The Seattle Sounders look to extend their six-match unbeaten run on a trip to TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Minnesota United is no longer the pushover they were to start the season. Their 6-12-4, -16 record looks particularly poor because they only took a point in their first four matches and were outscored 18-7. This is not to say that the Loons are good now. They are merely an average MLS team looking to defend the stadium where the Golden Gophers of Minnesota play.
The Saturday evening match is on Q13 and Univision Seattle at 5 PM. Brian Schmetzer has as close to a full selection of players as he has had this season. Only Osvaldo Alonso is on the injury report and Ozzie is merely questionable. It will be Seattle’s first match with VAR.
Alex from E Pluribus Loonum answers Three Questions.
SaH: How have Batman and Superman adapted to MLS? Will Ramirez play?
epl: Christian Ramirez made a seamless transition from NASL to MLS. He's done a fantastic job as the team's lone striker all season long, as evidenced by his 11 goals scored (with none of those coming from the penalty spot). He really shines whenever he has great service but he's also put in good shifts when the team's offense is struggling which is crucial for the squad. Unfortunately for Minnesota, they will be forced to play without their top scorer on Saturday as Ramirez suffered a hamstring injury against D.C. United that is still bothering him. The Loons will lean heavily on rookie Abu Danladi to pick up where Ramirez left off.
Miguel Ibarra has been a bit of a different story. He's looked fantastic in a handful of games but has been largely inconsistent and was even benched for a short stretch recently. He just put in a solid shift against D.C. United where he came off the bench and scored, so it'll be interesting to see if he can keep his momentum rolling on Saturday.
SaH: Heath managed to fix the defense after the first month. What changed?
epl: It's been well documented how bad Minnesota's defense was over the course of their first four games. Since then, Adrian Heath has done a good job of finding defensive players that he can trust. He locked in a starting back line that contained Marc Burch, Francisco Calvo, Brent Kallman, and Jerome Thiesson and that particular defensive unit really turned things around. Burch picked up a long-term injury, however, and Kallman also missed some time so their back line was a patchwork unit for the past month. However, Kallman is now fully healthy and the team signed a capable center back/full back in Michael Boxall, so the team's defense should continue to improve. The defense struggled at times to defend set pieces and their marking was particularly bad in their last losing skid. With that being said, the back line looked solid in their last time out, keeping a clean sheet against D.C.
SaH: How does Gopher Stadium play? How does it feel for fans?
epl: TCF Bank Stadium is a temporary situation that has both its upsides and downsides. It holds 54,000 people but during MLS games only the lower bowl is used and some sections can sometimes be sparsely populated. Attendance has been pretty steady this season, and the team is averaging almost 20,000 fans a game which is about the league average. I'm sure the game day atmosphere will improve drastically when the team is able to move into its new stadium in a couple of years but until then TCF Bank has been a serviceable place to see a game. For the players, the turf is also worth mentioning as some visiting sides have not been happy with the state of the field turf, and a couple notable non-contact injuries have already occurred during games. Given that it's a college football stadium, there's not much that the team can do about that, though.
Projected lineup (4-2-3-1): Shuttleworth; Boxall-Kallman-Calvo-Thiesson; Ibson-Cronin; Ibarra-Molino-Nicholson; Danladi
epl: The Sounders seem to be gearing up for a deep playoff run with the recent signing of Spanish winger Victor Rodriguez. How and when does he get integrated into Seattle's lineup? How do you think he will change the look of the team?
SaH: Rodriguez is still waiting on his paperwork, which is just fine. That will give him at least two weeks of training before his first game. Since he was out of season the fitness work is vital, as is his ability to learn the squad. At this point I have yet to see him play besides highlights. The idea is that he's a bit of a possession winger who plays to pass rather than cross. It adds variety to the squad and since the "5th starter" in the attack has yet to get locked in Victor likely fills that role. When any of Bruin, Morris, Dempsey, Lodeiro are out the Sounders will have Spaniard with La Liga experience stepping in. That's not bad. It will hurt Brad Evans, Aaron Kovar and Harry Shipp's ability to get on the field or they will step up their practice games and earn more time. Altogether this is essential depth for the stretch run.
epl: After scuffling from the early part of the season until about Mid-May, the Sounders find themselves in a midst of a good run of form having gone six games without a loss. How was the team able to bounce back from such an inauspicious start?
SaH: Step one was to get healthy. At Sounder at Heart we've simultaneously praised the depth and criticized the depth. When a team is forced to play five, six and seven players deep at a single position and/or position group for several weeks in a row they lose. But when the absences are spread out or limited to maybe two spots at a time the Sounders are quite good. Now that they are fit and healthy they are even winning without Osvaldo Alonso. Health has been paramount to the resurgence.
Step two was to start scoring. Will Bruin is a big part of that, but the other key scorers in this run are Clint Dempsey and Cristian Roldan. Two of those three guys should be expected to score in this league, but with Roldan pops off for five goals in about 60% of the season the Sounders are adding variety to their scoring. If they can get Jordan Morris scoring at close to his rookie rate things will really take off. After his Gold Cup there is plenty of reason to think that will happen soon.
epl: Seattle's attacking corps has plenty of big names. Which players pose the biggest threat to Minnesota United on Saturday? If you were coaching the Loons, what game plan would you use to counter the Sounders?
SaH: With you indicating the Loons are a bit weak on set-piece defense, a strength of Seattle's attack, I would recommend sitting deep and packing the box. The Sounders rather enjoy shooting from distance. Teams that play tight to that either foul too much or open up space for late runners. It's better to be the team that lets Dempsey shoot from 25+ than it is to be the one to let him get a half dozen shots in the box or a couple assists to Morris.
Projected Lineup (4-2-3-1): Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Kelvin Leerdam; Cristian Roldan, Gustav Svensson; Jordan Morris, Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro; Will Bruin