Last Saturday’s theme of “superhero night” at MAPFRE Stadium seemed appropriate for Columbus Crew SC midfielder Mike Grella. The 31 year old made his Black & Gold debut after battling back from a devastating knee injury and saved Columbus from continuing its dreadful winless streak. His goal lifted Crew SC to a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes and allowed players to breathe easier before hitting the road to take on the Seattle Sounders.
Seattle had an interesting last week, traveling to Los Angeles. The Sounders helped open Banc of California Stadium and looked to spoil the homecoming of Los Angeles Football Club. Seattle held on for 90 minutes plus stoppage time but couldn’t hold off the other Black & Gold team, as Laurent Ciman drilled a free kick past Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei to seal the very late victory for LAFC.
It’s been a tough start to the season for the Sounders, but it appears things might be turning around. Let’s preview this week’s contest as Crew SC make the long trip west to Centurylink Field.
Sounders at a glance:
Leading Scorer: Will Bruin (2)
Assists Leader: Cristian Roldan (2)
It’s difficult to make sense of the lack of offensive output from the Sounders this season. With names like Clint Dempsey, Will Bruin and Nicolas Lodiero, one would assume Seattle would be near the top of the league in scoring. Surprisingly that isn’t the case.
The Sounders are in the cellar of the league when it comes to goals scored and maybe it’s the team’s aging roster, but something isn’t clicking for head coach Brian Schmetzer and his club.
Bruin looks to be hitting his stride, providing hope for the Sounders faithful. The 28 year old scored in two of his last three appearances. However, Bruin can’t do it alone and is receiving contributions from his teammates. Roldan and Gustav Svensson are changing the culture of the Sounders’ attack, as it becomes more potent week by week. Svensson provided a great strike two weeks ago that served as a catalyst for the Sounders win against Minnesota United.
Despite the lack of production on the offensive side of the ball for the Sounders, defense is an area which Schmetzer can be proud of. Seattle has conceded the second-fewest goals in the Western Conference (9) and are tied for third-fewest goals conceded in Major League Soccer.
Part of the success can be attributed to the strong play of defenders Roman Torres and Chad Marshall. However, the Sounders face a test on Saturday as both center backs appear likely to miss the match due to injury.
Dealing with Deuce
There is no dancing around it but Dempsey isn’t the prolific player he once was. This shouldn’t be a reason for the opposition to ignore “Deuce.” The 35 year old can’t contribute in the manner he once did, but he is adapting his game to better fit in with his teammates.
A noticeable adaptation is how the Sounders go about replacing injured forward Jordan Morris. Dempsey is beginning to play a variety of roles for Seattle. He can play up top to support Bruin or drop into a more central role to be a distributor. Dempsey makes rare appearances on the wing from time to time as the Sounders coaching staff looks to toss different looks at the opposition.
How Crew SC win
Throughout the season Seattle has yet to prove that it can avoid fouling in dangerous areas. Look no further than last week’s clash against LAFC to validate that claim. The expansion team claimed victory late in second half stoppage time as Ciman converted a free kick from a dangerous area. It was an unfair ending for the Sounders, as goalkeeper Stefan Frei’s mental lapse cost his team the game.
Crew SC will need to work the ball into those dangerous areas and pass with purpose.
The Sounders have a stingy defense that doesn’t concede many goals, so one- or two-touch passing will be the recipe for success in this one. Expect Milton Valenzuela and Harrison Afful to play a factor in this game as the wing backs for Seattle are weak and have the tendency to foul.
This was evident in Seattle’s game against Sporting Kansas City on April 15th. Sounders defender Nouhou Tolo struggled against Sporting Kansas City’s Johnny Russell. Tolo couldn’t keep up with Russell’s pace and was consistently late on challenges. Tolo’s troubles could open the door for Niko Hansen or the aforementioned Crew SC wingbacks to put some pressure on the Sounders defense.
Afful and Valenzuela should look to get quality service inside of the penalty area. Gyasi Zardes won’t be contested byTorres or Marshall, as both of the starting center backs are expected to miss this match due to injury. Several lineup projections forecast that Gustav Svensson and Kim Kee-Hee will replace the center backs and both have rarely played together this season.
Crew SC must finish its chances when in the attacking third of the pitch. The Black & Gold could create distance on opponents by finishing its shots. As the season wears on, Gregg Berhalter and his staff must cultivate a “killer instinct” mentality for the forwards. It that doesn’t happen, perhaps a timely signing in the next transfer window can provide a solution.