Coming off their first win in over a month, the Seattle Sounders pay a visit to the Philadelphia Union and Talen Energy Stadium. The Sounder’ only previous win there is in the 2014 U.S. Open Cup, as they’ve gone 0-2-2 in four regular-season visits.
The Union come into this game having gone 1-3-4 in their past eight and sitting 10th in the Eastern Conference, while the Sounders are a point out of first in the West and have gone 7-1-7 dating back to mid June.
We asked Brotherly Game’s Eugene Rupinski for his thoughts.
1 - If you had to sum up the identity of this team what would it be?
I don't know if the Union have an identity. The trope of the “blue collar, lunch pail” Philadelphia player doesn’t hold water when you have guys who don't make runs or who tend to pout if they don’t get the pass they were looking for. They’re supposed to be a team that builds through the Academy but the players they have developed through the Academy don’t get minutes. They’ve talked about being a solid defensive team but have put out just about every permutation of defenders available with nothing seeming to stick.
2 - How is Oguchi Onyewu doing as a full-time pro again?
Gooch has been the surprise of the year. Fans here thought he’d be more of a backup, helping mentor some of the younger defenders like Josh Yaro, Richie Marquez, and Jack Elliott. While these players - Elliott especially - have benefitted from his mentorship, Gooch has played well enough to be considered a first choice option when available, and most of the time he’s missed games has been due to card accumulation rather than injury. Honestly if he wanted to return in 2018 at or around his current salary I’d be happy with that.
3 - Should Andre Blake be in the 2017 Keeper of the Year conversation?
Should he be in the conversation? Absolutely. Do I think he should win? Not really. Blake has had an absolutely phenomenal season, especially given the state of the team in front of him. I think the injury courtesy of Kellyn Acosta hurt his chances for repeating as Goalkeeper of the Year, however more than that I think Tim Melia has had one of the best seasons in MLS history and unless he completely falls apart here at the end should and will win the award. That shouldn’t be construed as a knock on Andre, as he is a top goalkeeper in the league and I won't be surprised when he moves abroad to bigger and better things. That said, Melia has a Goals Against Average of .79 right now and is one of the major reasons Sporting Kansas City is having the good season they’re having. As much of a stan as I am for Blake, I think Melia wins the award.
Projected Lineup Projected Lineup:
Bear in mind that Keegan Rosenberry and Warren Creavalle both picked up knocks against Atlanta United on Wednesday and may not be available for selection. Should that be the case, look for Ray Gaddis to replace Rosenberry and either Derrick Jones or Roland Alberg to replace Creavalle. If it's Jones, the midfield will be a rather deep-lying triangle. If it's Alberg, Medunjanin will drop deeper, Bedoya will be the box-to-box mid, and Alberg will be at the 10.
Andre Blake; Giliano Wijnaldum, Oguchi Onyewu, Jack Elliott, Keegan Rosenberry; Warren Creavalle, Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya; Fafa Picault, Chris Pontius; CJ Sapong
1.) Seattle started slow but has lost only once in their last fifteen. This seems to be the same pattern as last season - what about Seattle makes them come on strong down the stretch?
Part of it is not adding top talent until late in the season. This year they added Dutch right back Kelvin Leerdam (who only has a single loss as a Sounder), Barcelona raised midfielder Victor Rodriguez, Puget Sound native Lamar Neagle and Calum Mallace. That's two TAM players and a 39-goal scoring forward with gas left in his tank.
It's something they did pre-Lagerwey/Schmetzer too. Adding significant talent that immediately contributes is game-changing.
2.) Clint Dempsey is 34 and seems to be on the decline. How much longer is he a Sounder, and what does a post-Dempsey Sounders look like?
Seattle has an option for 2018 and that may be the most difficult decision that Garth Lagerwey faces this coming offseason. Clint Dempsey is still good, and still worthy of a DP deal. But he may no longer be what the Sounders need. They can get a better player at his salary and their willingness to pay transfer fees. There is no guarantee that would be able to get such a player.
I expect him back in 2018 because the team already has the ability to add a DP even without moving on from Clint. I also think that will be his last season.
3.) Why will Seattle repeat as MLS Cup winners - and what will stop them from repeating?
The Sounders will repeat because their defense isn't just better, but possibly the best in the league. Even when injuries drop top talents those players are replaced with a TAM quality (thanks China!) DM/CB in Gustav Svensson, Jamaican national team player Oniel Fisher and young Nouhou. There's not just talent in the backline, but a defense that engages throughout the pitch with Osvaldo Alonso and Cristian Roldan stopping many attacks before they ever start.
But it's not just Seattle that is better than they were in 2016. Toronto FC improved; Chicago improved; New York City improved; Atlanta was born. While my confidence in Schmetzer's ability to win the West is rather high the talent out East is too much.
Injuries, suspensions, etc: Jordan Morris, Brad Evans, Calum Mallace and Osvaldo Alonso are out with injury. Victor Rodriguez flew back to Barcelona for the birth of his child. Roman Torres left the last match early due to injury.
Projected lineup: Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones; Tony Alfaro, Chad Marshall, Kelvin Leerdam; Cristian Roldan, Gustav Svensson; Lamar Neagle, Nicolas Lodeiro, Aaron Kovar; Clint Dempsey