What You’ll Watch
The Seattle Sounders will welcome D.C. United to CenturyLink Field for their one and only meeting in 2018. Last season, Seattle came back from a 3-0 deficit to shock United 4-3, with all four goals scored in the second half. This is a much different team and a much different year. It has been exactly one month since the last time the Sounders scored a goal in league play.
D.C. United is currently in last place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 2-5-3 (nine points in 10 games played; 0.9 ppg) while the Sounders are tied for last in the Western Conference with a record of 2-7-2 (eight points in 11 games played; 0.73). Seattle is coming off a 2-1 (ET) loss to Sacramento Republic FC Wednesday night in fourth round action of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. D.C. United last played this past Tuesday in their 1(4)-1(3) win over North Carolina FC.
This will be the 13th all-time meeting between the clubs and Seattle holds an 8-2-2 advantage, with 22 goals scored and 12 conceded. The Sounders are 4-1-1 at home in the series with 15 goals scored and nine conceded. They will be looking for their sixth straight win against United.
A Look at the Enemy
Last Five: W-L-L-W-D with nine goals scored and eight conceded
Leading Scorer: Darren Mattocks, five goals (four on the road)
Assist Leader: Luciano Acosta; five assists (four on the road)
Injury Report, Suspensions and International Duty
United has four players listed as out; Taylor Kemp (groin injury), Russell Canouse (knee injury), Chris Odoi-Atsem (calf injury) and Ulises Segura (knee injury); Defender Nick DeLeon (undisclosed injury) is listed as questionable.
Seattle has two players listed as out officially on the league’s injury report; Jordan Morris (torn ACL) and Osvaldo Alonso (left quad strain). Lamar Neagle will more than likely not be available having to be subbed out in the first half with a groin injury. Midfielder Handwalla Bwana (right foot injury) is listed as questionable.
Both Roman Torres and Gustav Svensson are away with their respective national teams as the 2018 World Cup is nearing. The Sounders should have Nicolas Lodeiro available as he did not make the 23-man roster for Uruguay.
Referee: Sorin Stoica
AR1: Ian Anderson
AR2: Jose Da Silva
4TH: Daniel Radford
VAR: Younes Marrakchi
What To Watch
DC United’s system
This year’s edition isn’t quite as hopeless as last year’s, but the youth movement is in full swing in the nation’s capitol - this has, unsurprisingly, led to a good number of growing pains. Only one of the ten regular field players breaks the age of 30, and over half are under 25. Head coach Ben Olsen has primarily rollled out a 4-1-4-1 with 18 year old Chris Durkin holding down the fort as the lone defensive midfielder (though he’s sometimes spelled by Ian Harkes).
The defense is steady, if not necessarily brilliant, in the center with Steve Birnbaum and Frederic Brillant having both play every minute this season. The outside backs, Nick DeLeon and Oniel Fisher, are not going to make any all-star games. Fans should be well familiar with the risks Fisher is willing to take on the field, while DeLeon is generally more cautious and joins the attack less.
We will focus in on Durkin right away because he’s really the determining factor in how their defense holds up and whether they’re able to transition properly into a well-balanced attack. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, periods of very good play, and at times he’s looked exactly like an 18 year old playing against seasoned professionals. He’s almost certainly going to be very good, but there’s a lot being asked of him right now and he’s only barely this side of ready for it.
He’ll rarely venture past midfield; his primary function is to sit deep and in transition get the ball to Paul Arriola and Luciano Acosta to let them do the work. Where they do their work is very much an opponent-driven question. That is to say, Olsen is happy to direct them to push more to a particular vertical depending on the opposing team’s weaknesses. An evenly balanced band of four means it’s tough to exactly determine where that’s going to go.
Most of the shots will come from either the forward or one of the wingers in Yamil Asad and Zoltan Stieber. Both are fairly significant acquisitions from the off-season, and were brought in to be spearheads of the attack. While they have the potential to be the piercing arrows, both have struggled to turn that into a reality. Much like Real Salt Lake, there’s upper-middle talent, but no player to push the team over the hump into truly scary.
The forward position is a bit of a difficult one for the Black and Red. Darren Mattocks isn’t really a hold-up forward and Patrick Mullins is, but Mattocks is scoring goals and Mullins isn’t. The speed of the midfield line has covered for enough of this so he doesn’t need to hold the ball up for long, but it’s clearly a spot they’re looking to improve by the opening of the summer window.
While the team has scored twice as many goals as Seattle, that’s not exactly a thing teams are going around bragging about - that still puts them tied for next to last in the league. There are a lot of pieces that look good on paper that haven’t quite gelled, but when they do sync up - a thing becoming more and more frequent - they’re able to threaten quite well.
- Froth the middle - Pulling Durkin side to side helps pull the wingers back to cover the inevitable space. This isn’t the Houston Dynamo, the wingers will come back. Force him to change directions often and you’ll also begin to pull the defensive line apart at the back. The Sounders likely won’t have a ton of success running directly at him, but aggressive switches between the channels should sufficiently muddy the waters that United begins to struggle with keeping their defensive assignments straight.
- Take shots. Put shots on frame. - Seattle’s offense has ricocheted from taking a bunch of ill-advised or speculative shots to just not bothering to shoot. Neither is a particularly successful method of scoring any goals. The return of Nicolas Lodeiro and Victor Rodriguez to the starting lineup should help both of these things for everyone tremendously.
- Enjoy yourself! - the last month, in particular, has been incredibly hard for the players. It’s clear in their movement, decision making, and reactions, that they’re not playing loose or instinctively. This definitely isn’t a cure-all, but it will at least make things more watchable and palatable for everyone, players most of all.
Prediction: Sounders 2 - 1 DC United
How to Watch
Date/Time: June 9 @ 7:00 pm
Location: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA
TV: JOEtv, Univision-Seattle
Streaming: YouTube TV
Radio: 950 KJR AM (English); El Rey 1360AM (Spanish)