Although some of us don't hate them as much anymore, and although it can no longer be considered the biggest cross-country rivarly in MLS, Saturday night's game between D.C. United and the Seattle Sounders is in no way diminished. It's a chance for United to try to continue their road success, and it's a key match in Seattle's quest to catch the Los Angeles Galaxy for the Supporter's Shield. To help you prepare, we traded questions with Dave Clark from SB Nation's Sounders blog Sounder At Heart.
B&RU: How are the Sounders balancing MLS and CCL responsibilities? Will we be seeing your best lineup on Saturday?
S@H: I don't know that the Sounders have a "best" lineup. For players with nine or more starts in all competitions they go 19 deep. Eight of those players have three or more goals. Getting strong performances from seven different defenders as well as seven different forwards/wide mids that can score gives Seattle flexibilty in dealing with injury (Steve Zakuani, O'Brian White), card situations (Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Servando Carrasco) and the three different tournaments. Mike Fucito, Jeff Parke and Osvaldo Alonso didn't play down in Costa Rica, while Lamar Neagle and James Riley didn't start. There's plenty of talent still to start against United.
B&RU: The Sounders had quite possibly the greatest month of August in MLS history, but started off September on the wrong foot. Was the Real Salt Lake loss a sign of things to come, or just a blip on your freight train ride towards a multi-Cup season?
S@H: There's no reason to think that the RSL game was an indicator of any larger issues than several breaks going against the Sounders. How many games through the rest of Seattle's season will involve a missed penalty, Keller own goal and first half red card? While multi-Cups is the goal, there's still a long way to go for that. This is still going to be an incredible year even with only one Cup and a strong performance in both the regular season and CCL Group play. Multiple trophies would just make it historical.
B&RU: From trialist to MVP candidate, is Mauro Rosales going to be in Seattle long-term, or will he go on to bigger things once again after this season?
S@H: They've already started contract negotiations and all indications from either side is that an extension will happen. Rosales has a bit of loyalty to a team that gave him a chance when no other club was going to do so. He's also earned himself a hefty paycheck. Since the Sounders seem to have opened significant cap space for 2012 they will have the opportunity to keep him at a much bigger number and still add more talent with the open 3rd DP slot that they've paid for, but not yet used to actually play 3 at a time.
S@H: United has one of the most diverse offenses in the League this season. Is it tactical or a case of guys just coming up when they get a chance?
B&RU: You're right that different players have gotten hot at different times for United. Charlie Davies was on fire early in the year but faded away markedly, and then suddenly exploded for a hat trick against Chivas USA last week. Dwayne De Rosario was scoring at will when he first made the move south from New York, but his strike rate has now declined (although averaging a goal or more per game obviously wasn't really sustainable). So what you call diversity might actually just be a lack of consistency. Fortunately though, United has enough potent scorers that the team can afford to spread the goals around and make up for a cold streak here or there.
S@H: How will the offense be changed with the loss of Chris Pontius?
B&RU: On paper, the change is as simple as starting Santino Quaranta on the left wing and Josh Wolff as the withdrawn forward. Both players are capable starters, so in some situations, you might not even notice a dropoff. But Pontius has developed into one of the best players in the league at dribbling at defenders. Quaranta doesn't have that ability, nor Pontius' speed or shooting accuracy. But Quaranta is a better crosser, so you'll probably see more attempted service to Davies and Wolff, and Andy Najar will have to get more involved as well.
S@H: Bill Hamid is still growing into his role as a regular starter. What does he still need to learn?
B&RU: Hamid may have missed a bit of time due to minor injuries and a suspension, but he's still only given up one goal since July 2nd. He's always been a great shot stopper, but has improved significantly this season in his decision-making and positioning. If there's one thing that Hamid still needs to learn it's body control, as he's given away four points this season (two each at home against the Houston Dynamo and Toronto FC) just by going in too hard on a challenge and taking out an attacker without necessity. I imagine that body control is a typical problem for giant 20-year old athletes with more muscles than they know what to do with.