Sounders FC travel to the Land o’ Lakes to take on the Loons
The Sounders are hot and I so is the weather (except in Minnesota). The Sounders are in the land of 10,000 lakes today for their first match against the “Loons” of Minnesota United FC. The Loons lit the MLS on fire their first couple of week by getting smashed in epic fashion by everyone that they played. This included a 4-0 drubbing by their expansion brethren, Atlanta United.
Since then the Loons (who have the best crest in MLS and one of the best shirt sponsors) have been merely “decent” like an expansion team usually is. They have problems and one bright spot.
The Loons can’t play defense
Minnesota United wants to be a passing and possession team that plays beautiful soccer from the back of the pitch to the front. But they have the worst defense in the league, and its not even close. Nothing that management has been able to fix it (not even trading for Sam Cronin, who was rated as the best defensive midfielder in MLS last year). Their defenders are a whole bunch of has-beens, never-weres, and never-gonna-bes. This team can’t defend, even at home.
They have no DPS
So, umm, yeah, like you just can’t win without big-time stars. Its true in MLB baseball, NFL football, NBA!!! basketball, NHL hockey (I guess ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, I just don’t care about that sport very much; sorry not sorry). But the point remains. Stars make up your core, they define your identity. To make a point 2013 Super Bowl winning Seahawks had loads of stars: Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, et al. the 2016 MLS Cup Champion Seattle Sounders FC, had Nico Lodeiro, and injured Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, Captain Ozzie Alonso, Roman Torres, Chad Marshall, Joevin Jones.
That season the Sounders had 3 official Designated Players (DPs). (A reminder for the uninitiated, DPs are players who you can’t wreck the salary cap with. They take a max salary cap hit, but have no maximum salary. If you wanted to get Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, or Neymar come to an MLS team you could play them what ever salary you wanted). The Sounders had Dempsey, Lodeiro, Nelson Valdez (who was largely ineffective until the MLS Cup playoffs) and Ozzie Alonso. That’s 4 you say? Well you are right. That is 4. You see MLS allows you to cheat the salary cap with “special” monies called “general allocation money” or “targeted allocation money”; lets call them GAM and TAM. This money lets a team break the cap by overpaying players and “buying down” their salary.
Minnesota has not really used this GAM or TAM very much, and has not used any of their 3 DP slots. The Sounders used some of this money to take Alonso from DP to TAM level player. Seattle defender Roman Torres, and new additions RB Kelvin Leerdam, and MF Victor Rodriguez all were acquired by using these GAM and TAM monies.
The Loons really only have 2 stars at this point. Center Forward Christian Ramirez, who slowly developed as a journeyman in the college and lower divisions of US Soccer’s mangled “pyramid,” has become a star and proved that he belongs in MLS by slotting home 11 goals so far. His partner-in-crime, set up man Kevin Molino, hailing from Trinidad and Tobago, usually is the one who sets him up. Ramirez is unlikely to play after injuring his hip in the Loon’s last game. He might not even be on the game day 18. This is too bad because he is a fun player to watch. Without Ramirez’s hold up play and tireless running Seattle’s back line only needs to watch out for Molino and rookie F Abu Danladi. This should not be an attack that threatens the Rave Green Defense in any meaningful way.
The Sounders are Suddenly Insanely Deep
The only missing Sounder for today’s match is Ozzie Alonso. This is the first time in months that the Sounders haven’t had multiple players unavailable for selection. Alonso was injured on July 4 with a knee sprain and is expected back before the end of August. With the Gold Cup over and won by the US Men’s National Team, (Congratulations to Jordan Morris, Clint Dempsey, and Christian Roldan) the Sounders suddenly have almost an embarrassment of depth. Lets review.
Starting with the goalkeepers, Stefan Frei and Tyler Miller lead this group. While Frei was the MLS Cup MVP and hero and now an MLS All-Star, Tyler Miller has proven that he is a capable backup. Remember his gutsy performance against RSL last summer in the US Open Cup? He was a stud.
Moving onto the defense now, the back line is a star-studded affair. Left back Joevin Jones proved his international bone fides earlier this week by signing a contract to leave the Sounders and go to German Bundesliga 2 side, Darmstadt (who were in the Bundesliga last year and look to rebound and get promoted back to the top division this season). His back up is new Sounders sensation Nouhou (pronounced New-who) Tolo, who plays with passion and sometimes with heart stopping reckless abandon. Tolo is only 19 and is a Sounders 2 product. Veteran Oniel Fisher is the backup at either LB or RB as well.
The Center of the defense is now embarrassingly deep. Chad Marshall and Roman Torres are the established starters, but with two do-everything players in the form of Brad Evans and Gustav Svensson, they are well backed up. Also remember that second year man Tony Alfaro has made starts at CB and LB in the recent past. Jordy Delem is listed as a central midfielder, but he also is a fine center back. Also on the long range radar should be new Sounders 2 signing, Ballard High School’s very own Sam Rogers. Rogers is a top international prospect who has spent a lot of time playing with the Men’s u-17 National Team. He is expected to compete for a spot on the first team next season and might be called up at the end of this season for some experience.
Center defensive midfield is manned by the trio of Christian Roldan, Ozzie Alonso, and Gustav Svensson. That’s 3 guys for 2 positions in the Seattle’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Also Brad Evans, Jordy Delem and Harry Shipp can all play this position. Zach Mathers is also around but hasn’t seen any first team minutes at this point in the season.
The attacking band of 3 midfielders is getting very crowded. Nico Lodeiro and Clint Dempsey are the locked in starters for now. New Spainish Midfielder Victor Rodriguez is able to play any of the 3 positions, LM, CAM or RM. Brad Evans started at RM two games ago. Rumored new DP signing Derlis Gonzales, of Ukranian power Dynamo Kiev plays LM or any of CAM and RM. Also don’t forget Henry Wingo, Harry Shipp, Aaron Kovar all can play along that band of 3.
With Will Bruin healthy, and Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey back from international duty, this position is back to its preseason depth. Do not expect backups Seyi Adekoya and Victor Mansaray to see the field, much less the game day 18.
The Sounders have an embarrasment of riches with Gustav Svensson and Brad Evans who can play basically anywhere in the defense or midfield. This give the Sounders so much flexibility. There might be matches in the final third of the season where Dempsey, Morris and Lodeiro can take a game off or maybe just start on the bench. When guys like Aaron Kovar, Harry Shipp, Gustav Svensson, Brad Evans, and Will Bruin might not even make the game day roster, much less the starting 11 your team is silly deep.
Player to watch
Jordan Morris has come back from the US Men’s National Team call up brimming with confidence. He lead the team with 3 goals. He should have had 4 assists or so but his teammates failed to finish point blank chances in front of goal. He is healthy for the first time this season. Also he seems to have developed more confidence and skill in using his weaker left foot. Watch for his speed and physicality to be brought to bear against the inferior center backs of Minnesota.
Score prediction: Sounders 2 MNU 0