After their win over T2 in the Open Cup the Seattle Sounders FC 2 head down to SoCal to take on the Orange County Blues FC. The 7 PM match at Anteater Stadium (YouTube) features two of the best in USL's West. Where S2 succeeds based on a perfect home record and strong offense the Blues are a defensive squad that is 3-2-0 when hosting.
Alicia from The Goat Parade answers Three Questions
SaH: Slager had significant success against S2. What's his future look like?
tGP: Denzel Slager clearly appears to be the best MLS prospect among the Blues. Since he's an international player, that could give some MLS teams pause, and he still needs some polishing on his game, but I think he's at least as good as some of the super-fast wingers kicking around MLS teams at present. The Dutch-born Slager is also capable of both shooting on frame and hitting good crosses from the sideline, so he has some versatility to his game. I think if he continues to play as well as he has so far since joining the Blues, he should get a serious look from MLS teams before long.
SaH: Orange County, Louisville and Rochester are the only USL sides giving up less than a goal a game. In the Blues case is it due to leaning on more developed players than owned sides?
tGP: That's a good question. The part of the team that has stayed most intact from the big rebuilding project in the offseason was the defense, with goalkeeper Pepe Miranda and defenders Brenton Griffiths and Josh Suggs returning veterans getting the bulk of the minutes to date this year. Miranda's 28, Suggs is 26, and Griffiths is the relative newcomer at just 23, so there's something to be said for the experience of the players involved, no question.
At the same time, I think there's also something to be said for the relative stability of the lineup without having an MLS affiliate. Blues coach Oliver Wyss is rotating his squad, as is the norm for all USL teams, but he also has the advantage of training with his squad every single day, which I would think would help in setting up his tactics and getting the players on the same page come game time.
SaH: What will the USOC loss mean for the squad in the game?
tGP: In the short term, the Open Cup loss last week to PSA Elite means Orange County had a week-plus bye ahead of this game against S2. I think it's clear the loss was a disappointment, but on the bright side, the Blues can now pay complete attention to the league campaign, which is going well so far. They also played well coming out of their last bye, and if Didier Crettenand is healthy again for this game, that should boost the Blues and dramatically improve their chances of getting a result against S2. As for the USOC, I suppose it's better luck next year.
tGP: Sounders 2 are currently leading the West, and look like they're for real in their debut season. How have they been doing since they last met the OC Blues?
SaH: S2 really struggle on the road. They did finally win a road game (2-0 over T2), but it's not like that one result overrides their defensive issues. Only Arizona is currently in the Playoffs while giving up more goals. It's a problem with a few causes. Sanyang has been injured so the defensive midfield is empty (other CMs are mostly b2b or CAM types). They also lack depth at fullback, so much so that an Academy CB played at right back. Aaron Long is also often at full back, and he doesn't have the mobility to defend well out there. Long is CDM/CB type, so that's not surprising.
tGP: S2 played 120 minutes on Wednesday in the U.S. Open Cup, although they did end up notching a victory in the end. Any concerns about tired legs against the Blues? It seemed like many of the participants midweek aren't regular contributors in USL.
SaH: The first team held several of their loanees out of the Open Cup matches. Solid contributors like Jimmy Ockford (CB/RB), Darwin Jones (F/LW) and Aaron Kovar (LM) did not participate at all in the Open Cup and could/should see time in USL play. There are some questions regarding Kovar, since he was in the 18 for the midweek MLS match. They also didn't use their starting keeper with a U18 getting the start in the Cup competition. It looks like they managed the squad rotation correctly. They were the only owned side that advanced and they have rested legs on some of their most talented players.
tGP: If there's been any drawbacks so far, Seattle has had some troubles on the road. After beating Timbers 2 in the last road game, however, are those issues behind S2?
SaH: Nope. For whatever reason the defense gets a touch worse and the offense isn't potent when this team travels. Some of it may be because the team is so young. Only one player with more than one appearance is over the age of 23 (Garza). Five players with more than 100 minutes are under the age of 20. Only one of those is an Academy player. It wouldn't be a surprise that a young side struggles on the road. Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal all heavily use the Academy players on their 2s and all also struggle on the road. This is probably a trend. In fact no 2 has won two matches on the road.
(Bonus) Prediction for Saturday's game? 2-3 loss.