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Scouting Report: It’s Hat Week

Seattle plays their Eastern Conference clones. How do you defeat yourself?!

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

What You’ll Watch

The Sounders return home this weekend after a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to LAFC on the road this past week. They will welcome the Columbus Crew SC for their one and only meeting this season.

The Crew are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 4-3-2 (14 points in nine games played; 1.56 ppg) while the Sounders are last in the Western Conference with a record of 1-4-1 (four points in six games played; 0.67 ppg). Columbus is 1-2-1 on the road so far in 2018. The last time out, the Crew defeated the San Jose Earthquakes 2-1 at home.

This will be the 13th all-time meeting between the two clubs. Seattle holds a slim 5-4-3 record against the Crew with 19 goals scored and 15 conceded. The Sounders are 2-2-2 at home against Columbus, scoring ten goals and conceded eight.

A Look at the Enemy

Last Five: L-L-L-D-W with five goals scored and seven conceded

Top Goal Scorer: Gyasi Zardes, five goals

Top Assist Leader: Federico Higuain, four assists

Injury Report, Suspensions and International Duty


The Crew only have two players listed on their injury leading up to the game: Ben Lundgaard (left thumb surgery 4/4, out 4-6 weeks) is listed as out, and Eduardo Sosa (right ankle injury) is listed as questionable.


For the Sounders, you should pretty much know who won’t play, but there’s a surprise at the end: Jordan Morris (torn ACL 2/22, out for season) and Harry Shipp (right ankle sprain) are both listed as fully out. Kim Kee-Hee (right calf strain), Waylon Francis (right hamstring strain), Victor Rodriguez (right knee sprain) and Chad Marshall (neck sprain) are all listed as questionable. And, late breaking news, Roman Torres will be out for the near future with a... drumroll please... hamstring problem.

Match Officials

Referee: Hilario Grajeda

AR1: Jonathan Johnson

AR2: Eduardo Marsical

4TH: Alejandro Marsical

VAR: Rosendo Mendoza

What to Watch

Columbus’ system

The only thing different year to year with Columbus, at this point, is the name on the gears in the machine. Head coach Greg Berhalter is as much a system man as any coach in the league, our own Brian Schmetzer included.

That’s not quite a fair assessment of either one, as the 4-2-3-1 both favor is such a versatile starting point. Berhalter’s particular system asks much of its wingers and fullbacks, targeting — surprise! — wings and channels to advance the ball into the final third, where a possession mentality takes over. Only a couple teams are better at holding onto the ball (Columbus sit third in the league, averaging 55% possession on fourth-best 83% completion rate); they’re about as good at turning it into shots as Seattle is (14.8 shots per game), but they’re one of the best at taking them from strong spots, resulting in an xG/game of 1.6 (the Sounders, despite their poor record, are sitting at 1.5 xG/game).

Many laughs were had when, this offseason, Columbus traded for the poster child for blind athleticism, Gyasi Zardes, who had spent most of his pro career on the wing. Ol’ marble feet himself, however, has had a bit of a renaissance via a move to the No. 9 position, where he’s asked to do less creation and thinking, and more basic athleting. He’s been a great balance to Higuain’s intelligent, measured play, and helped give them more of a route one threat to balance the outside ball work.

That’s good, because while the outside backs have been strong in attack, the wings have been anything but. Pedro Santos, Niko Hansen, and Cristian Martinez have been pretty invisible, even against poor defenses. This has turned them back into a team that lives and dies by the Higuain, and the Sounders have the defensive chops to limit singularly focused teams.

Will Trapp, Artur, Lalas Abubakar, and Jonathan Mensah are a decent defensive square up the middle, but they struggle to handle the wider spaces vacated by fullback attacks and only Mensah is truly strong in the air. Afful and Valencia are solid attackers, but they’re not particularly special in defense. If there’s a particular plan of attack, it’s hit the wings hard and crash the box strong. Zack Steffen is one of the league’s most promising keepers, but his lack of control in the air doesn’t match up well with his defense, and that’s reflected in 24% of his goals allowed coming off headers. That’s a welcome sight for a Sounders club that will invariably try to pump crosses onto Will Bruin’s head.

Quick Keys

Play with tempo: Seattle are what they are at this point: an intelligent team lacking the foot speed to force defenses to back off and stretch out. The team clearly possesses the ability to play a quick passing, smaller space, coordinated movement game. This sort of tempo-based identity relies most on constant, smart movement. If it’s properly spaced this should allow Bruin to sit higher and maximize his chances.

Push Higuain wide: While he’s certainly capable of providing solid service from outside, pushing him wide will force Columbus to choose between compressed space and swapping one of the unproductive midfielders into the center. Seattle’s CBs should have no problem shutting down Zardes’ air game, severely limiting the effectiveness of wide service.

Crash the goal: Steffen has been very inefficient keeping the ball out: despite sporting the second best xGA among starters in the league (5.81), his GA-xGA of 3.19 is better only than Stefan Marinovic in Vancouver. There have been issues for the Sounders with getting multiple runs — that is, front and back post runs -- but getting those right Saturday is going to go a long way toward creating legitimate scoring opportunities off the cross.

How to Watch

Date/Time: May 5 at 1:00 pm

Location: CenturyLink Field

TV: JOEtv, Univision-Seattle

Streaming: YouTube TV

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

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