The concept of the Ideal XI is platonic. It’s like a perfect triangle. It only exists in our thoughts, our minds. As we so carefully craft strawmen as simulacrums of real conversation, we continue to ignore that the Seattle Sounders have more playoff-quality starters than they do positions on the field. Debating the Ideal XI ignores the realities of this roster.
During the 11-game unbeaten run the club has started 11 different lineups featuring 24 different player-roles. This list includes obvious playoff-quality starting talents: Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan, Gustav Svensson, Roman Torres, Chad Marshall, Joevin Jones, Kelvin Leerdam, Clint Dempsey, Stefan Frei, Nicolas Lodeiro, Victor Rodriguez, Jordan Morris and Will Bruin. It also includes Brad Evans, Nouhou, Jordy Delem, Aaron Kovar and Tyler Miller. Several players played more than one role.
Prior to the draw against Portland Brian Schmetzer clarified, barely, his decision process.
[Schmetzer] will make that decision based on “form in games, form in practice, matchups, rest as we’re at the tail end of a long week -- all those things go into consideration.”
This is a team so deep that two players with 20+ starts in MLS 2016 are competing to make the 18 — Lamar Neagle and Harry Shipp.
Discussions about Jordan Morris and Will Bruin, for example, that ignore recent game form, practice form, fatigue, injury and international duty put us all at a weakness when understanding the team as a whole.
This is the old “failing to see the forest through the trees” problem. We are so focused on these two mighty cedars that we are ignoring the pine, the fir, the maple all around us.
While there will be specific matchdays where the debate between two or three players makes sense, there is little need for verbal conflict over which XI is ideal. There is no Ideal XI that will finish out the final seven games.
Instead, there will likely be about 15-17 players that get starts, all who have the talent to start on an MLS Cup contender. They each have different skills; are in different parts of the developmental, pre-peak, peak, post-peak and old-age player cycle; are in different forms for their 2017; have different needs for rest (there are two more relevant international breaks after this one; there is also a three-game week left in 2017); and have different mentalities to starting, subbing and resting.
Another debate about Morris v. Bruin would likely garner hundreds of comments, but it would not help us understand Brian Schmetzer’s thought process, nor the ability of the Seattle Sounders to win more games.
A recognition that there are at least 15+ starters on this squad and that good talent will not always see the field is vital. It is the symbol of just how much has changed. Schmetzer doesn’t need to pound away with the same lineup over and over and over again trying to milk the last bit of energy out of post-peak/old-age legs.
He has options, great ones. He has enough HGPs, GA, TAM and DP types that sometimes those guys won’t start. That’s not a failure of talent acquisition, but a symbol that league roster rules have expanded enough that it is possible to build real depth.
Seattle’s next game is against the LA Galaxy (Sept 10, 6 PM). We have no idea who will start for LA because Sigi Schmid is taking over a side with a broken player philosophy. We have no idea who sill start for the Sounders because the Lagerwey, Schmetzer, Henderson committee have too many options.
There is no Ideal XI. There is the XI that started the last game and the XI starting the next game.