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Cliffs Notes: Seattle

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Julius James and the DC United back four will have to be sharp to keep Fredy Montero and co. off the scoreboard.
Julius James and the DC United back four will have to be sharp to keep Fredy Montero and co. off the scoreboard.

Hopefully, you have some bile left over from our trip up to New York Jersey, because we've only just begun a stretch of games against teams United fans love to hate. Before our old MLS Cup punching bags show up Sunday night with their superstars and outstanding record, DC will tangle with the Seattle Sounders tonight.

United fans will all have fond memories of our recent trip to Seattle, a 3-2 win just before the World Cup began. However, things have changed quite a bit along the Puget Sound. Frustrated by what has been a disappointing season, Sigi Schmid has opted to move several veterans to the bench in favor of younger players. Schmid's recent changes haven't all been punitive, however; Nate Jaqua has returned from a long-term abdominal injury, and new Designated player Blaise Nkufo traveled with Seattle and is eligible to play tonight.

What can we expect out of the new-look Sounders?

Seattle will likely come out in the 442 detailed in the quick reference card created by Jeremiah Oshan at Sounder at Heart. If Osvaldo Alonso is still not fit from a quadriceps strain that has plagued him since last season, look for Nathan Sturgis to take his place in defensive midfield.

As I'm running out of time before the game, here are a few quick points about the "new" Seattle:

1. Tyrone Marshall's absence is not good news for us.

Normally, a team without its veteran defensive leader is vulnerable. In this case, however, Seattle is probably doing the right thing by benching Marshall for Pat Ianni. Ianni has grown quite a bit with the regular minutes he's had in Seattle, and given Marshall's indifferent form throughout 2010, this move seems completely reasonable to me. There's also the fact that, with Jhon Kennedy Hurtado out, Seattle's central defense needed some mobility and youth. Jeff Parke stepped in for Hurtado, but the combination of him and Marshall was probably not the best match as both players are somewhat similar.

One thing I will note about Ianni and Parke is that they have always struck me as a little too likely to give away free kicks. Our forwards would do well to draw them into situations where they have to go to ground to make a tackle, because the likelihood of winning a free kick is rather high.

2. Fredy Montero is back.

Followers of MLS as a whole may recall hearing that Montero was not playing well in the middle of this season. He was even benched for a league game at one point. Unfortunately for us, those days are over. Since the World Cup break ended, Montero has been the guy that terrorized MLS defenses last season. He's always had the skill, but now the application is there as well. United's back four will have to be at their best, as Montero is capable of causing trouble down the middle, from either flank, and dropping off into the hole underneath the front line. Dejan Jakovic and Julius James were outstanding against New York last week, and they'll have to be just as sharp tonight.

3. Nate Jaqua's return has sharpened the Seattle attack.

It's not just Montero doing things on his own. Jaqua has added some height, aggression, and technical ability to a Sounders attack that needed some help. When you look at Jaqua, you think he's got to be a classic target forward. However, what you get is something more awkward to deal with. Jaqua has right body type and the proper zeal for physical play, but with the ball he's more like one of the many midfielder/forwards you see in MLS. As a result, Jaqua's spent plenty of time as a right midfielder throughout his MLS career.

Given Seattle's current needs, however, we'll be seeing Jaqua leading the line tonight. He has generally come to RFK and played very well (perhaps it runs in his blood, as his father Jon is a former Washington Redskin) no matter what team he's with. Jakovic and James will have to worry about being pushed aside by Jaqua, but they'll also have to be cautious about what he can do as a dribbler and as a passer of the ball.

4. Seattle's midfield upheaval could play to our advantage.

Seattle has had a very unsettled situation in midfield over the past few weeks. They changed formations to a conventional 442, but that hasn't given them stability. Other than Steve Zakuani being a mainstay on the left wing, it seems like every week sees at least one new starter for Seattle's midfield. With the transfer speculation swirling around Freddie Ljungberg (no one anywhere seems to buy this ankle injury), the starting job at right midfield went to Miguel Montano last week against FC Dallas. Montano has been a promising young player for the Sounders, but he was sent off after retaliating to a pretty reckless challenge from Brek Shea. As a result, we'll likely be seeing Sanna Nyassi, who is every bit as fast as his twin brother Sainey, who we see rather often when we play the Revs.

Central midfield has also seen a lot of change for Seattle. Ianni was starting at defensive midfield until Schmid opted to bench Marshall, which has meant a recall for Sturgis. Sturgis isn't a natural defensive midfielder, but he's seen enough time there to be trusted with the job until Alonso is healthy again. Ahead of that spot, rookie Michael Seamon (don't laugh) has fought his way into the lineup after many others were tried in a similar role. Seamon has not been a revelation, but he has done pretty well by being active and keeping things simple. Personally, I think he's had something of a similar effect on the Sounders lineup as Stephen King did for us. Neither has been brilliant, but in both cases you have someone bringing solid play to an area that needed improvement.

This could be where we control tonight's game. Seattle's midfield will be somewhat unfamiliar, while ours has started 6 straight league matches. If King and Clyde Simms can exert control in the middle over Seamon and either Sturgis or Alonso (it'll be a lot easier if it's Sturgis), we can reduce the chances Seattle will have of finding Montero, Jaqua, and Zakuani. Cutting off the supply lines to that trio will be crucial to keeping Seattle off the scoreboard.

5. When in doubt, shoot.

I never thought I'd say this, but Kasey Keller's form has dipped in recent weeks. His error against Chris Pontius was the most obvious example, but in general he's looked a little vulnerable in all facets of the game. I have a hard time even imagining a scenario in which Keller is a potential weak spot for an opponent (after spending my entire youth thinking that Keller was often the only thing between the US national team and being slaughtered by everyone), but that may well be the reality at the moment.

Even if Keller's form has recovered (he was just nominated for Save of the Week, after all), United has always struggled to fire enough shots on goal. If Keller suddenly finds his best stuff and shuts us out, let's at least make him really earn it. Guys like Pontius, Andy Najar, and Santino Quaranta need to be ready to let fly if they don't get closed down by Seattle defenders.