Wednesday’s midweek showdown between Orlando City and the Seattle Sounders is a matter of opposites. Both clubs have seen opposite trajectories in 2018, with the Lions leaping out to a hot start in the Eastern Conference, while Seattle was stuck in the mire of the bottom of the West table. Fortunes changed for both, though, as OCSC has steadily dropped to the bottom of the league and the Sounders have raced up to fifth in the West.
Not to mention, Seattle brings its league-leading defense to Central Florida to compete against a team that just equaled the record for goals allowed on Saturday. The Rave Green’s offense is also clicking, having scored eight goals over their last two matches while you would have to add up the Lions’ last nine games to reach that total.
Ahead of 2018’s annual bout with the Sounders, Dave Clark — a manager of SB Nation’s Sounder at Heart — stopped by to give us an update on the club from the other end of the continental United States. I’ve also answered a few of his questions, which you can find over at SaH.
Seattle has once again made a miraculous mid-season turnaround to charge into the playoff places. What changed this year to make that possible?
Dave Clark: Health and Raul Ruidiaz. The attack needed healing, and that is addressed in full in question three.
But another thing that needs noting is Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. He engenders loyalty and belief like a powerful leader. In 2016 when he took over, his soul was dedicated to a resurrection of the organization. The players entrusted to his care believed and built themselves back into greatness. Their late-season run pushed the first MLS Cup in Sounders history. In 2017, the causes for the early failure were different, but still Schmetzer guided morale so that they would never quit — they returned to MLS Cup. In 2018 the story is the same, though the causes are different. There are better tactical coaches. There are better coaches when it comes to development. There can be no doubt that every other coach in MLS cannot motivate players, organization and fans as well as Brian Schmetzer. He’s proven it three years in a row.
The Sounders defense has quietly been among the best in the league and is tied for the fewest goals allowed this year. What’s been the secret? Asking for a friend.
DC: Schmetzer believes in density on defense. At times there is an initial press, but it’s when Seattle gets set that they are truly impressive. They sit deeper than most, quite compact. They will allow a team to attack from distance, where they’ll have to beat Stefan Frei. They allow opponents to cross into an area defended by Chad Marshall and his partner, usually Kim Kee-hee. The backup center back went to the World Cup. The defensive midfield also features a World Cup attendee — Gustav Svensson. Osvaldo Alonso is fading, but still provides energy and leadership. Cristian Roldan has the motor to defend anywhere, and passes better than Alonso did at his peak.
That pentagon (GK, CB, CB, DM, DM) is the heart of the best defense in the league and at least two of them should win season end awards (Frei, Marshall).
With Jordan Morris having missed this year so far with an ACL injury and Clint Dempsey’s recent retirement, how has the team replaced their offensive production?
DC: One big reason was the mid-season addition of Raul Ruidiaz (good news, you’ll miss seeing him). The Peru World Cup forward has seven goals and an assist in just 12 appearances. The team is 10-2-0 when he takes the field. His off-ball movement is incredible, and his defense is strong from the forward role.
The other reason is health. The return of Nicolas Lodeiro and Victor Rodriguez to full health has provided an engine in the midfield that creates opportunities against strong defenses. Both are creative players who excel with the ball at their feet, but it is their ability to find spaces and claim them as their own that provides Sounders the opportunity to attack. There’s good news for Orlando fans as Nico is highly unlikely to play. Those are the three that do the magic, Seattle will have to find a way to get by with just one.
What injuries/suspensions/call-ups will keep players out this weekend and what is your projected lineup and predicted final score?
DC: There are five injuries. In order of significance they are: Jordan Morris (ACL), Harry Shipp (hamstring), Brad Smith (hamstring), Roman Torres (knee), Felix Chenkam (back surgery). There are four absences. In order of significance they are: Nicolas Lodeiro (Uruguay), Raul Ruidiaz (Peru), Gustav Svensson (Sweden), Jordy Delem (Martinique). Losing nine players is a dramatic reduction in talent and compromises will be made, especially in the attack.
Lineup: Stefan Frei; Nouhou, Chad Marshall, Kim Kee-hee, Kelvin Leerdam; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Handwalla Bwana, Victor Rodriguez, Henry Wingo, Will Bruin
The biggest question would be if Alex Roldan starts over Wingo.
(No score prediction given.)
Thanks again to Dave for taking the time to let us know more about the Sounders.