The Sounders are getting ready to start what is effectively a four-game road trip. That’s the longest in the team’s MLS history. The first of those games is on Saturday, against the Philadelphia Union who have the best points per game in the Eastern Conference.
Looking at the four-game trip holistically, how many points do you feel like the Sounders need?
Mark Kastner: I think 4 points from the first two is crucial, considering they’ll basically roll out the Tacoma Defiance for the Dallas and Montreal games. Anything over 4 points is really good, I think. It’s possible they win the next two, though.
Tim Foss: I’m basically of the same mind. The cliché is that you need to win at home and draw on the road, so 4 points is what they need to get, and anything over that is a bonus. I’d love to win these next two, especially with the context of the following two games and the historical weirdness of games against the Union.
Jeremiah Oshan: I feel like 4 points is the bare minimum the Sounders need and my very strong preference is that they get those in these first two games, mainly because the lineups in the final two are looking like they will be kinda scraped together. That said, I don’t think the Sounders can afford to take the mentality that a point on the road is good enough in general. The last two years, the top teams in the league have taken anywhere from 27-32 points from their road games. If the Sounders are going to compete for the Supporters’ Shield, I think they probably need to average at least 1.5 per road game and probably better than that.
Mark: In terms of road games, though, these next two are very winnable for the Sounders. Philly is tough, but SKC might as well rename their team Hospital FC.
Tim: It’s not unreasonable to think they could come away from this road trip with 6 or 7 points, and I definitely feel like they could get 6 of those from these first two games. I know they’ve got some three-game road trips later in the season as well, but I don’t think it’s the worst thing if they do the minimum expected during what seems like they could be the dark times of the season in terms of player health and availability.
Let me flip this on its head … how much does the nightmare scenario of 0 points in four games change your perspective on the season?
Mark: I think it would pretty much eliminate any good will the team has built up by getting off to a flying start. I think if they lose four straight, they’ll no longer be in the conversation for the Supporters’ Shield and it makes the margins a lot thinner heading into the final months of the season. It will feel like the Sounders would need their typical late-season push, even if the math doesn’t quite necessitate that.
Tim: Suddenly the team is on, what?, a 9-points-in-10-games run? I think that a Supporters’ Shield challenge is out of the question, and it does start to feel like real questions need to be asked and answered.
That also assumes that no new injuries come up and news hasn’t gotten worse about current injuries. I think there’s real potential for what seems like a crisis if they don’t bring any points home from this run of games.
Jeremiah: I think that’s all totally fair, in part because at least for the next two games the excuses of being exceptionally short-handed doesn’t really apply. I should say, though, that I don’t think it’s very likely.
Mark: “This team hates losing.” - Brian Schmetzer - Mark Kastner
Tim: No part of me believes they’ll go 0 for 4 in these games. There’s too much talent on the team for that to happen, frankly.
Jeremiah: I guess now is a good time to remind everyone that for as bad as things were last year, they never lost four straight and the only time they claimed fewer than three points in any four-game stretch was the first four games of the season. In fact, they’ve never lost four straight under Schmetzer and they went 1-0-2 during their only three-game road trip last year.
Mark: That’s calming information.
Let’s look at the first game. Which players do you think are most in need of a day off after playing three games in eight days?
Mark: Can I say none? I think I’m going to say none. But, I would consider resting Raúl Ruidíaz considering his recent injury. Plus I think Will Bruin needs some game time. I also really like the idea of bringing on Ruidíaz with 30 minutes to go.
Tim: I would probably only list Brad Smith there, and even that is less about needing a rest and more that I think you could rest him if you wanted. I think however you split time between Bruin and Ruidíaz you’re going to be all right, but I like the idea of starting Bruin and bringing on Ruidíaz to run at a tired defense (as you mentioned on the podcast).
Mark: I did mention that on the podcast, thanks for listening.
Jeremiah: I don’t really have anything super insightful to add to this, only that I agree on both counts. I’ll add that I kinda like the idea of bringing both Smith and Ruidíaz off the bench for the same reason, though, as both have very capable backups and letting them run at tired legs for 30 minutes seems like a splendid idea.
Tim: I think you also kind of need to give Nouhou a start every now and then to keep up his focus and sharpness, and now is as good a time as any.
It’s notable that no one mentioned giving Roman Torres the day off, despite his fitness not always seeming up to par. Is that a commentary on an increased trust in him or more about a lack of faith in the backup options?
Mark: For me it’s my increased trust in him.
Tim: I think his fitness lately has looked good enough that I am more comfortable running him out again than I am with starting Jonathan Campbell in his place.
Jeremiah: That’s a very nice way of putting it. At the same time I wonder if Saad Abdul-Salaam is worth a look at centerback? He’s mostly played right back with the Defiance and Sounders, but he did play a little centerback during preseason, made at least one start there for Defiance and was very good in his one start on the first team, albeit at right back.
Mark: I would rather try that experiment out when it’s required rather than before.
Tim: Agreed. I’d be more inclined to give that a shot against SKC and the 9 healthy players that they have right now.
The Union aren’t a team I can really talk about with any knowledge or confidence, but they’re probably not leading the East because they’re trash. I’d rather play as strong of a lineup as possible, excepting a Bruin start, even if it means Torres plays on short rest.
Let’s assume the nightmare scenario of 10-11 players missing the final two games of the road trip for international duty. How realistic is it to you that the Sounders can get a result in either game?
Mark: I suppose anything is possible. Montreal is a weird team, and Dallas could be without some key players as well. I would not expect anything, though.
However, if the Sounders manage to lose one of these next two games, I like the chances of the Sounders rebounding. But, I don’t know. It doesn’t seem likely.
Tim: I think Dallas have been kind of bad (ed.: They’ve lost three straight since Paxton Pomykal left to be with the United States U20 team)? And if they have any players missing through call-ups or injury, it’s pretty quickly the Tacoma Defiance+ vs. whoever matriculated through the Dallas academy without being swooped by a foreign club. I could see any sort of wildness happen in either game, and think Dallas is the more likely place to get a result. I also remember when Seattle became the first MLS team to win in México in CCL with a B- squad, so to quote the Greatest Film of Our Time, Angels in the Outfield, “hey, it could happen.”
May the ghost of Flaco Fernández give them strength. (I know he’s alive)