What You’ll Watch
After what seems like an eternity, the Seattle Sounders are finally returning to the pitch as they host the Montreal Impact for the only matchup between the two teams this season. After this game, the Sounders won’t play again for another two weeks.
Currently, the Sounders are dead last in the West — and the league — with a record of 0-2-0, while the Impact are seventh in the East with a record of 1-2-0. The last time out, Seattle was defeated 3-0 on the road in Frisco, TX against FC Dallas. The Impact defeated Toronto FC 1-0 last weekend.
Injury Report, International Duty and Suspensions
The Sounders had four players away for international duty in the past week. Jordy Delem (Martinique), Gustav Svensson (Sweden) Roman Torres (Panama) and Cristian Roldan (USA) all saw some time with their national teams in the last week.
Of the four players, Torres has the highest possibility of not playing after going the full 90 against Switzerland, but head coach Brian Schmetzer expects all four to be available for selection.
We know Victor Rodriguez (right knee sprain) and Osvaldo Alonso (quad injury) will be out for this game. Nicolas Lodeiro, who missed the Dallas game, has been participating fully in team training and Schmetzer is hopeful he can play. Henry Wingo has been training with a cast, but his availability is unknown.
Clint Dempsey will miss this match due to his red card against Dallas.
The Impact only have two players listed on the injury report at the time of this article. Both Zakaria Diallo (ruptured Achilles tendon 2/27, out 5-6 months) and Kyle Fisher (tibia injury) are listed as out.
REF: Ismail Elfath
AR1: Kathryn Nesbitt
AR2: Jeremy Hanson
4TH: David Gantar
VAR: Edvin Jurisevic
What to Watch
Montreal’s system — New head coach Rémi Garde, late of Lyon and Aston Villa, is still sussing out what he has, as well as waiting on a couple of very recent signings to become available. He’s shown a willingness to mix it up tactically, coming out in both a 4-1-4-1 and 5-3-2/3-5-2, but even three matches in they’ve shown some clear trends.
There’s a strong preference for a high defensive line, with young Canadian international Samuel Piette anchoring the defensive midfield. The team already shows the disciplined character of its coach, but the back line has been frequently broken by gap runs. Against Toronto there were clear player-to-player assignments, and the team seems tactically astute enough to pull these off. An emphasis on separating and splitting into chunks the Toronto lineup left numerous multi-line passing lanes open to start counters.
Montreal are still a team reliant on the counter-attack for threatening opportunities and have shown little interest in settling into any kind of long offensive set. They concede significant amounts of possession in an effort to draw opponents apart and release their magicians going the other direction. In transition there remains an emphasis on finding 1-v-1s for Ignacio Piatti and putting runners in the space his gravitas creates.
The offense still goes as Piatti goes. When he’s on the wing, they’re wing-heavy; when he’s in the middle, they’re quite direct. It remains to be seen whether there’s enough midfield support going forward for this to be sustainable long-term, but so far it’s still producing goals for them.
Maintenant, plus que Piatti — Six months, give or take, of Blerim Dzemaili feel a bit wasted after he decided he wanted away this offseason. That’s a big loss for any team, and Montreal would have been forgiven if they’d been left papering a big hole. Instead, they diversified by adding Jeisson Vargas and Saphir Taider, both of whom have looked promising in the early season, and the newly incoming Alejandro Silva. Taider has already helped with the midfield-forward line connection, Vargas looks a threatening attacker, and Silva should help ease the shading defensive midfielders do to Piatti’s side.
Of course, this seems to come at the cost of Matteo Mancosu’s spot on the roster, and the only hold-up forward behind him, Anthony Jackson-Hamel, has been given a grand total of one minute so far. This means a likely permanent shift into a two forward setup of Piatti and Vargas — or a try at the ol’ 4-3-3, though that seems unlikely — and either of those take Piatti out of his game. The increased number of threats is a good thing for Montreal, but can Garde find a way to field a complete team with all of them?
Jouez ensemble! Avec unité! — There are a lot of issues for the Sounders to deal with, and some of them just aren’t going to resolve themselves until the team gets healthier. Most urgent is that the team still seems to struggle finding a consistent rhythm across the entire XI. Too often, pockets of players, or even each individual player, will be playing their own game. There may be extenuating circumstances, sure, but after a full preseason and six competitive matches, the excuses begin to wear thin. This disconnection, characterized to the extreme by Lamar Neagle’s showing in the game at Chivas, can and will tear a team apart on the field.
Seattle must — must! — move off the ball better, and do so in ways that create space and movement lanes for others. Too many times players seem to wait expectantly for others to move and create space for them, and the ball is recycled to the keeper.
Figuring out how to score goals with the only goal-dangerous non-poacher on the roster missing is going to be a tall order. Breaking the high line will require significant advanced play from the outside backs, where the team’s only real speed lies, or will necessitate smart, connected passing. To pull that off, the coordinated and cooperative off-ball movement of a unified team will be necessary.
The Montreal defense is not stout. It can be broken down, but only by luck will a single player on this roster be able to take it on and come out ahead. Play as a team, take the points.
How to Watch
Date & Time: Saturday, March 31, 7:00 PM PT
Location: CenturyLink Field
TV: JOEtv, YouTube TV (Seattle/Spokane only)
Radio: 950 KJR AM (English), El Rey 1360 (Spanish)