And here you were thinking that MLS had gone and done away with both the random occurrence of midweek summer games and also matches while players were away for major international tournaments, weren't you? Sill you, as there is a full slate of league matches Wednesday night, including D.C. United's trip to the state they named after a city to play the Seattle Sounders. To help us get a read on the team with the made-up colors, I traded some questions with Dave Clark, the founder and managing editor of SB Nation's unparalleled Sounder at Heart.
Questions for Sounder at Heart
B&RU: After a rough start - and unlike one other team I know well - the Sounders managed to right the ship, winning five of their last seven in the league. That said, the common perception is that Seattle were played off the pitch in Salt Lake last time out. What changed from the early going for Seattle, and was the RSL loss foretelling of a new dip in form?
SaH: That loss was not a dip in form, it was more a reminder about how Seattle's midfield can be dominated if Osvaldo Alonso does not play. It is disturbing that it comes against a key Western Conference opponent, and is a reminder of past failures against Salt Lake and LA. Seattle's varied offense looks like it only works with the league's best defensive midfielder in the middle. Without him they resort to too much long ball rather than short passes in transition. Despite that horrid game, and two of the other losses being quite poor, the Sounders with their oft-depleted roster are right in the middle of the pack. Finally their star forwards are able to practice together. Things can only get better.
B&RU: Tell us a bit about your homegrown fullback DeAndre Yedlin, whose age, homegrown status and position are reminiscent of former D.C. United player Andy Najar, who was sold to Anderlecht last winter. How important is he to the Sounders' prospects, both this season and long-term?
SaH: He's our first native son to come through the earliest of the Academy system and sign. If he was only a bench player that alone would be a great feather in his cap, but he's also pretty good. His technical ability is great and now he's even developing a good cross which you may have seen in his time with the US U-20s. He still is out of position once in a while and a bit risky in one-on-one defense, but his speed is so good that his defensive learning curve is not an issue. When he's on the field he creates spaces for Mauro Rosales, which is a key to the Sounders' offense, but he may not play as he had shoulder injury that pulled him from the loss to Ghana. One of the most interesting notes about Yedlin's Home Grown status and that ability to free cap space is that the club released Sweden's #2 right back and an HGP won the starting job. That's freedom.
SaH: That's a great question. Could you ask Olsen to play a high line? San Jose and Dallas tried that and both got eight put past them. Seattle will look for ways to go over the top and with the skill of EJ, Oba and Lamar Neagle they will get chances from that technique. They will still look for the Mauro to EJ cross that defined much of 2012. It isn't happening much, but one of Mauro or Yedlin will cut inside and work nifty passes at the top of the box with the forwards. If Alonso and Shalrie Joseph are in the middle they'll join in the fun. Most of all though, play a high line. I want to see goals.
Significant Losses (injury/callup/suspension): Mario Martinez (out of contract). Zakuani (sports hernia-Out). Neagle, Alonso and Yedlin all have injury concerns, but could be back.
Projected Lineup: Gspurning; Gonzalez, Traore, Hurtado, Evans; Alonso; Neagle, Joseph, Rosales; Johnson, Martins
Questions for Black & Red United
SaH: D.C. United problem the first, forwards. There are some recognizable names playing up top, but none of them are significant threats this year. Why aren't Pontius and DeRo up top more often, they seem pretty good at the goal scoring thing (yes, they were up top in the last match)?
B&RU: Chris Pontius has spent most of his career as a wide midfielder, with occasional forays to the forward line, but Ben Olsen has been trying to find a way to move him centrally for about a year now. The fact that United has zero strikers producing worth a damn finally forced him to play a double-false-nine with De Ro. The result: more chances for everybody on the team. Sine he took over the team in mid-2010, Olsen's system has emphasized isolating wide midfielders 1v1 with fullbacks, interspersed with random moments of brilliance from De Rosario. With DeRo's age finally showing and next to no production from the wings, he's finally changing it up. Combined with the development of the central midfield into something other than a complete shambles, thanks to the progression of Perry Kitchen and the remarkably solid two-way play of John Thorrington, the new forward pairing has actually looked pretty decent, despite failing to score against the Whitecaps on Saturday.
SaH: That trade for Alain Rochat was a steal. What's he meant to the back line and the ability to get forward?
B&RU: He's meant a calm head and a steady presence. Until that trade, the fullback line on the team sheet generally had Chris Korb on one end and "team weakness" at the other. Whether it was James Riley, Daniel Woolard or Taylor Kemp, the flank opposite Korb was routinely targeted with success by opposing teams. Rochat has fixed that hole in the defense (though others still remain). Going forward, his ability to find our central midfielders has helped in possession, and his willingness to pick his spots to get forward has given United much needed width in the attacking third. D.C. were unlucky not to score against Vancouver (well, unlucky to have such awful finishing on their 23 attempts, only three of which made their way to goal), and the Whitecaps really only created a couple dangerous moments. That represents a big improvement over earlier in the year, and Rochat is part of the reason why.
SaH: Ethan White went from forgotten Home Grown Player signing to a key part of the backline. He's now the best defender on a poor defense and shows a great hope for the future. What should Seattle fans expect to see from him?
B&RU: He's a guy who quietly goes about his business, but he's shown that he can step up big when he's called upon. Despite his average size for a center back (6'0"), he'll gobble up any aerial balls that come his way. He's not going to set any records on the 40-yard dash, but he'll hold his own in a footrace with all but the elite speedsters in MLS. The biggest improvement, though, have come in his ability to read the game and his passing touch. Last week against Vancouver, he created United's most dangerous attack with a perfectly weighted through ball from midfield, splitting the Whitecaps defense open and finding Chris Korb in behind on the right flank. White has formed a surprisingly sturdy partnership with Daniel Woolard - especially given the early season crash in form of United's season-opening starters, Dejan Jakovic and Brandon McDonald and the fact that Woolard started the season as a fullback.
I wouldn't look for White and Woolard, whose move to the middle was predicated on his total lack of foot speed and its being exposed on the left, to play a particularly high line, as United hasn't quite (read: at all) worked out how to press as a unit at this point. That said, if the Black-and-Red are pushing for a goal, White will become more and more likely to carry the ball into Seattle's half to find a passing lane.
Significant Losses: Bill Hamid (Out, Gold Cup), Lewis Neal (Out, pubic stress reaction, seriously), Dejan Jakovic (Questionable, adductor strain/sucking). Sainey Nyassi and Ethan White were listed as Questionable last week, but both played. Nick DeLeon missed last weekend with a sprained ankle; no word yet on its severity or his availability.
Projected Lineup: 4-4-2ish (R-to-L) - Joe Willis; Chris Korb, Ethan White, Daniel Woolard, Alain Rochat; Nick DeLeon (or Sainey Nyassi), John Thorrington, Perry Kitchen, Kyle Porter; Chris Pontius, Dwayne De Rosario