Today’s match against Chivas USA seemed to be the only lock for guaranteed points when the Sounders’ three-week road trip started back in March. It turns out, I didn’t factor in the continued resurgence of Clint Dempsey. Due to his leadership the Sounders have the chance to earn a win and take home 7 of 9 points from road stint. Not too shabby.
But wait, not everything is rosy. The defense has returned to it’s late 2013 form, giving up goals (and weak ones at that) by the bucket load. The team has also been consistently overrun in midfield by strong Portland and Dallas squads. While I don’t expect the midfield situation to be as dire this week against Chivas, the Goats do have enough talent up front to be able to capitalize on defensive lapses.
My point: 7 of 9 points would be spectacular, but I am much more interested in seeing a lapse-free defensive performance than a six-goal display.
We’ll see what happens tonight.
Match Narrative: Mismatches And Mental Focus
This matchup has always been uneven from a talent perspective. Man for man around the field, Seattle’s squad is stronger in almost every position, with the exception of perhaps goalkeepers (sorry Stefan Frei!).
The matchup got more lopsided this last week due to the injury situation for both teams. Chivas lost their dynamic and young central playmaker Thomas McNamara to a knee injury. Their midfield was already likely to be overmatched against the midfield that lined up against Dallas last week, but now they are forced to feature inexperienced HGP Marco Delgado. If that wasn’t enough, the Sounders midfield got better this week with the news that Brad Evans is set to return. That, along with the strong play of Marco Pappa in his last two substitution appearances bodes well for the Sounders.
There should also be plenty of goals in this match. Carlos Bocanegra won’t be able to mark both Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey. I’d put money on seeing at least one Oba back flip and one Dempsey-Alonso secret handshake today.
The one danger Seattle faces is a lapse in focus. We’ve seen a lot more grit in this year’s squad, but I’m still haunted by past mental lapses against weak teams. Dempsey & Co. must approach Chivas like they are the top team in the league to guarantee the three points they deserve in this one.
Breaking Down Chivas USA
Chivas USA still isn’t good, but they are no longer horrific. The insertion of Mauro Rosales and the continued quality play of Erick Cubo Torres has given them a legitimate offensive threat. The team has shown a propensity to fight hard for 90 minutes, which must be refreshing for everyone involved in the organization. They won’t likely be a playoff team in 2014, but they also won’t be laughed off the pitch at the end of the season.
Strong Point: Cubo Torres
Wilmer Cabrera and MLS should look to sign a permanent transfer for Erick Cubo Torres. This young man knows how to score goals. So far in 2014, his goalscoring pace has only been eclipsed by Seattle’s own Clint Dempsey. The best thing about Cubo is his poise in front of goal. He doesn’t show the characteristic jitters of an MLS forward, demonstrated by his calm late tap in against Portland last week.
Weakness: Central Midfield
With Thomas McNamara out, the Goats are left with an inexperienced Marco Delgado and defensive-minded Augustin Pelletieri. Delgado has too little experience to beat out Osvaldo Alonso (even if Alonso is, as we suspect from watching the last couple matches, battling through a slight injury). Pelletieri plays the role of the destroyer, wracking up fouls like nobodies business. Now this is a dangerous tactic for both Chivas and the Sounders. Chivas can’t afford to give up fouls right outside of the box unless they want to be punished by Clint Dempsey free kicks. On the other hand, Seattle has to wince every time a hard tackle is made on their star player. Fingers crossed that no injuries result.
Let’s look at Dempsey’s free kick goal from last week. Just for fun.
Unsung Player To Watch: Andrew Jean-Baptiste
Baptiste is playing out of position at left back, but provides some extra defensive assurance for the Goats. Watch for him to help Bocanegra and whoever matches up with him at center back if they begin to be overloaded by the Sounders attack.