There has not been a time when so much of the narrative surrounding a Brian Schmetzer team had so much uncertainty and speculation, since perhaps his initial year after taking over for Sigi Schimd. From injuries to key players, experimenting with new formations, to what starting eleven the head coach might chose to feature, there are simply an unusual number of unanswered questions to start the season, from a Sounders unit that has found success partly based on the continuity in several of these aspects.
One of the few conclusions that has come from a rather passive training camp, it is that the Sounders are likely to play under a 3-5-2 formation, moving away from the habitual 4-2-3-1, for least for the initial portion of league play. The change is reasonable because lack of true wingers in the current roster, not to mention departures from regular contributors during the off-season and the absence of Jordan Morris for a significant amount of time.
However, what was not evident over the last month, is how cohesive this cast can play under a formation which demands more communication and tactical awareness. There seems to be a high level of confidence in what the coaching staff was able to do in a preseason that only included two non-inter quad matches; one against Savarese’s Portland Timbers and a game at Lumen Field with USL side San Diego Loyal.
Last Saturday facing San Diego, Sounders struggle in the first half to build out of the back and was at times predictable as they forced the ball to both wing backs, while there seem to be too much space between the center midfielders and both strikers. The home team did manage to find some rhythm and began putting together a series of passes to create some goal opportunities but at the end of the 90 minutes were only be able to come away with a 1-0 victory.
Defensively, despite facing an USL team that did not challenge Sounders’ three man backline, there were miscommunications and problems in transition defense starting with a young Josh Atencio who has still looks somewhat unsure to handle such a big role at midfield. Bottom line, what could have been the team’s dress rehearsal one week before facing Minnesota United, was far from impressive.
Even if Seattle was to go back to their original set up as it could easily be the case, after losing Svensson, Leerdam as well as Joiven Jones, there is no guarantee their replacements would have the chemistry that was so crucial for this team on their 2020 run to the final. That said, with a strong core group that remains intact starting with the security Stefan Frei provides, a Raul Ruidiaz that continues to be one of the most lethal strikers in Major League Soccer and Nicolas Lodeiro who has been an MVP candidate season after season it almost impossible to completely dismiss Seattle.
With an implacable record of reaching the playoffs and getting to four MLS Cup finals over the last five seasons, it is undeniable that as a franchise the bar will always be set extremely high. In all reality, where the roster currently stands, those expectations should be tamed until Garth Lagerway is able to bring in more talent to the midfield and find at least another X factor that provides some explosiveness. Sure, there are some talented players coming through the Academy pipeline as well as Tacoma Defiance but there is a developmental learning curve that Seattle cannot afford to gamble with if the goal is to be a legitimate contender in a very competitive Western Conference.
What about the new signings?
It is undeniable that 33 year-old Fredy Montero has looked great since the moment he stepped foot at Starfire Complex, he brings a playmaking ability of great value and another finisher to contribute regardless of how many minute he plays in 2021. As long as he stays healthy, the Colombian striker has every attribute to be an important asset, especially when “La Pulga” is called up to play with the Peruvian Natioinal team.
The other notable acquisition was Kelyn Rowe, an MLS veteran that although has not been able to stablish himself with a club over the last few seasons, his versatility on the field could land him plenty of minutes. During yesterday’s practice Rowe looked decisive, confident on the ball and was connecting well during a few short sided games.
Nonetheless, the blockbuster signings are not expected until the summer window, there is an obvious need for a couple of wingers and at least one more center midfielder, positions from which the club will try to sign at least one Young DP under the age of 22. Those signings are going to determine how far the emerald city team can get in all competitions but if Seattle does get off to a rough start to their campaign it is hard to see them climb beyond 5th place in the west.
Sounders vs Loons prediction?
With Nicolas Lodeiro’s almost certain absence tonight and a Sounders team that was barely challenged during the preseason, it is hard to see the home team coming out with a result against Minnesota United that are coming into Lumen Field with a motivation of revenge form last year’s loss, which cost them a spot in the MLS Cup final.
Tonight, Seattle is out matched by a midfield with talent, experience, led by Osvaldo Alonso and enhanced by ‘Bebelo’ Reynoso, assuming the hosts play under the expected 3-5-2, there is a strong probability the visiting team will exploit several of the pockets of space in between lines and break downs in transition defense seen against San Diego. If ‘Wanchope’ Abila are on tonight, this game could get out of hand in favor of Minnesota to the point Sounders could lose by 2 or 3 goals.
In soccer there are no written scripts, anything can happen, but it would be a surprising if Sounders could pull off even a tie considering where both sides stand today.