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Sounders at NYCFC, CCL semifinals: Three Questions

Leg 2 of the CCL is at 6:00 PM PT on FS1 & TUDN. Seattle enters with a 3-1 lead in the two-leg tie.

Sounders are a few more steps from a great opportunity.
Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

When a draw gives a team an opportunistic path they must still win those matches. So far, the Seattle Sounders have done just that in the 2022 Concacaf Champions League. They beat Motagua, León, and New York City FC (in leg 1). They are a single, massive 90 minutes from making the CCL finals against UNAM Pumas.

To advance to that series, Brian Schmetzer’s team can win, draw, or lose by two goals or fewer as long as they score (a 3-1 loss would force penalties). The math is in Seattle’s favor. To make things even harder for NYCFC, the blues of the city have to play at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey.

Hudson River Blue does awesome work. They’ve covered the injuries, the move to Red Bull Arena for this game, and even put out a plan on how the club could beat the Sounders. Oliver does a great job.

Soccer is a funny thing. It establishes community and connection to people you may never meet without it. For that reason, this set of Three Questions is with Raf, founder of HRB and a fellow veteran who I only met because of the beautiful game.

SaH: What changes when NYCFC has to play a home game in another area stadium? Different tactics, vibe from the players, different fan vibe?

HRB: A few things. Say what you will about Yankee Stadium — and you can say a lot! — but it’s “home”. Red Bull Arena is an amazing stadium; I’d still rank it as the best soccer stadium in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic. But it’s not “home”. The field is bigger, and so the way you play has to adapt to that. Since the field is much smaller at Yankee Stadium, you can force turnovers much more easily.

Moreover, fairly or not, New York City fans don’t “travel” well. Going to Red Bull Arena from anywhere other than lower Manhattan is a chore, thanks to the vagaries of public transit. When you add to that the fact that the game is happening at 9 PM, you’ve got a recipe for basically playing a game in what’s going to feel a bit like a neutral ground, with a loud contingent of Sounders fans.

SaH: With that away goal, the Pigeons can have a bit of confidence if they can keep Seattle to zero or one goal. Do they have the defense to do so?

HRB: Yes, but not if they play Thiago Martins. The 27-year-old defender, signed on a DP contract this offseason, hasn’t jelled well with his centerback partner Alex Callens. He was directly at fault for all three Sounders goals; while I’d say the VAR penalty decision was harsh, it was Martins’ foul on Raúl Ruidíaz that led to that decision.

But it’s not just Martins; the backline hasn’t been as solid as it was previously. They clearly miss Anton Tinnerholm at right back, who’s still recovering from injury; Malte Amundsen is good offensively, but he’s been mediocre at best defensively at left back. It’s been over a month since they’ve kept a clean sheet. They’re capable of it, but they’ll have to play more cohesively.

SaH: Ronnie Deila seems to have a nearly full selection of players. There’s no way he doesn’t throw everything into leg 2 and worry about RSL later, right?

HRB: I would hope so! Opportunities to play for a continental title simply don’t come along very often. The way you know that the Sounders are a dynastic team in MLS right now is that they repeatedly feature in CCL.

NYCFC has the talent and organizational acumen to do that, I think. The big hurdle — as it was for Seattle — was winning MLS Cup. They’ve done that, and now they need to take advantage.

So, about Wednesday night: I don’t think there’s any doubt that Seattle is a “better” team than New York City; we can argue about talent levels (I think the Pigeons have more “natural” talent), but in terms of team cohesion and maximizing the roster talent, the Sounders are ahead of New York City.

If I were Ronny Deila, I’d field my strongest potential 11. Given that both Maxi Moralez and Maxime Chanot aren’t going to play, that potential starting lineup will almost certainly be the same as last week’s. That lineup was good enough to grab an away goal; I doubt it’s good enough to beat Seattle.

For that to happen, Thiago Martins has to play exponentially better than he has all season. Malte Amundsen needs to provide defensively as well as offensively. New York City will have to figure out a way to break Seattle’s press, which they weren’t able to do last week.

In short: a lot of things have to go right tomorrow night…and I just don’t see it happening. I think NYCFC will play better, because they’re not traveling, and they’re somewhat familiar with Red Bull Arena. They may even beat Seattle on the night! But they don’t just have to win tomorrow, they have to keep the Sounders off the board. And that’s where they’ll come up short.

There’s not a Reverse. That’s on me. I used the match to reconnect with a friend and learn about the team he follows. Again, read Hudson River Blue, there’s like a dozen CCL stories in the past week.

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