With no Sounders Weekly on Sports Radio 950 KJR Tuesday evening (10/16), I wanted to take the chance to communicate some Sounders FC notes and thoughts ahead of Wednesday's match in Orlando, without having to make you read a 10-20 tweet thread that feels as if it has no end.
Let's dive a bit deeper into the Orlando match, take a look around MLS for what else can happen to help Seattle, and reflect on why and how the Seattle Sounders Football Club are here in the first place.
So, Who Will Be Where in Orlando?
International Duty holds great opportunities for players, but it's not as fun for club supporters. We saw the Sounders score four goals against Houston without Raul Ruidiaz (Peru) and Gustav Svensson (Sweden). Houston has a better defense than Orlando, but this is the MLS, where nothing is a given.
Not only will Seattle be without "Rui" and "Goose" on Wednesday, they will also be missing Nicolas Lodeiro (Uruguay) and Jordy Delem (Martinique). These two players played key roles in the Sounders' demolition over Houston and will be greatly missed on Wednesday. So how does Head Coach Brian Schmetzer pick up the pieces?
The answer starts with Cristian Roldan's versatility. We know Will Bruin will be the lone forward up top again in place of Raul. We know, likely, Victor Rodriguez and Handwalla Bwana (thank goodness he is healthy) will handle the wings. Without Gustav and Jordy, who else can sit next to Ozzie Alonso at holding midfielder? And without Nico, who can pay the 10? Can we clone Roldan?
He's not exactly a clone, but Cristian's brother, Alex, presents an interesting opportunity to start at holding midfielder beside Alonso, and put Cristian at his preferred spot, the 10. I'm personally not so sure Schmetzer will want to start Alex, a rookie, in that position in such a crucial match with just three left in the MLS regular season. But Seattle doesn't have another player who can play the 10 in place of Nico. So what do they do?
I think the answer is a formation shift. Seattle clinches a playoff spot with a single point, three would be outstanding, and on the road, soccer doesn't have to be pretty. I see Schmetzer shifting to a 5-4-1 (think Toronto in mid-May) with the emphasis on defending and counter-attacking to capture one, if not three, in Orlando.
The formation shift hinges on Roman Torres being healthy, a question mark at training on Saturday as Torres trained separately from the rest of the team. The back line would be Nouhou, Chad Marshall, Kim Kee-hee, Roman Torres, and Kelvin Leerdam. It's hard to see Orlando, even with the dangerous Dom Dwyer and Sacha Kljestan, scoring on that back five. Then your four midfielders are Rodriguez, Roldan, Alonso, and Bwana, with Cristian and Ozzie playing a "one stays, one goes" approach to maintain defensive integrity while giving the attack another threat in Cristian, who now has a career high eight assists. The lone forward is Will Bruin with of course Stefan Frei in goal to round out the lineup.
The 5-4-1 would, at times, feature a diamond in the midfield, and put more weight on Roldan than he has felt in 2018. Victor can drift into the midfield to help Roldan, and Bwana can be a speedy outlet on the wing to allow Cristian to find space, but no, this is certainly not a first choice Seattle attack. Good news is that Orlando City SC has given up an MLS-high 70 goals on the season.
950 KJR's Sounders FC broadcast for Seattle vs. Orlando begins at 4:00 p.m. with the Elysian Brewing Pre-Match Show. Kickoff is at 4:30 p.m. and fans can listen on 950am locally, or stream the match live on the iHeart Radio App, via Sports Radio 950 KJR.
Jumping Up the Table
I can't express enough how much Sounders supporters should be rooting for the Vancouver Whitecaps to beat Sporting Kansas City tomorrow night, at BC Place. If Seattle captures all three points against the league's worst defense in Orlando, and the Whitecaps somehow manage to beat Kansas City, Seattle will jump both Portland and Kansas City and control their own destiny for the #3 seed.
Seattle, currently sitting at #5, will jump Portland for #4 with a simple draw, but can equal KC on points at 53 with a win and Vancouver upset. After Wednesday, every team in the Western Conference will have played 32 matches, with two remaining, and Seattle will hold the tie-breaker over KC in wins (16 to 15).
Rest of the Conference features Dallas at 57 points in first place, who are unlikely to lose a bye in the knockout round, and LAFC with 56 points, just three above Seattle with a win in Orlando on Wednesday. This scenario gives Seattle at shot at jumping LAFC if Los Angeles then falls in KC on decision day and the Sounders win out. But it all starts with Vancouver beating Kansas City on Wednesday evening. If but for a day, Go Whitecaps.
Even if Seattle never jump LAFC, that #3 seed means likely playing Vancouver/Real Salt Lake/LA Galaxy in the knockout round here in Seattle instead of playing Portland (#5 seed). Needless to say, a match against Vancouver/RSL/LA would be much easier than Portland, who lost to Seattle in Providence Park in August and want nothing more than to eliminate their top rival from the playoffs.
The Passing of a Pillar
Paul Allen's importance to Seattle and sports community cannot be understated. He saved the Seahawks from moving to Los Angeles in the mid-90's, put millions of dollars into the city for projects such as the EMP (now MOPOP), and helped lead the charge for a new stadium in Sodo.
If not for Paul Allen, Seattle would be without the Seahawks, and perhaps Sounders FC as well. Allen, an owner of the Sounders, instructed designers of Seahawks Stadium (now CenturyLink Field) to make the stadium loud, really loud. Not only for Seahawks games, but for all events.
Referendum 48 in June 1997, which allowed for the building of what is now CenturyLink, passed by the slim margin of 51.15% to 48.85. Some argue the angle of having a professional soccer team also play in the stadium is what allowed the referendum to pass. Thus, Seahawks Stadium was born. And more than a decade later, so were Sounders FC.
It's not out of the question to say that without Paul Allen, Sounders FC would not exist. Sure, someone with deep pockets may have come along and helped fund a soccer specific stadium and MLS expansion fee to bring a club to Seattle and house the team in a new facility, but you can't assume that. It's easier to assume against it. Paul Allen kept the Seahawks in Seattle, and in turn, helped build the home of Sounders FC.
With a point on Wednesday, the Sounders will clinch a 10th consecutive playoff berth. In fact, the club has never missed the playoffs. And hope is present for a third consecutive MLS Cup appearance and second championship. Would Sounders FC be where it is without Paul Allen? Probably not. They may not exist at all. And they certainly would not have one of MLS's largest home field advantages in CenturyLink Field, which Allen helped design.
So thank you, Paul Allen. For everything you've done for the city of Seattle, and Sounders FC. Thank you so much, and rest in peace.