BBQ Tears may not pour this year. The Seattle Sounders are a diminished squad — winless, goalless. Significant players are injured or suspended. Sporting Kansas City, on the other hand, is dominant. They currently lead the West and are second in the Shield race with their 4-1-1 +3 record. Peter Vermes’ side was already known for great defense, and in 2018 their offense looks capable of challenging for the Supporters’ Shield again.
Like Seattle, they are still searching for a DP forward after losing one years ago.
Cody from The Blue Testament answers Three Questions. They were exchanged Thursday and Friday.
SaH: The Sounders really need to figure out how to score goals. Is there a particular path to goal that’s been successful against SKC this year?
tBT: Well, Seattle always scores off set pieces against KC. Absolutely always. So just wait for an Espinoza foul and I think the Sounders are guaranteed a goal.
But really the game plan against Vermes is always to capitalize on counter attacks. This team will be organized and put relentless pressure to make sure an opponent can’t control the game too much. They will, however, throw guys forward like they’re about to lose a cup match. When the outside backs get involved, they’re attacking with seven guys. They like to move the ball back and forth in the final third. It takes one errant pass to turn over possession and leave them exposed. If Seattle can escape the challenge that is immediately coming for them (without being fouled or losing possession), it is off to races. It’s always a question if they can capitalize on those chances before Opara gets back to do something crazy or Melia saves the day.
SaH: Last year, after the Dwyer trade, Sporting had problems scoring. They solved this by adding central midfielder Felipe Gutiérrez and I’m confused.
tBT: It must be noted that SKC couldn’t score with Dwyer either. But you feel the same as many people in KC felt. Vermes kept adding player after player... but fans were just tapping their toes waiting for that DP striker. That is what the club promised and that is what they have continued to pursue.
But beyond Felipe they brought in Johnny Russell, Khiry Shelton & Yohan Croizet (craw-zay). Russell only has 2 goals so far but he’s been brilliant and done so much much to turn things around. More assists and goals will be coming from him. Khiry Shelton has yet to get that first goal, but he has been an absolute dream for Vermes in every other aspect. That is why he locked down the starting job over Rubio. He’s provided strength and height. His hold up play has been fantastic and he creates so much for all the attacking prowess around him. Croizet has been a disappointment thus far when you look at his DP price tag. However when the leading scorer, maestro, & MVP Gutiérrez missed last match against LA, he filled in and the team was still able to play their game. It looks like he will get the start again with Felipe still dealing with an injury.
It isn’t just the new guys. Espinoza has been much more involved in the attack this year. In front of him, the departure of Feilhaber and addition of fresher legs in Gutiérrez perhaps means Roger is more free this year. Benny worked hard and tracked back when needed, but Felipe simply covers more ground and provides more support. The progression of Daniel Salloi has also been key. The homegrown Hungarian flipped a mental switch when all this new talent was brought in. He has shown some real fire to earn his starting spot on the wing and I’m looking for him to hit double digit goals this year.
On top of all that, Vermes has the luxury of guys like Gerso and Rubio to bring off the bench. Rubio was the starting striker last year and Gerso was the team’s Offensive Player of the Year last year.
SaH: Has Peter Vermes instituted a new style, or are the high possession, high shots, poor defense stats more a short term blip?
tBT: The high possession and high shots were there last year — the difference is they couldn’t actually score. But the defense is what seemed to have changed. This team does have something of a different look to them. With a new attacking midfielder any team is going play slightly different. Moreover Khiry plays a different game than both Dwyer and Rubio last year. But there is also a lot of versatility on the field. They are more fluid and guys are given the ability to roam. Amazingly, it isn’t really always the rigid Vermes 4-3-3.
After two straight shutouts, it looks like the defensive stats were more of a blip than bigger issues. They played some quality teams and had poor luck, but it was also always going to take time for all the new players to learn to work with each other and fit Vermes’ system. I think last week we saw a team that has learned to play as a unit and also a team that got very lucky several times.
Projected lineup: Melia; Zusi, Opara, Besler, Medranda; Ilie, Espinoza, Croizet; Salloi, Shelton, Russell
I’ll go with a 4-1 Sporting KC win. Because predictions are stupid and so are the Sounders. ;)
tBT: I know there would be plenty of SKC fans in full-on panic mode after the start Seattle has had. How is everyone doing over there?
SaH: Things are pretty rough. It is the third straight season with a slow start. Each year has different reasons, but there is a significant portion of the fanbase that is uncomfortable paying for a portion of the season that it seems the Sounders front office is disinterested in winning. Combine that with a lack of rumors for a big signing in attack and the frustrations are mounting. In a rather vibrant online community the angry voices are loudest. Right now they are quite loud and it will take more than a single win to placate them, and with the number of injuries and suspensions this isn’t a team likely to get a win for a while.
tBT: Clint Dempsey has been suspended for the match... three weeks after the fact. What is that all about?
SaH: It’s about... it’s about a lot of things. It’s about Clint’s history on the edge of acceptable actions towards other players (sometimes violent). It’s about Dempsey’s history of a lack of respect for the referees in CONCACAF. It’s about an authority that wants to prove a point, and that by doing so will punish other players, staff and fans throughout America. It’s about petty actions. It’s about MLS not being able to get out of its own way. It’s about Clint not being able to get out of his own way.
It’s a microcosm of this early 2018 in Seattle and the rapidly dying embers of hope.
tBT: Victor Rodriguez and Jordan Morris are injured, and the Sounders will be without Dempsey again. A thinned out attacking core has left Will Bruin alone up top. Do you expect Schmetzer to mix things up on Sunday in order to get that first goal of the season?
SaH: If Dempsey was around maybe Schmetzer tries a diamond, but Clint isn’t around, plus their weakness at right back because Kelvin Leerdam slapped a dude. And there is injury to key players (Morris, Rodriguez, Shipp, Kim). The good news is that Osvaldo Alonso is probably able to be a sub. Between injury and suspension the Sounders are in a deep hole. Both of these things are part of the cause to the slow start (lack of a significant scoring threat is another). There is not a tactical answer when a USL stalwart is at right back and an 18-year-old HGP who should be getting USL is a starting attacking player. Tactics cannot make up for those holes. Grit might be able to do it, and maybe a bit of the history between these clubs and the late goals that have decided winners must be what Seattle holds onto on Sunday.
Lineup and also score if you like: Frei; Nouhou, Marshall, Torres, McCrary; Svensson, Roldan; Bwana, Lodeiro, Wolff; Bruin
Seattle won’t score. They may be able to hold SKC to no goals.