On Wednesday, you’ll have two teams going in opposite directions facing off in a Major League Soccer match.
The Seattle Sounders struggled early in defense of their MLS Cup won last year over Toronto FC. But recently, the Rave Green have grinded out two straight victories, including last week’s 1-0 win over the Portland Timbers.
This has seen Seattle begin a climb up the Western Conference standings, where the side currently sits eighth with 16 points.
Columbus Crew SC began the season fairly brightly and were the class of the Eastern Conference early on. Now, a slide of two wins in the last seven games, including two consecutive defeats, has the club dangerously close to following below the playoff line.
Questions for Sounder at Heart
Massive Report: A year ago it was a rough first half of the season for the Sounders before Sigi Schmid was let go and the rest is history. It's been another slow start. What's stalled Seattle's title defense this season?
Sounder at Heart: It comes down to two significant problems, both which should be fixed over time. But, there is a chance that the Seattle Sounders fall too far back in the standings if they do not get fixed soon.
The first of these is injury. For the first eleven games the Seattle Sounders lacked their ideal right back. Now, every team goes through injury, but they also lacked their second string right back, and their third string right back needed to start at centerback. That meant that Jordy Delem, who was with S2 last year, started the majority of games at right back. He was far from good. We also addressed a bit that the 3rd string RB was at CB. Svensson is rather good there, but on five occasions he was paired with the 5th string CB. Svensson is only the 4th string CB, as Brad Evans would be the third at that position. That's a lot of depth defensive players starting games all at once. It wasn't a second choice backline but at best a third choice situation. The Sounders defense held strong for a while, then they took a road trip to Chicago and Kansas City and it fell apart.
Secondly, the offense is underperforming. In nine of their 13 games they scored zero or one goals. That isn't good enough. Two of their multi-goal games were coming back from deficits. Take your favorite expected goals website and you'll see that Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro are not their best this year. There are times when they are timid, passing to each other rather than shooting. They look likely to set the record for hitting the woodwork too. It is unlikely that this will continue throughout the season, and the main reason why is Morris.
MR: There were a lot of expectations on Jordan Morris' shoulders when he came out of Stanford. Are these expectations fair? Are you seeing signs of him being the next top U.S. and MLS forward?
SaH: Jordan's signs as the next top US/MLS forward were clear last year. He joined elite company with his rookie performance. It would be easy to say that he has hit a sophomore slump, but that ignores why he is performing poorly this season. Morris' only world-class skill is his speed. He is a decent finisher, makes decent runs, has a good right-footed pass, but his speed is what sets him apart. At the start of the year he left US camp early due to a hamstring issue. A month or so later he left US camp with an ankle issue. Now, he played through both of those, but didn't have his speed, at all. So far in 2017 Jordan Morris looks like a rather average MLS forward, maybe even below average. His best tool was gone until the past couple weeks. And just as it came back he's off to rep the US, rather than the Sounders.
Hopefully while there he focuses on his on-field relationship with Clint Dempsey. There are times when Jordan passes the ball when the better idea would be to shoot. The two of them will be more effective if defenses have to respect them both, plus Dempsey is rather great at cleaning up rebounds and deflections. Lastly, Morris needs to spend time with Bobby Wood and gain a bit more knowledge about which types of runs to make and when to make them.
If he comes back from Arena's training, friendlly and two World Cup Qualifiers and is healthy Morris will be as good as he was last year. If he works better with Clint and the different coaching/players teach him just one more run he will be better than 14 goals and 5 assists in all competitions.
MR: Nicolas Lodeiro took the league by storm last season with the run to the Cup. How important has he been to the Sounders this year and is season two going to live up to year one?
SaH: If Nico was to match last year's performance, but over a full season, he would be the MVP. It won't happen. There are a few differences. First off the Seattle Sounders are not in a desperate time going full-blast for just a few months. This season is a long haul, and they will pace themselves. Secondly, some teams have adapted to him, a bit. It was always going to be more difficult with more time in MLS. Third, in 2016 the scoring was up to Lodeiro and Morris. This year is much more spread about - he has to share the ball more due to Dempsey and Bruin being scoring threats.
Lodeiro will still be quite good, on the edge of making the Best XI and/or All Star Game. He is the primary creator on the team, so when the offense picks up it will do so with Nico collecting those assist totals again. He will likely find a way to be great and carry the team during this time of depleted rosters too. He was not called up, so other teams will be without a few of their best players and Seattle will still have Lodeiro. On the year, he could still get 5-7 goals and 15-ish assists. That's good, but not what last season indicated he could be capable of doing.
There you have it from the Sounders’ side of things. We will link back to Massive Report’s responses to Sounder at Heart’s questions once it is posted.