Let’s not waste your Saturday morning with extra words. You know that Seattle Sounders are hosting Columbus Crew at 1 p.m. You have questions. We have answers.
Patrick Murphy from Massive Report answers Three Questions. They were exchanged between Thursday and Saturday (because I forgot to answer a question).
SaH: Gyasi Zardes is back to scoring goals. What did Berhalter do to get him to be effective again?
MR: I think for one, he’s playing him at forward. The Galaxy used him in so many different spots towards the end of his time in LA, it was hard to get comfortable, much less score. Also, Zardes is healthy, which was not the case last year.
Ultimately though, I think you’re seeing how Crew SC’s system is very forward friendly. While Ola Kamara is obviously doing well in LA, it doesn’t seem like he’s getting the chances he got in Columbus. Berhalter’s system is all about getting the forward opportunities and Zardes is the latest beneficiary.
SaH: Justin Meram is gone. Who is replacing his production?
MR: That’s been a big question mark so far this year. Obviously Zardes is scoring goals, but the Black & Gold need production from other places. Pedro Santos, who came in during the summer transfer window last year, is an offensive spark plug, but is yet to find the scoring punch that Meram provided. Both Cristian Martinez and Niko Hansen have played that winger spot opposite Santos, but both are young and inconsistent. Crew SC signed Mike Grella this offseason and he’s the most likely guy to help replace Meram. But he’s coming back from a bad knee injury and just made his first appearance last week. Of course, he also scored the game-winning goal, so that’s a positive sign.
SaH: Is Berhalter still a possession-centric coach on the road?
MR: Yes, Berhalter has not changed in that sense. The one thing I will say is that he is more adaptable than he was in his first two or so years in charge in Columbus. This team has been willing to concede possession sometimes on the road and play a bit more counter-attacking soccer at times. But ultimately, the Black & Gold want to possess the ball and attack the opposition and don’t change that tactic all that much, road or home.
SaH: What’s going on with Precourt trying to move the team?
MR: This is a very complicated question with a lot of moving parts. As it stands now, the city is suing Precourt and MLS for a law the state put in place after the Cleveland Browns left for Baltimore in the middle of the night, essentially saying any sports franchise that uses tax-payer money can’t just up and move. They have to give six months notice and listen to offers from local businesses. This law has never been tested and there’s no real sense whether it’s constitutional or not (Precourt obviously doesn’t believe it is). We’ll see how far this goes, but the hope is it helps get a local owner and keeps the team in Columbus.
On the other side, Austin, as a city, seems very indifferent to MLS. There are certainly some people who want it, but there’s not nearly the level of support as in other cities looking for an MLS expansion bid. Two stadium sites have already been shot down and the third is a former waste site that’s well outside the city. That site hasn’t been approved yet, either.
Basically, it remains a huge mess.
Projected lineup: This is tough because Crew SC starts a stretch of three games in eight days and I could see some squad rotation in the road game (both the other two are at home and against Eastern Conference teams). But I’ll give it a guess:
Harrison Afful-Jonathan Mensah-Lalas Abubakar-Milton Valenzuela
Niko Hansen-Artur-Wil Trapp-Pedro Santos
MR: It’s obviously not the start to the season the Sounders would have liked. First, what do you attribute that to? Second, is this a major concern or are the last two years’ runs enough to not have fans worried at this point?
SaH: It’s the third straight year with a slow start. Fans, especially those that are the most vocal, are understandably upset. Yes, the last two years were good to great. History was made in 2016 and to get back with the prize within reach in ‘17 was amazing. This is a new year, with new problems. Some of those problems are by choice -- Seattle played their first three matches down a man for some portion, and had three players miss four games due to red card suspension. Other problems the soccer side of things have less influence over -- the injury list is massive. DPs Nicolas Lodeiro and Osvaldo Alonso missed time. TAM players like Magnus Wolff Eikrem, Victor Rodriguez, Roman Torres, Kelvin Leerdam and Kim Kee-Hee missed time. The best defender in league history missed time (it’s former Crew player Chad Marshall). The highest paid HGP of all time is out for the year. Typical MLS players like Will Bruin, Harry Shipp, Waylon Francis and Henry Wingo have also missed time due to injury. Saturday will be Seattle’s seventh league game of 2018. Their total injured list looks better than the squad that went to MLS Cup two years in a row.
MR: How has the loss of Jordan Morris for the season impacted this Seattle team?
SaH: With 2016 Jordan Morris and 2017 Will Bruin the Seattle Sounders had a strong forward tandem for either a lone forward system or for a diamond. Without Morris they lack bodies, significantly. There are only two non-Bruin players able to play forward. Clint Dempsey (we’ll get deeper into this in a bit) can play there once in a while but shouldn’t be counted on for long stretches. Lamar Neagle is far enough along in his career that he is merely a late sub in this role.
What that means is that Seattle’s offense must get scoring threats from the attacking band. When healthy (ugh) Nicolas Lodeiro, Victor Rodriguez and Magnus Wolff Eikrem should be able to get goals hanging out with Dempsey. With two Roldans and a couple HGPs in Wingo and Bwana there’s reason to believe/hope that the midfield can bear that responsibility, when healthy (ugh). But they aren’t healthy, or fit. Rodriguez just went under surgery on his knee. Wingo had surgery on his hand. Wolff isn’t fit enough to start regularly, so the burden is now on a bunch of guys that could be on U23 squads (or younger).
There’s no help coming until July either. It’s a frustrating set of dice rolls, but just maybe Sounders can grind through it and get to that red line in time for reinforcements.
MR: At 35 years old, Clint Dempsey is no longer a spring chicken. How has his game changed/evolved to compensate for Father Time?
SaH: Clint is less active on defense than he used to be, even then he wasn’t very active. He gets pulled from games, sometimes doesn’t start. His off ball runs are less frequent, and not as a long. Even his touch isn’t what it once was. While this may not be Clint Dempsey’s last year this is the year where it is become obvious that one of America’s greatest is fading away. He’s still a threat, but is now not a DP based on what he does on the field.
Of course, Dempsey still feeds off doubt, so if someone puts this in front of him he will perform well. With a midweek game upcoming it is likely that he doesn’t go 90 or even 75.
A projected lineup as well, please.
Stefan Frei; Nouhou, Chad Marshall, Kim Kee-Hee, Kelvin Leerdam; Gustav Svensson, Osvaldo Alonso; Cristian Roldan, Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro; Will Bruin
That’s a wild guess, as Lodeiro has been practicing inside all week and Seattle’s next two games are on the road. Schmetzer needs a home win so can’t afford to rest bodies at this point. Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Alex Roldan might find themselves starting for players like Lodeiro and Dempsey.