A Wednesday match abutting the end of the international break will rob both rosters of talent. Seattle Sounders will be down four national team players, three of them starters. Orlando City SC is down their best midfielder. Those losses will likely level the playing field as the Lions are a horrid 7-20-4 -30 and have surrendered a historic 70 goals on the season.
Orlando doesn’t have the worst home record (they’re third worst). They are a squad with nothing to lose, except their jobs for 2019. Seattle has everything to play for. With a point they can lock down their 10th straight appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs. With a win and KC loss the Sounders move into 3rd in the West (5th in Shield). Another chance at magic demands a victory, resource depleted or not.
Logan F. Oliver from The Mane Land answers Three Questions.
SaH: Blame for the season cannot be laid at a single coach (you’ve had three). Who should get the blame?
tML: The only person involved this year who might be absolved from blame is interim Head Coach Bobby Murphy. Teams don’t lose 20 matches and allow 70 goals without failures in several places. It started with the roster that Jason Kreis put together, which over time was exposed for having some major holes and weaknesses in personnel. But the Front Office may have been a bit to hasty in letting Kreis go, given his poor run of form at the end of his tenure coincided with lengthy injuries to multiple key contributors as well as Yoshimar Yotún being away with Peru at the World Cup. Some slack has to be given to James O’Connor due to the situation he inherited, but if he was truly tasked with righting the ship and getting this team into the playoffs he deserves some flak for the team only going backwards since his arrival. Blame shouldn’t be heaped on only the coaches, either. The players have failed to execute time after time and mental lapses cost the Lions a ridiculous amount of points this year.
SaH: How important is Will Johnson to the team’s success? He’s played just about everywhere this season.
tML: Johnson has been valuable but it’s tough to say he’s contributed to success when success has been so limited. He provides veteran leadership, can be plugged in almost anywhere on the field and provide a solid performance, and has a knack for doing the dirty work no one notices that lets the more creative players get the job done. He’s been the lone constant in James O’Connor’s lineups even as the new Head Coach changes the roster around him. There just isn’t another midfielder on the roster that provides the same qualities from box to box — being able to fill in almost anywhere but center forward is an added bonus.
SaH: Who will fill in for Yotún?
tML: Unfortunately there isn’t another player capable of providing the same spark Yoshi does. Carlos Ascues does a decent job holding down central midfield and his passing is top notch, but he lacks the dynamism of Yotún. Uri Rosell is still dealing with an ankle issue and is unlikely to feature and Tony Rocha manned the midfield over the weekend but in more of a holding role. Cristian Higuita might be the best replacement on the roster as he has proven this year he can get forward and make things happen in the final third, though he is working his way back from a calf injury and may not be able to put in a full shift just yet.
(4-2-3-1): Adam Grinwis; Scott Sutter, Lamine Sane, Shane O’Neill, RJ Allen; Carlos Ascues, Tony Rocha; Will Johnson, Sacha Kljestan, Chris Mueller; Dom Dwyer
tML: Seattle has once again made a miraculous midseason turnaround to charge into the playoff places. What changed this year to make that possible?
SaH: Health and Ruidíaz. The attack needed healing, and that is addressed in full in question three.
But another thing that needs noting is head coach Brian Schmetzer. He engenders loyalty and belief like a powerful leader. In 2016 when he took over his soul was dedicated to a resurrection of the organization. The players entrusted to his care believed and built themselves back into greatness. Their late season run pushed the first MLS Cup in Sounders history. In 2017 the causes for the early failure were different, but still Schmetzer guided morale so that they would never quit — they returned to MLS Cup. In 2018 the story is the same, though the causes are different. There are better tactical coaches. There are better coaches when it comes to development. There can be no doubt that every other coach in MLS cannot motivate players, organization and fans as well as Brian Schmetzer. He’s proven it three years in a row.
tML: The Sounders defense has quietly been among the best in the league and is tied for the least goals allowed this year. What’s been the secret? Asking for a friend.
SaH: Brian Schmetzer believes in density on defense. At times there is an initial press, but it’s when Seattle gets set that they are truly impressive. They sit deeper than most, quite compact. They will allow a team to attack from distance, where they’ll have to beat Stefan Frei. The allow opponents to cross into an area defended by Chad Marshall and his partner, usually Kim Kee-hee. The backup CB went to the World Cup. The defensive midfield also features a World Cup attendee — Gustav Svensson. Osvaldo Alonso is fading, but still provides energy and leadership. Cristian Roldan has the motor to defend anywhere, and passes better than Alonso did at his peak.
That pentagon (GK, CB, CB, DM, DM) is the heart of the best defense in the league and at least two of them should win season end awards (Frei, Marshall).
tML: With Jordan Morris having missed this year so far with an ACL injury and Clint Dempsey’s recent retirement, how has the team replaced their offensive production?
SaH: One big reason was the midseason addition of Raúl Ruidíaz (good news, you’ll miss seeing him). The Peruvian World Cup forward has 7 goals and an assist in just 12 appearances. The team is 10-2-0 when he takes the field. His off-ball movement is incredible, and his defense is strong from the forward role.
The other reason is health. The return of Nicolas Lodeiro and Victor Rodríguez to full health has provided an engine in the midfield that creates opportunities against strong defenses. Both are creative players who excel with the ball at their feet, but it is their ability to find spaces and claim them as their own is what provides Sounders the opportunity to attack. There’s good news for Orlando fans as Nico is highly unlikely to play. Those are the three that do the magic; Seattle will have to find a way to get by with just one.
tML: What injuries/suspensions/call-ups will keep players out this weekend and what is your projected lineup and predicted final score?
SaH: There are five injuries. In order of significance they are: Jordan Morris (ACL), Harry Shipp (hamstring), Brad Smith (hamstring), Roman Torres (knee), Felix Chenkam (back surgery). There are four absences. In order of significance they are: Nicolas Lodeiro (Uruguay), Raúl Ruidíaz (Peru), Gustav Svensson (Sweden), Jordy Delem (Martinique). Losing nine players is a dramatic reduction in talent and compromises will be made, especially in the attack.
Stefan Frei; Nouhou, Chad Marshall, Kim Kee-hee, Kelvin Leerdam; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Handwalla Bwana, Victor Rodríguez, Henry Wingo, Will Bruin
The biggest question will be if Alex Roldan starts over Wingo.