Jeremiah Oshan: Back when the schedule came out, we identified May 11-June 5 as the first “tricky” part of the Sounders schedule. I think when most people looked at the schedule, they saw these first six (it was originally seven) games as being the softest portion. The team has handled that about as well as we could have hoped with 16 of a possible 18 points. But truthfully these next four are pretty tricky in their own respect. Over the next couple weeks, the Sounders will play LAFC twice (away and home), host the San Jose Earthquakes (midweek) and visit Minnesota United’s newly opened stadium. What’s the minimum number of points you think they need to maintain what I assume is your current level of optimism?
Mark Kastner: I think if they go 1-1-2, that’s ... OK
Steve Voght: I agree with Mark, 5 points would be fine, and anything above that is fantastic.
Mark: I would feel fine with that. As along as the one loss is away at LAFC. If the team somehow escapes LA without a loss, then I have a different answer.
Jeremiah: I would agree that 1-1-2 is “OK” but I’m assuming you consider the Sounders one of the Supporters’ Shield favorites. Would potentially only beating the Quakes at home allow you to maintain that belief?
Mark: Yeah, I think it would. LAFC is the best team in the league and Minnesota United is a playoff contender in the West. There’s no shame in only winning one of those four.
Jeremiah: I think the Sounders need six points from those games for me to feel like this is a real Supporters’ Shield contender, just because I think it’s important to beat LAFC at home, maybe even more than tying them on the road or getting points from the Loons. The Quakes game is an absolute must-win, obviously.
Mark: Wins are always good. 2-2-0 is better than 1-1-2, after all.
Steve: For me a big question is whether Raul Ruidiaz is healthy and able to play on short rest. We’ve seen the Sounders find ways to win without him thus far, but going up against stronger defenses will present new challenges.
Jeremiah: That dovetails nicely into my next question: Would you rather the Sounders rest Ruidiaz on the road and have him available for the two home games or play him at LAFC, rest him at home against the Quakes, and then play him at home against LAFC?
Mark: If the assumption is that he’s only available for two of the next three games, then I’d want him to play the two home games. Resting him in LA and approaching the game with a “Bunker and counter” approach is fine by me.
Steve: Agreed. With this tough stretch ahead, thrashing San Jose — ideally with Ruidiaz scoring a few goals — could help build momentum.
Mark: However, I think he probably plays in all three. That’s just a hunch.
Jeremiah: Obviously three is the preference, but I think I would feel better about him playing on full rest in two games rather than on short rest in one game. I think Bruin is perfectly suited to play against the Quakes, plus he’s unlikely to be available on Sunday. That said, let’s assume the Sounders need to do SOME rotation during that three-game stretch. Which are the players you think could use a rest and which games would you want them rested in?
Steve: The obvious first name that comes to mind is Chad Marshall, who I would expect to be rested against San Jose.
Mark: Marshall didn’t have the best game against TFC. I’m fine with resting him at least once. Maybe Gustav Svensson and/or Victor Rodriguez. But also, I think Nouhou needs some first-team minutes to keep him engaged. I wonder how the coaching staff will manage that one with Brad Smith playing insanely well.
Jeremiah: One idea I saw floated was using Nouhou on the road against LAFC with the idea of shutting down Vela’s preferred side. What do you think?
Steve: If the team wants to approach that game with more of a bunkering strategy, it’s not a bad idea.
Mark: I like that, but that means sacrificing one of Morris, Rodriguez, or Smith. I guess that’s okay.
Jeremiah: So, which players do you think can be reasonably relied upon to play all three games?
Mark: Nico, Roldan, Kim, Frei, and Leerdam.
Steve: I would add Morris to that list.
Jeremiah: Would you say your preference is to mix and match the lineups otherwise or do you think most of the rest should be given to either the LAFC or Quakes game?
Mark: I would rather them pick the Quakes game to rest players. A lot like how they were going to approach the since cancelled Colorado game.
Steve: My first instinct would be to prioritize rest for the Quakes game, but that could be a trap of looking at their lousy record and the fact that it’s midweek, when really Seattle should go for the kill and secure the most likely three points in this stretch. Escaping from LA on Sunday with any points makes this an easier decision for me to say let’s rest players on Wednesday.
Jeremiah: I have talked myself into wanting to see Nouhou on Sunday against LAFC and letting Smith run at the man-marking Quakes; I want Marshall for LAFC and Roman Torres for Quakes; Svensson for LAFC and Jordy Delem for Quakes; I’ll take Harry Shipp for LAFC and Rodriguez for Quakes; and then Ruidiaz for LAFC and Bruin for Quakes. Obviously I want a full first-choice team for the home game against LAFC. It’s a bit mix and match but think gives the Sounders enough potential firepower to compete in all three games.