FC Dallas are the best Western Conference team away from home, earning 1.7 ppg on the road. Seattle is the third worst team in the West at home, earning 1.4 ppg at CenturyLink Field. If the Seattle Sounders are to go on a run that makes the playoffs, rather than just provides fun soccer, CenturyLink Field must become a place not just of refuge, but of excellence.
Fortunately Dallas self-weakened during the summer transfer window. They also have a history of fading away during the summer and fall. Seattle’s history in the summer and fall is extraordinary. After Saturday’s games the Sounders have the longest active unbeaten streak (7), and the longest active winning streak (4).
Drew Epperly from Big D Soccer answers Three Questions.
SaH: How does FC Dallas replace Mauro Diaz and Kellyn Acosta?
BDS: FC Dallas not only has had to replace Mauro Diaz this summer but they also shipped out Kellyn Acosta. Right now replacing Acosta appears to be the easier task as he fell out of favor with Oscar Pareja this season due to injuries and what appeared like poor attitude. Victor Ulloa and Jacroi Hayes have stepped up a lot this season when Acosta wasn’t around and will continue to do so. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see Homegrown midfielder Brandon Servania also get some minutes later this season. He was signed back at the beginning of the year as the true “Kellyn replacement” for the team. He’s spent a lot of time on loan in the USL this season with Tulsa.
As for replacing Diaz, that one remains to be seen. The club signed Pablo Aranguiz a couple weeks back but have yet to be able to use him. This weekend may be the first time fans get to see what he has to offer now that his paperwork has finalized and he has been training with the club. Pareja and company claim he isn’t a true like-for-like replacement of Diaz but there are a lot of characteristics that point to him being the guy to fill in for him.
SaH: Is there going to be another late-season collapse and will it start Sunday?
BDS: We’ve been asking that since last weekend’s loss to San Jose and I think this time around may be different. While playing in Seattle has never come easy for this team over the years, right now I would say this group is approaching things very differently this season. Pareja for one isn’t afraid to mix his lineups up like he was a year ago. That has helped the roster competition and morale a bit this season. Two, when the team fell to San Jose last weekend, it didn’t feel like one of the losses we saw a year ago during their long drought. That group a year ago would have put their heads down after the first San Jose goal and struggled to fight back. This group, on the other hand, fought back and nearly did it again in the second half when they were down 2-1.
SaH: Is Dallas no longer the team of youth, but the team of now? It seems they have more regulars over the age of 23 than years past.
BDS: It is kind of funny to think that most of the younger guys on the team were once teenagers that we were all waiting to see develop. But I wouldn’t say they have moved on from being a team of youth just yet. The depth of talent waiting in the wings in the Academy system is still pretty stacked and seeing as how they’ve signed two 17-year olds this year, one that got loaned out to German powerhouse Bayern Munich, tells me they aren’t done being the team of youth.
SaH: Is it time for Dallas to have a USL team in order for the dozen-ish HGPs to get the opportunity to succeed as pros?
BDS: We’ve been waiting as fans for years to get one and it appears 2019 is actually going to be the year. They’ll go differently though with a USL D3 team, which should still work nicely for what they want to do to develop these young players.
Jesse Gonzalez, Marinqhos Pedroso, Reto Ziegler, Matt Hedges, Ryan Hollingshead, Carlos Gruezo, Victor Ulloa, Michael Barrios, Roland Lamah, Dominque Bajdi, Maxi Urruti
BDS: The last time these two clubs squared off, the Sounders didn’t really look like themselves. What has changed over the last month and a half that has led to this turnaround? And why does this seem to happen every season now where the Sounders start slow and then pick up steam in the summer?
SaH: That early season the Sounders were hit by a string of red cards. Their first three games featured reds, which means four matches without hope at the coach’s choice for players. There were also many, many more injuries back then than there are now. Now they are just down to injuries to Jordan Morris (ACL), Clint Dempsey (groin or back or something) and that’s it for players likely to be out.
Getting healthy and playing smart were two keys. The third was getting a forward who changes games. Since they added Raul Ruidiaz they haven’t lost. Their 4-0-0 +6 record since his signing features three teams that were above them in the standings. The run is real.
BDS: Tell us about some of the new faces that have been brought in this summer. Did the Sounders do enough to their roster for the playoff push?
SaH: There are only two new faces. The first is the most significant. Raul Ruidiaz is a Peru international who was last with Monarcas Morelia in Liga MX. In his two years there he scored 20 goals in each full year. From 2013 to the present he’s played 139 league matches and scored 96 goals. His ability to put the ball in the net is why his transfer fee was the 6th largest paid in MLS history. What’s been as impressive is the defensive effort he puts in as well as his 87.8% pass completion rate. As a forward most of his action is far up the field, and he’s looking to push the attack. No regular forward has a better completion rate than Ruidiaz.
Brad Smith is the other new face. He’s a TAM LB/LW added from AFC Bournemouth on loan. The idea is that he’s a Joevin Jones type player who will push the attack with vertical speed no matter which position he’s used in. Sometimes that will be in the midfield and other times that will be at left back. It will be interesting to see him on the field as he has a solid history coming from Liverpool’s Academy, but injuries plagued his ability to get significant EPL time.
BDS: Despite the results early this season, Seattle still had one of the better defenses in MLS. What has attributed to that?
SaH: The defense is anchored by three players, but outside of those three the rest of the back seven has variability. The responsibility for the success of the defense starts with Stefan Frei. He’s the modern Nick Rimando in that he’s just the wrong age to enjoy national team hype and will spend nearly a decade as the best keeper in MLS who won’t ever win Keeper of the Year.
Cristian Roldan mostly plays as one of the two defensive mids (also a bit of right mid, right back, attacking mid). He doesn’t cause the fear that Osvaldo Alonso would when an opponent approaches him. He just deftly wins the ball, whether in the air or on the ground. Roldan also learned well from his mentors (Alonso, Pineda, Lodeiro) and quickly gets the ball out into the attack upon winning it.
For me the biggest key is Chad Marshall. He should again be a finalist for the Chad Marshall of the Year Award. He’s better in the air than Ike Opara, Matt Hedges and Laurent Ciman were when they won. Marshall is better than two of three in their winning seasons via interceptions. He fouls less than they did. He blocks better than they did as well. He’s doing all of this at the age of 33 on a team with the 2nd best raw Goals Against and a solid expected Goals Against. The Chad Marshall of the Year in 2018 should be Chad Marshall for a fourth time.
Projected lineup 4-2-3-1: Stefan Frei; Nouhou, Chad Marshall, Kim Kee-hee, Kelvin Leerdam; Osvaldo Alonso, Gustav Svensson; Brad Smith, Nicolas Lodeiro, Cristian Roldan; Raul Ruidiaz