Three things to watch in Sounders vs D.C. United

May 31, 2016, 11:28 AM
Former Sounders striker Lamar Neagle will face his old team with D.C. United on Wednesday. (AP)...
Former Sounders striker Lamar Neagle will face his old team with D.C. United on Wednesday. (AP)

D.C. United, the Sounders’ second opponent in four days, had a much better weekend than Seattle. In a low-scoring conference, D.C.’s 1-0 win at Sporting KC shot the United up the tightly-contested table in the East. The club was sitting at ninth with 13 points going into the weekend, but its win in KC put it in fifth place with a 4-5-4 record. It’s worth noting that their 16 points would put them around eighth place in the Western Conference, just above the Sounders.

Wednesday’s match is probably going to be another tight one for the Sounders, whose away form has been absolutely dismal this season. D.C. hasn’t necessarily been stellar at home (3-3-1 this season), but coming home after a big win in K.C. should buoy the team and its fans. One possible boost for the Sounders is that not only has D.C. had to travel much further since their weekend match, but their travel complications prior to their match in KC could compound their general fatigue. The Sounders only have to pop over to D.C. from Boston, giving them less travel time and more rest and training time. In a match with potentially slim margins, anything with even the slightest effect can change the outcome.

Related: Luck not really a factor in Sounders’ third straight loss

The Seattle Sounders are having one of their worst seasons since joining MLS, and time is running out for them to catch up with an extremely strong Western Conference. They sit in ninth place with a 4-7-1 record and 13 points, seven away from a playoff spot and 15 points off the current leaders, the Colorado Rapids. There’s really no playing for a draw, even in tough away matches, at this point. It’s all or nothing for the rest of the Sounders’ season, if they have any hope of clinching a playoff spot.

The match kicks off at 5 p.m. Wednesday on 710 ESPN Seattle. Here are three things to watch for:

1. A potentially young Sounders team. Between the loss of players on international duty and the injuries that could keep Brad Evans and Chad Marshall out of the lineup, the Sounders may be fielding their youngest team of the season in this match. Draftee Tony Alfaro made his debut for the club on Saturday after Brad Evans took a hard shot to the head and had to leave the match. Alfaro looked very composed on his debut, and could get the nod if both Evans and Marshall are out. There’s even potential for Alfaro to start over Zach Scott, who played fairly well but put the team in some precarious positions against New England. Darwin Jones may also see some more action against D.C., and could even get the start over Herculez Gomez. While I think Gomez has played well, things clearly aren’t working and Sigi Schmid may try something new. A front three of Jones, Jordan Morris, and Kovar could be on the table for this match.

2. D.C. defense not invincible. United are tied for the fewest goals allowed in the Eastern Conference this season (14), so they’ll be a tough test for a Sounders team that has found goals hard to come by. The good news is that D.C. is missing one of its best defenders, Steve Birnbaum, to the US national team for Copa America. The Sounders – especially young, quick players like Morris and Kovar – definitely have the ability to take on this defense. Morris will probably be battling with center back Bobby Boswell all night, and he’ll need as much help as possible from his teammates to get the ball to him in the right positions. Morris likes to get in behind the defender and pick up through balls, and considering Boswell’s height and aerial threat, keeping the ball on the ground for Morris will be pretty important.

3. Lamar Neagle might come back to haunt Seattle. Federal Way product Neagle has played for MLS teams other than the Sounders on two separate occasions in his career, and it’s this last time that probably hurt the team the most. Seattle could use him right now, if for nothing other than to have a goal-scoring option off the bench. While Neagle’s not as young as he once was, he’s certainly younger and a bit faster than the United’s preferred strikers, Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola. Those players will provide a direct, aerial threat against Seattle, but Neagle, who has scored twice this season, could be the player to pop up and punish the Sounders for not keeping a close eye on him. As he showed in his first match for D.C. this season, Neagle is the kind of poaching forward that will jump on any loose ball or error and potentially do something dangerous with it. Neagle could also turn provider, especially if he plays on the left; watch for his crossing from deep for his team’s big strikers, or a through ball for quick guys like Alhaji Kamara. Wherever Neagle plays on Wednesday, we can be certain that he’ll be wanting to remind Seattle just what it’s missing.

Spenser Davis also covers the Sounders for Sounder at Heart.

Seattle Sounders FC

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Three things to watch in Sounders vs D.C. United