’t been able to solve the midfield linkup problems. They’re an entertaining team to watch, to be sure, but a look through the breakdown stats shows a team with some major issues.
The team waffles between defending in a narrow 4-4-2 and in a blob of reactive movement. It’s a very inoffensive defense; they lead the league in interceptions per game, are top five in tackles per game, and are bottom five in fouls committed. That’s the good news.
Unfortunately for them, they also offer up the resistance of something akin to æbleskiver batter; their spacing and positioning is haphazard, their marking is often nonexistent, and there’s no midfield to provide the pressure relief needed. It’s no surprise, then, that they spend the most time in their own third of any team in the league (31%). Centerbacks Brent Kallman, Francisco Calvo and relative newcomer Michael Boxall struggle to stay connected, while left back Jerome Thiessen and the revolving door on the right find themselves marking space and arriving late to where they should be far too often. They’re not great in the air, winning only 44% of aerials (2nd worst in the league), but they’re so susceptible to completed passes that they also contest the lowest number of aerials per match in the league.
Center defensive midfielders Ibson and Cronin provide functional cover to an organized defense, but do not recognize defensive holes developing as quickly as the Loons need. They also offer little link-up going forward, and are rarely capable of jumpstarting attacks.
In attack, though MNUFC is one of the heavier passing teams in the league (458/g, 6th in league), they find only average possession splits, hovering between 50 and 51%. Somehow, they’re next-to-last in key passes, registering just 7.6 per match (for reference, the Seattle offense we consider to be stagnant registers 9.7 per match). It isn’t surprising, then, that even with all the ball movement, Minnesota take the second fewest (10.8), and give up the most (14.7), shots per game at home.
And herein lies the rub: Their ball movement, as good as it can be, lacks intent or supported build-up. Instead the ball in MN possession tends to be semi-randomly caroming around the field, only to be lost in some individual error. They may not be lost in the Bermuda Horseshoe of possession, but they’ve swung too far in the other direction.
Enjoy the depth and breadth of time and space - there will be a lot of it, and all over the field. The match offers the chance for the full current first-choice attack to find space and breath a little. This is not a match that should find Dempsey tracking deep as often. It is a match where Nicolas Lodeiro, Dempsey, Morris, et al, should not have to worry about being scythed down by Nigel de Jong understudies.
The channels Dempsey and Lodeiro are fond of attacking, and that seems to be a recurring target for Kelvin Leerdam on the opposite side, should provide the best opportunities. Adding long switches, a technique the team has been using more of late, will help exacerbate the Loons’ organizational issues.
Many of the goals scored against the not-as-northerners have been the result of individual mistakes on their part. The recent form of Seattle’s attack, and the apparent renewed ability to punish mistakes, means there’s a very good chance a lot of goals are in the cards. Assuming they don’t decide to wait until the 60th minute to start playing, that is.
Disrupt the Molino-Ramirez raiding parties - If there’s one thing to fear from this week’s opponents, it’s Ramirez and Molino combining their way, with a couple helping hands, down the field and into a goal. These two are essentially the entire Minnesota offense. Their dynamic recalls the two-man offense of Orlando City, but with more speed and single-minded goal focus.
Molino sits as a traditional CAM, drifting from channel to channel in between the left mid and right mid. He lacks the passing refinement Kaka possesses, trading it for more speed and a more direct intent in his play. Ramirez, meanwhile, lacks the post-up skills of Cyle Larin, but shows significantly more desire to run around and past defenders, and onto through balls.
The hamstring injury Ramirez is dealing with would be a huge blow to Minnesota; there’s nothing on the bench that can come close to replicating his skillset or production. Reports seem to indicate his odds of starting, or even being available, are slim. If that’s the case, this could be a long day for United. If thats the case we probably see a more traditional 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1 with Ibarra taking Ramirez’s place.
Ibarra is skilled, but needs much more help up front to generate chances. Minnesota are capable of providing that support, but their track record this year has been when they do it has destroyed their ability to defend. Faced with a number of difficult decisions, Heath doesn’t have any good-looking solutions, and Seattle has an opportunity to show their killer instinct is reviving at the right time.
Seattle: Stefan Frei; Jones, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Leerdam; Gustav Svensson, Cristian Roldan; Jordan Morris, Dempsey, Lodeiro; Bruin
Minnesota: Bobby Shuttleworth; Ismaila Jome, Calvo, Boxall, Jerome Thiesson; Nicholson, Ibson, Molino, Cronin, Abu Danladi; Ibarra
How to Watch
Date/Time: Saturday, August 5, 5:00 PM
Venue: TCF Bank Stadium
Television: Q13 FOX, Univision-Seattle
Radio: KIRO 97.3 FM (English), El Rey 1360 AM (Spanish)