Three keys: Sounders take on Orlando City’s talented attack
Not even two weeks after some of the most eventful days in recent Sounders FC history, the club heads to Orlando City with only the faintest thread of playoff hopes on the line.
The Sounders’ draw against the LA Galaxy last weekend wasn’t the worst result in the world, but it did mean more dropped points and less hope that they’ll perform a miracle and make it the playoffs. Luckily for the club, the team’s performance against LA was solid – a win was in their grasp if not for a giant defensive hiccup. Regardless, the performance of new signing Nicolas Lodeiro and the way he elevated the performance of his teammates is very encouraging for the Sounders. If they can keep up the positives and avoid silly mistakes, a win could certainly be on the cards in Orlando.
As for their opponents, the 2016 season has gone a little bit better, but not much. It currently sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 26 points and a 5-5-11 record. Of its five wins, only one has come against a team in the West – a 4-1 win over the Portland Timbers in Week 4. The early part of the season was good to the Lions, as they went on a four-match unbeaten streak to kick off 2016. It’s been a bit of a slide for OC since, but it will be hoping that last weekend’s big 3-1 win over the Revolution is a signal of things to come. With players like Cyle Larin, Kaka, and Kevin Molino leading their line, it’s certainly possible.
Here are three keys for the Sounders vs. Orlando City, which will be live on 97.3 KIRO Radio FM on Sunday:
1. Lodeiro doing Lodeiro things.
The Uruguayan’s performance against the Galaxy was quite enticing for Sounders fans: he was spraying passes, opening space, and creating all kinds of chances for his teammates. The through balls he put in for Jordan Morris were some of the best you’ll see in the entire league, but it was clear that communication and chemistry between him and his teammates still needs some work. When Morris, Clint Dempsey and Nelson Valdez get on the same page as Lodeiro, the Sounders could have one of the most incisive attacking units in the league. Pitting them against a shaky Orlando defense could also be a huge boost for the Sounders, so they must absolutely take advantage of it on Sunday.
2. Orlando’s attack can be very, very good.
That same chemistry that the Sounders need is already in full force at Orlando, with Brazil legend Kaka providing some excellent opportunities for Cyle Larin and Kevin Molino every single week. It helps that both of those players sit in the top 10 of the scoring chart, Larin with 11 and Molino with nine. The creativity goes both ways, too – Molino is also high up the assist charts this season with seven. Even though Kaka is the midfield general pulling the strings, Molino has developed into a versatile wide player that not only gives Kaka an outlet but also creates chances for himself and for Larin up top. If Molino continues to develop new skills and hone the ones he has, he could be a top MLS player in the very near future. Seattle cannot afford last week’s miscues because Molino, Larin, and company will punish even the slightest mistakes.
3. The battle of the new coaches.
In an interesting twist of fate, both the Sounders and Orlando City head into this weekend’s matchup with newly minted head coaches. After parting ways with Sigi Schmid, the Sounders are being led out for the rest of 2016 by former assistant Brian Schmetzer. Even though Schmetzer coached the team many years ago and has been an assistant ever since they joined MLS, he’s basically a caretaker manager on a trial basis this season. Orlando, on the other hand, made a full regime change recently; the club fired its first MLS head coach Adrian Heath in early July. A few weeks later, the club appointed former Real Salt Lake and New York City FC manager Jason Kreis as permanent head coach. Both coaches have only had a little time to make their mark (Schmetzer with one match under his belt, Kreis with two), and Sunday’s result could signal how each coach has handled their new gig. Orlando and Kreis will be flying high after last week’s result, however, and it’ll be Seattle and Schmetzer’s job to bring the Lions back down to reality.
Spenser Davis also covers the Sounders for Sounder at Heart.