The Seattle Sounders face the Vancouver Whitecaps today in a game that impacts much more than the MLS table. Put away your red, white and blue. Today we celebrate Cascadia, but despite the revelry, the Sounders have business to take care of. Seattle cannot, cannot, lose this game. Vancouver currently leads the Cascadia Cup standings with four points, followed by us with two and Portland with one lonely point. The Caps can take quite a commanding lead if they snatch all three points at home.
The Sounders need our support. MLS is back in full-swing and the Cascadia Cup rests for no man. But after giving my all to the Stars and Stripes throughout the World Cup, I am low on root juice. I need to confess, I wasn’t too invested in last week’s game at DC. It was only an Eastern Conferences foe and we had such a points cushion that if we had lost, c’est la vie. The win was a very pleasant surprise. But today a win would be absolutely incredible, and I’d be ecstatic with a draw.
I don’t want to say I expect a loss, but the unsettled midfield is frightening. Neither Osvaldo Alonso or Gonzalo Pineda are allowed to take the pitch due to yellow card accumulation. Alonso is absolutely the engine of the Seattle midfield, but Pineda has been vital as well. He does not grab your attention with crunching tackles or breathless passes, but he muscles around and threads key passes under the radar. Alonso and Pineda have been the Seattle central midfield in 2014, as they have only missed a combined 38 minutes this entire season.
Who the Sounders pencil into the midfield is a mystery, but whoever it is will be a drop in quality. Pineda and Alonso are Sigi’s first choice for a reason. Mr. Sounder Brad Evans would be the best replacement as he has boatloads (yacht loads?) of experience in the engine room. But with rising superstar DeAndre Yedlin just returning from Brazil, and Jalil Anibab covering the injured Djimi Traore at centerback, Evans remains our best option at rightback. This game would be perfect for Andy Rose. Rose has improved his play every year and was solid in his sparse time this season. Unfortunately he isn’t match fit as he’s currently recovering from knee surgery. Without clear options, Sigi will need to get mighty creative.
We have lauded our depth this year and today, in a crucial Cascadian Clash, it’ll be tested. Maybe we see David Estrada at rightback like we did in the Open Cup game against PSA Elite allowing Evans to play in midfield. I wouldn’t be surprised with a shocking roster move. Whoever we start, I’ll be nervous. We’re fielding a very, very different squad from usual and I just don’t know how quickly these eleven can gel and perform. Soccer is a game of improvisation and communication.
If I had to take a wild stab at the starting eleven (and let’s be honest, I get paid the big blogger bucks to do so), here’d be my best guess:
Gonzalez, Marshall, Scott, Anibaba
Pappa, Evans, Azira, Neagle.
After all that hand wringing regarding the midfield, my toughest choice was at forward. I went with Kenny Cooper because he complements Obafemi Martins better. Chad Barrett has just been money lately, but… he is kind of a poor man’s Oba: a short, muscular forward who is both creative and pesky. Cooper looks like a target man but acts like a winger. He’ll operate wide of the box and draw attention before feeding the marauding Martins.
Bold Prediction: Is the lineup good enough to win? Yes. Vancouver has come out of the World Cup break ice cold after a solid start. That is one of the fears of the big break, would it kill momentum? The Sounders had the most to lose momentum-wise, but have used the Open Cup to stay sharp. Even a cross-country trip against the East-leading United didn’t slow them down. What’s a little lineup change? Sounders start shaky, but focus on defense and hold on for 1-1 draw.