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Scouting Report: Reincarnated Goats Are Still Goats

the Sounders take on an LAFC team with talent at the top and holes all over

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Who You’ll Watch

The Seattle Sounders kick off their 10th MLS season Sunday against the newest club to join the ranks of MLS, Los Angeles Football Club. This will be the ninth time in 10 years that the Sounders will open their season at home, with 2017 being the lone exception.

The Sounders have already played two games heading into this match up. Granted, they were CONCACAF Champions League games, but a game is a game.

Injury Report

Seattle

The injury report for the Sounders is a bit long heading into the season opening game. Jordan Morris (right torn ACL) is out. Osvaldo Alonso (quad strain), Kelvin Leerdam (ankle sprain), Victor Rodriguez (quad strain) and Roman Torres (leg) are all listed as questionable.

LAFC

The new kids on the block have a relatively small injury list heading into this game, but a couple of key components will be missed: Laurent Ciman (knee) and Omar Gaber (groin) are both listed as doubtful.

Match Officials

Referee: Jose Carlos Rivero

Assistant Referees: Brian Poeschel and Mike Kampmeinert

4th Official: Alex Chilowicz

VAR: Timothy Ford

What to Watch

LAFC’s System: Who knows!?!? Angels on Parade certainly would know better than us, and they took a swing at the question recently that’s worth a read. I tend to agree that the 4-2-3-1 is the most likely, based, if nothing else, on it being the last formation Bob Bradley ran out in preseason.

I’d like to say the LAFC roster seems built towards a particular formation, but it doesn’t seem to even be fully built yet, and that’s almost certainly going to give Bradley fits as he tries to figure out a way to put together a solid defense and provide reliable, functional service to his front line(s). There are a lot of questions still to answer, and beneath its talented shell the team has a very soft underbelly.

Who leads the line for Seattle? Injuries and player rotation once again are hitting the team early. The inability to score early against Santa Tecla, the looming home date with Chivas de Guadalajara, and the beginning-of-the-season fitness levels means Brian Schmetzer is already dipping deep into the bench.

How deep is he reaching? Even Lamar Neagle is going to get real, actual, competitive MLS minutes. It’s almost certain that to put out a functional formation the team will need to ask either Will Bruin or Clint Dempsey to put in extensive minutes after both essentially put in a full shift Thursday (which could seriously impact their availability for Wednesday).

A planned split might be the best way to go, but whatever we see will tell us a lot about the rotation plan over the next few weeks as we navigate a congested start to the season that will get trickier the Sounders advance in CCL. Because of their very different skillsets, which one gets the start likely dictates the rest of the lineup.

How much of a defense does LAFC actually have? Do they have any at all? Tyler Miller showed us over the last season-plus that he was ready to start, but I’m not sure this is the situation he would have chosen. From the No. 8 position back, LAFC have not looked good.

Both Ciman and Walker Zimmerman are coming off less-than-stellar years; the former seemingly the victim of age (and now injury), the later the victim of completely losing the plot. Steven Beitashour is only 31, but by his play on the field you’d be forgiven for thinking him in his late 40s, and the alternative is a 2018 draftee. Gaber has promise, but is injured. Calum Mallace, who couldn’t even make the 18 with Seattle last year, is a legitimate starting option for Bradley at defensive midfielder. None of this has looked particularly good or promising for them in the preseason.

It’s a safe assumption that the offense we see from Seattle won’t be a well-oiled machine. The weak defensive mid position is ripe for attack, but it’s no sure thing that the Sounders can keep themselves from sending the ball up the wing for another round of the recycled horseshoe of death. If the team can find a solid balance between wing and middle attacks they should find themselves with solid opportunities.

Can the defense handle LAFC’s front line? The beloved Benny Feilhaber may have dropped off enough that he’s no longer able to drive a team to victory, but LAFC’s offense only needs him to provide solid distribution and a steady transition link. 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, the main attacks for LA are going to come down the wings and channels, via Carlos Vela and Latif Blessing. In preseason games they’ve shown an understanding of each other, and an ability to form a threatening trifecta with the young Uruguayan Diego Rossi. All are shifty, dynamic, and require cohesive defensive action from multiple players to fully contain.

That last bit is something that the two likely starters at outside back -- Jordan McCrary and Waylon Francis -- have struggled with through preseason. Their cohesion with their center back partners will have to improve drastically. LAFC may not have the unity of Santa Tecla yet, but their individual talent is fully capable of creating their own goal-scoring opportunities if space is left open.

*A quick sidenote: it’s likely just as important to watch who starts at defensive midfield. Even the young legs of Cristian Roldan need rest, and he’s potentially as important to the team’s structure against Chivas as any forward is. Rolling out Jordy Delem and Alex Roldan as your defensive midfield — the likely duo if Roldan and Gustav Svensson are rested — against any MLS side (excepting Minnesota, probably) at this point is not a welcome thought.

Bottom line: Like most very-early season matches it’s tough to know how things are going to come together, and a lack of familiarity has the chance to exacerbate individual mistakes. Seattle should have the advantage, but squad rotation means this is probably an error-filled, up-and-down crapshoot decided on individual moments of brilliance.

How to Watch

Date/Time: 3/4/2018 @ 2:00 PM

Venue: CenturyLink Field

Television: ESPN

Radio: 950 KJR AM (English), El Rey 1360 AM (Spanish)

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