3 keys: Sounders set for a much different match vs FC Dallas
Because the Sounders were unable to get a goal against Houston on Wednesday, their quest to complete their miraculous late season run to the MLS Cup playoffs is not yet over. They head to Dallas on Sunday with probably the most depleted squad – due to injuries and Osvaldo Alonso’s suspension – since Brian Schmetzer took over as interim head coach.
Other matches around the league could help the Sounders, regardless of their own result, but I have no doubt that Schmetzer wants them to take their destiny in their own hands.
FC Dallas, on the other hand, is fighting for something very different: the 2016 MLS Supporters’ Shield. With two matches left in the season, Dallas is a single point below Colorado for the Shield and top seed in the playoffs.
There’s not much of a historical rivalry between Dallas and Seattle, but Dallas’ big playoff win over the Sounders last season has made this matchup a little more interesting when things get heated.
Here are three things to keep in mind as the Sounders face off with FC Dallas on Sunday at 2 p.m.:
1. Who replaces Osvaldo Alonso? Other than Clint Dempsey, the worst absence for the Sounders has to be midfielder Alonso, who is suspended for one match after being sent off against Houston. Alonso has forged one of the most reliable and consistent midfield pivots with Cristian Roldan, who has grown tremendously this season. The duo have played relatively similar roles that have transformed quite a bit over the course of the year, with the most recent iteration having Alonso play further forward while Roldan stays a bit more central. Without Alonso, Roldan’s role probably won’t change too much, though he’ll probably be required to do even more tackling and cleanup work in midfield. The likely choice to replace Alonso is Erik Friberg, who has come in a few times for various other players and slotted in next to Alonso, often pushing Roldan into an attacking role. Friberg’s skill set is mostly pass-heavy, giving the Sounders a deep-lying creative outlet, but he won’t be as effective in limiting Dallas from passing quickly and doing its own creating in midfield.
2. This won’t be like the two clubs’ last meeting. Back in July the Sounders pounded FC Dallas 5-0 at home in what was probably the highlight of departed coach Sigi Schmid’s leadership of the team in 2016. Sunday’s meeting won’t be anything like that match, for a lot of reasons. Dallas had a pretty strong back line, but its attack was a mixed bag in July that was clearly meant to help rest a few of their star players. The Sounders were about as full strength as possible at that point in the season, with Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Andreas Ivanschitz all getting on the scoresheet. They might have Nicolas Lodeiro this time around, but no Dempsey, Ivanschitz or Alonso will make things much more difficult. Maximiliano Urruti, Mauro Diaz, Kellyn Acosta, Tesho Akindele and former Sounder Mauro Rosales could all do serious damage for Dallas, and as much as Seattle needs a win, they might be happy with a draw. Either way, don’t expect another 5-0 drubbing by the Sounders.
3. Schmetzer has some tough decisions to make. Much has been made of Schmetzer’s style since taking the helm in Seattle, and for good reason. His team has been playing good, attractive, attacking soccer since his first game against Los Angeles. The introduction of Lodeiro has helped, but Schmetzer has managed to get the best out of nearly every player wearing rave green. But against Dallas, he’ll be without first- (and second-) choice players in a handful of positions. In addition to Alonso’s absence, the Sounders won’t have Ivanschitz or (potentially) Flaco Fernandez, the latter of which was only a starter because of Dempsey’s long-term injury. The one time that Schmetzer tried a new formation due to personnel changes was against Vancouver, and his team played so poorly in the first half that he had to find a way to switch back to the 4-2-3-1 in the second half. The Sounders took the lead and won through a late Brad Evans penalty. If Schmetzer gets brave again, which I don’t really suspect, he could go with a two-striker formation to Nelson Valdez in there to open up space for Morris. Otherwise, we will probably see Evans and Herculez Gomez come into the attacking midfield roles if Friberg replaces Alonso. Schmetzer’s true tactical colors will show in a match like this, where he has to really dig deep to find the right combination of his lineup, tactics, and preparation.
Bonus: Keep an eye on Timbers vs. Rapids on Sunday. San Jose has officially been eliminated from the playoff race, with its loss on Thursday meaning that the most points it can get is 43, which would tie Sporting KC, which would get the tiebreaker on total wins. The Portland Timbers are the last threat to oust Seattle from the playoffs if the Sounders fail to get at least two more points. If the Timbers lose or draw against the Rapids, they will be out of playoff contention and effectively hand a playoff spot to the Sounders.
Spenser Davis also covers the Sounders for Sounder at Heart.