Much is being made of Seattle’s run from worst to first. Over their last ten games the Sounders won eight, lost one, and drew one, including five straight wins. The most recent victory last Friday night was 2-0 in CenturyLink Field against a previous top team Real Salt Lake. Worst to first is a nice narrative, especially when it coincides with the arrival of the league’s newest super star. However, in hindsight the results are not surprising.
Teams were a combined 79-68-155 (W-D-L) at the time they played Seattle. Only 3 victories out of the eight victories were against teams with better than .500 records. FC Dallas, 8-8-5 at the time, were on the front end of a ten game winless streak. The celebrated 1-0 home victory with 67 thousand in attendance was over a Portland Timbers squad (9-12-3) without Will Johnson and Diego Chara. The best performance was their last; Seattle scored two in the first half, despite starting Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey on the bench. For how well Jason Kreis’ diamond midfield has served Real, the team is weak on the wings and Sigi Schmid exploited it.
Schmid has Seattle doing something most of the top teams in the MLS can’t do, “not play down to their opponents.” Consistency is difficult for many teams this summer. Teams that looked dead to rights by the end of June, San Jose Quakes and Columbus Crew, got themselves sniffing the fifth playoff spot due to wins over top of the table teams like New York, Montreal, Portland and Kansas City. Similar to Real, Seattle wins the games they should.
Seattle’s final seven games will determine if they are worth the hype and praise. As of today, every team on the schedule has a better than .500 and a combined 82-56-60 overall. The Sounders play three at home: RBNY, Vancouver Whitecaps, and LA Galaxy, with visits to the Galaxy, Colorado, Portland and FC Dallas.
Seattle’s advantage at this point in the season is their depth with forwards and midfielders. As Joshua Mayers from the Seattle Times put it, “Sounders have a nice problem.” It’s likely Lamar Neagle, tied for the team lead in goals (8), will be the super sub as Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins get the starts. Unless they go with a 4-3-3, then Sigi needs to choose between putting Neagle or Dempsey as the left winger. There is the option to platoon Dempsey until he reaches his full form with the team’s most creative midfield Mauro Rosales. Adding Adam Moffat this week provides playoff experience and some relief in the center for Osvaldo Alonso.
Maintaining form, finding the correct combination and making sure the team hasn’t peaked too early is the work that lays ahead for the 8-year MLS veteran coach. The ability to score on set pieces and maintain possession as a defensive strategy will be the key tactically for getting results in the final seven.
Most knew Seattle were better than their five game winless start to the season. The question is now, in the midst of this 10 game high, not when the team will revert to the mean, but where exactly is the new mean.
This Week’s Throw-In:
Real Salt Lake lost four games since the middle of July. The one common element with the teams (Sporting KC, RBNY, LA Galaxy, and Seattle Sounders) they can all attack from the flanks. The diamond midfield formation puts pressure on the fullbacks to both defend and attack from the wide position. As any USMNT fan can tell you, the US is not a hot bed to for talented wingbacks.
TFC started the process of burying their bodies, while maintaining that Europeans really want to play under Ryan Nelson. TFC is calling its own bluff by trading recently acquired “league DP” (it’s still unclear) Argentine Maximiliano Urruti to Portland for Bright Dike, a Super Draft pick, and a few dozen tiny tree air fresheners to hide the stink.
The top three in the East (RBNY, Sporting, and Montreal) have a five plus point cushion over the second-tier of five teams holding on or fighting back into playoff position. Only Chicago has a better than .500 records since the start of August (W-D-L: 4-2-2). Is Section 8 working on their Mike Magee MVP banners?