Normally this would be longer, but I have a dead car battery and a need for dinner before the game. Here's what you need to know about the Seattle Sounders for tonight's game:Here's the likely starting eleven for Seattle:
This is a new formation for Seattle, who had been playing a 433 for awhile with limited success. Sigi Schmid made the change to a 442 to face New England last Saturday, and the result was a dominant 3-0 win. Part of that can be chalked up to the Revs having a terrible game, but you can hardly hold that against the Sounders. If your opponent shows up and sucks, you're supposed to pound them, and that's exactly what happened.
Fredy Montero had struggled playing as a central forward by himself, and frankly I was surprised to see Schmid go with the 433 for so long without a viable option in that spot. Seattle has some issues up front (Blaise N'Kufo isn't eligible until the transfer window opens, and Nate Jaqua has an abdominal injury), but Pat Noonan and youngster Miguel Montano seemed like options that needed to be tried.
Noonan isn't the player he once was, but he is more of a target than Montero, and having that extra player up front opened some things up for Seattle this past weekend. Dejan Jakovic and Julius James will have to be smart about confronting Noonan while also tracking Montero, who will have some freedom.
The big threat is on the wings, where we'll be looking at a contrast in styles. Freddie Ljungberg will drift inside, possibly even swapping positions with Montero or Brad Evans temporarily, in an attempt to look for weak points to exploit. On the other flank, Steve Zakuani offers up a more traditional approach to wide play. He's fast, he's direct, and he loves to dribble at people. Ljungberg is a player we'll have to contain as a group; Jordan Graye and Clyde Simms in particular will have to work well together to slow him down. Zakuani, on the other hand, forces so many 1v1 battles that you either have to over-commit to not allowing people to pass him the ball (which costs you elsewhere) or accept that your right back will often be isolated. Neither is a palatable option, and Zakuani has been dangerous all season long. Devon McTavish is going to have to play quite well for us to continue being defensively solid.
In central midfield, I think we might be at an advantage (despite starting Stephen King, who the Sounders just traded away). Ianni is not in his natural position there, and is not comfortable with the ball. Evans is a useful high-energy player, but he's not exactly the kind of player that dictates the game. As a pair, I think they're lacking a little bit in sophistication. King and Simms are not a headline-making central midfield, but they've been playing well and could give us a foothold by keeping the ball moving whenever we have it. I'd also like to see King burst forward like he did against RSL, because I think it could hand us plenty of free kicks and/or scoring chances. Ianni and Evans go after balls in midfield via physical challenges much more often than they do by being one step ahead of their opponent. If King and Simms can think faster, this is an area of the field that we can win.
Finally, we come to the Seattle back four. Jeff Parke has stepped in for the injured Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, and did well enough against New England. However, he and Marshall are a slow and foul-prone duo, so there's a weakness to be exploited. I think this is a great opportunity for Santino Quaranta to take a game by the scruff of the neck. Quaranta needs to use his speed and his ability on the ball to get behind the Sounders defense and cause chaos in their ranks. Danny Allsopp, for his part, needs to be ready to go to battle; I predict that he, Parke, and Marshall will all be coming off the field with some bruises. Allsopp doesn't need to be brilliant here, but he does need to make his presence felt and be troublesome enough that Seattle can't focus entirely on Quaranta down the middle.
On the wings, we might be able to make some headway. Chris Pontius is a very direct player, and James Riley is very prone to diving in needlessly and giving up fouls. On the opposite side, Leo Gonzalez will probably be fairly uncomfortable with Andy Najar's speed and zeal for dribbling at people. The trick for Najar is to mix things up; if he always looks to dribble Gonzalez, Seattle will just double him like RSL did in our league game. A better way to attack Gonzalez would be to use a quick combination with Quaranta or King and turn this 1v1 battle into a footrace down the wing.
Seattle is going to be a tough opponent. They're probably more confident now than they have been in weeks. However, the injuries they've got have robbed them of speed in the back and skill on the ball in central midfield. United should be able to create ample opportunities tonight on offense as a result. However, the Sounders will look at our ever-changing back four and expect to score some goals as well. Sitting back was a total disaster for the Revolution last week, and I think it would also end poorly for us (not 3-0, humiliated bad, but bad nonetheless). The best way for us to slow this Seattle offense down is to attack them. With Hurtado and Osvaldo Alonso out, Seattle is pretty average down the middle, and that's got to be where we take a grip of the game if we want a result tonight.
Edit: Not all Sounders fans are bad. Jeremiah Oshan of Sounder at Heart was kind enough to email a game reference card (if you've been to SaH, you've seen these before every game). Here it is: