Three keys: New-look Sounders set to take on rival LA Galaxy
It’s been quite the week for the Seattle Sounders.
Fresh off one of the worst losses in team history, they were hit with the news on Tuesday that the only head coach they’ve had in the MLS era, Sigi Schmid, was “mutually parting ways” with the organization. The day after that, they announced that they were making one of their biggest signings ever: Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro. The saga continued on Thursday as they officially announced yet another signing in Alvaro “Flaco” Fernandez. It’s obvious how strategic all this was, as the positive news of the club’s signings has pushed the Schmid news out of the spotlight. As rivals LA Galaxy – who they’ve lost to twice this year – come to town on Sunday, can they finally get into a groove this season?
Los Angeles has continued to have a solid season, as they currently sit in third place in the Western Conference with a 9-3-8 record. The Galaxy are also headed to the US Open Cup semifinals after they recently thrashed the Sounders 4-2 in the quarterfinal. Despite some recent injury issues, it’s looking like the Galaxy will have most of their star players on Sunday; Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, and Nigel de Jong should all be available according to head coach Bruce Arena. The only significant injury loss could be full-back Robbie Rogers.
Here are three things to watch for as the Sounders take on the Galaxy at CenturyLink Field at 1 p.m. Sunday on 97.3 KIRO Radio FM:
1. Will Lodeiro have an instant impact?
Assuming the proper paperwork goes through – the club is optimistic – Lodeiro could start for interim coach Brian Schmetzer’s team on Sunday just days after signing. If Clint Dempsey is also ready to play after traveling and putting in a shift for the MLS All-Stars on Thursday, we could get our first glimpse of the promising Dempsey-Lodeiro combo. Either way, expect Lodeiro to pull the strings for the Sounders from an advanced position and put through balls in for Jordan Morris and Dempsey. Ideally, Schmetzer would go with two forwards with Lodeiro behind them, but the team hasn’t really played that way all season because it hasn’t had a player like him. Either way, the team will be hoping to get the absolute most out of Lodeiro quickly; LA’s defense is tough, but not impenetrable. One excellent through ball could split LA’s hulking center backs, hopefully meeting Morris on the other side. The main concern is de Jong, LA’s controversial Dutch midfielder. If he injures Lodeiro, he could single-handedly squash any hopes of Seattle turning its season around.
2. LA will want a draw, but the Sounders have to win.
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena is known for his occasionally less-than-savory tactics, and he’ll be pulling out all the stops to keep Sunday’s match at 0-0 for as long as possible. He still has plenty of season left to push for the Supporters’ Shield, and a draw doesn’t hurt his team’s playoff chances at all. Seattle’s CenturyLink Field is well-known for being a difficult stadium to be an away team in, though it didn’t stop LA from scoring the last time it was in town. A possibly reinvigorated Sounders won’t likely crumble so easily, so I see Arena bunkering down for 90 minutes on Sunday. The Sounders absolutely need to win this. Dropping points at home all but seals their fate below the playoff line. Schmetzer will be throwing everything he has at the Galaxy, and hopefully something will finally stick.
3. How will the Sounders respond to this week?
Like I said, it’s been a tough week for soccer in the Emerald City. Sigi Schmid meant a lot to many players on the Sounders’ roster – some guys, like captain Brad Evans, have played only for Schmid in their professional lives. There were rumors earlier this week about discord in the Sounders’ locker room, though Evans did all he could to brush such suggestions off. The players know Schmetzer, as he’s been with the club longer than even Schmid, though only as an assistant in the MLS era. The team looked limp and ineffective against Sporting KC last Sunday; will the new styles of Schmetzer and the new faces of Lodeiro and Flaco reinvigorate a team that seemed to have lost its drive? It’s now or never for the Sounders, and if they can’t get focused enough for a match like this, they’ll have no chance of saving their season.
Spenser Davis also covers the Sounders for Sounder at Heart.