In a battle of two teams that kicked off their seasons with home-opening victories, Columbus Crew SC take a trip to the West Coast to take on the defending MLS Cup champions, Seattle Sounders. The Sounders organization was shattered after having lost in the CONCACAF Champions League the Thursday prior to the team’s opening MLS match. The weight of the defeat was glaring, as Seattle carried that lethargy onto the field versus the Chicago Fire in Week 1.
The Fire took the lead early in what was primed to be an opening weekend MLS upset. However, second half Sounders substitute Jordan Morris led the comeback by scoring both the game-tying and game-winning goals. Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer was hardly pleased, even after the comeback win, feeling as if his men were lackadaisical on the goal against and made it far too easy for Chicago to score. This underwhelming and uncharacteristic showing is sure to be fuel to the fire, as Seattle will seek to amend the rocky start versus the Black & Gold.
Seattle Sounders at a Glance:
Record: 1-0-0, 3 points
League Form: W
Leading Scorer: Jordan Morris (2)
Assist Leader: Cristian Roldan (2)
The United States Men’s National Team and Sounders Homegrown player earned MLS Player of the Week honors in a mere 45 minutes of action last week. Morris, a fixture in the starting lineup typically, didn’t start versus Chicago due to the quick turnaround time, having played 84 minutes against Olimpia in the CCL contest. Jordan has been on an absolute tear over the last nine months of action, all this while coming back from a 2018 ACL injury that abruptly concluded his season. His production and efforts earned him the 2019 MLS Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Though he came through the development and college ranks as a classic striker, in recent seasons he has transformed into an attacking winger, flourishing in all facets of the game. Morris is extremely capable with the ball at his feet in one-on-one situations and able to comfortably finish using both feet and even his head. Barring some unforeseen circumstances, Morris will be starting versus Columbus, giving the Crew backline an attacking presence to be wary of.
How Seattle Play
Despite the easy goal given up in week 1, generally Seattle’s defense is quite stout. Starting goalkeeper Stefan Frei has been one of the most consistent shot-stoppers in MLS over the last several seasons. Last year he finished fourth in the league with 116 saves. With longtime center back starter Roman Torres having moved onto Inter Miami, Seattle will rely heavily on former Designated Player Xavier Arreaga to shoulder the defensive burden.
Offensively, Seattle is as potent of an attack as you will find. While we already discussed what Morris brings to the pitch, Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz tallied 11 goals last year. In 37 MLS games with Seattle, the Designated Player chalked up 34 goals. Midfielder Cristian Roldan is a jack of all trades type of player, a disruptor in the midfield, with the ability to facilitate and score when called upon.
Seattle possesses the ability to outrun oppositions with their speedy outside back pairing of Kelvin Leerdaam and Jovein Jones. Schmetzer loves to push his outside backs into the attacking third of the field, so don’t be surprised to see both in the offensive half of the field from the opening whistle.
Newly signed Joao Paulo will pull the strings for the Seattle offense. A crafty and creative midfielder with over 300 appearances in the Brazilian top-flight league, Paulo is a Designated Player with a superior ability to distribute and score. He will be the focal point for the Crew midfield triad to monitor and minimize his contributions.
A couple of advantages the Crew has going in its favor is that midfielder extraordinaire Nico Lodeiro will be out for this match with an injury. You may remember his stoppage time game-winning goal last year versus Columbus that broke the hearts of Crew fans everywhere. Also, reserve forward Will Bruin is also out, as he continues to recover from a 2019 ACL injury.
Seattle Projected Starting Lineup
How the Crew Can Win
Keep in mind, that the Crew holds a 2-2-3 all-time record while visiting the Sounders. Not too shabby of a record for an Eastern Time zone team traveling to the Pacific Northwest. Additionally, Columbus is a respectable 2-2-1 overall in the last five meetings versus Seattle. The Black & Gold can “win” a multitude of ways. An outright win in the standings by stealing all three points on the road is obviously the prime objective, but a symbolic “win” by earning a draw on the road in a tough environment would also be a positive result.
Exactly what must take place for the Crew to come away with either of those results? Simple, get the ball to Lucas Zelerayan. Period. Let the Argentine playmaker orchestrate the attack. At times last week, it seemed like he had to go out of his way to gain possession of the ball. Given that he is still new and this group of Crew players is still working on chemistry and becoming one unit, it may take time for this to consistently come to fruition. However, if I am head coach Caleb Porter, I would make training built around getting the team accustomed to playing offensively through Zelarayan early and often.
In the event that Seattle makes it tactically difficult to play through Zelarayan, the Black & Gold can shift gears and play the ball Darlington Nagbe. As has been discussed ad nauseam on the Massive Report Podcast, Nagbe is the type of player who may not blow up the stat sheet but is as every bit as dangerous and lethal with the ball as anyone on the pitch. Furthermore, forward Gyasi Zardes needs to finish chances and winger Pedro Santos needs to keep shooting. The ball will find the back of the net soon enough for both players.
Defensively, the Crew needs to shadow Ruidiaz anywhere he goes. One of the center back duo of Jonathan Mensah and Vito Wormgoor, if he plays, needs to be within arm’s length of him anytime he is in the 18-yard box. Fullbacks Harrison Afful and Milton Valenzuela must be mindful of their push into the offensive-third, as a counter by Morris or Miguel Ibarra can be deadly.
Given a mixture of all or most of those aspects coming to life, a positive result for the Crew is certainly attainable. Seattle is as difficult of a first road test as a team can find. It is going to be exciting to see how Porter and the boys respond.