It's almost game time, finally. Through the year we'll be bringing you the view from our rival SB Nation blogs, and we start off with Seattle. Here's Dave Clark, answering my questions on Stefan Frei, what's the first choice lineup of attackers, and who's the next Deandre Yedlin. All that and more, plus I answer his questions about TFC's turfophobia, improved defence and more. So Seattle, how you doin'?
Waking The Red: Chad Barret scoring and a Stefan Frei clean sheet, it's TFC 2010 all over again, buckle up Sounders fans, you've got a great 4 years ahead of you! Is Frei the undisputed number one over there? What are the general expectations for him and the Chad Marshall improved defence, as well as the first impressions?
Sounder At Heart: Frei is the number one, but all indications are that it was a tough decision for Sigi Schmid. Marcus Hahnemann isn't just a local legend, he's still good at keeper-things. In the first match Frei parried more than caught the ball. A more aggressive or experience set of forwards probably picks a goal up off those deflections. All Seattle needs him to be is an average keeper and a large part of the reasoning behind that is adding Chad Marshall.
Marshall looks to be every bit of the player that twice was the best defender in MLS. He does not just win aerial duels. Instead he wins that contest while redirecting the ball towards his teammates. His positioning is strong and he has a patience on the ball that leads to fewer punts down the field.
WTR: There's obviously plenty of attacking talent in the current squad, if everyone's healthy, what would be a consistent lineup and formation as far as the midfielders and forwards go? There's also been plenty of talent leaving Seattle recently, Mauro Rosales, Eddie Johnson, Steve Zakuani, Fredy Montero (kinda). Do you think Seattle have come out of all those changes ahead of where they were?
S@H: There's been a lot of recent chatter about this. Sigi started preseason talking about sitting Dempsey behind two forwards, but just recently indicated that it's going to be a more like a 4-2-3-1 (or such) with Dempsey in the spot as a 10 and Oba up top. The band of two is going to be Alonso and Evans. The questions arise when addressing the outside parts of the band of three. Marco Pappa seems pretty definite. At this point it seems that Kenny Cooper is going to play a type right mid.
Of those front six each has at least one five goal year in MLS. The non-Dempsey's have it within the last three years. Dempsey, Oba and Cooper are all quite capable of double digit goals. This should be Seattle's best attack yet, even better than the 2011 team that lead the league in scoring.
WTR: DeAndre Yedlin was a bit of a revelation last season, who are some players we might be unfamiliar with that can be taking the league by storm this year?
S@H: Sounders FC brought on two more HGPs this season. Aaron Kovar was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in 2012, dabbled in some US Youth teams and should build into Brad Davis skillset. He did not make the 18 last Saturday. Sean Okoli did make the 18 and nearly earned an assist on the game-winning goal. The Wake Forrest student (he's on a program to still graduate from Wake) is an Eddie Johnson type of forward who can drift wide or use his athleticism in the box.
Dylan Remick is not an Academy product. In his second year in MLS after graduating from Brown he may just be wining the starting left back slot. He's faster than Yedlin and a slightly better crosser though with a slower trigger. With him and Yedlin on the pitch the width comes from the backs.
Significant Absences: Bowen Out, Gonzalez unlikely.
Projected Lineup: Frei; Remick, Traore, Marshall, Yedlin; Alonso, Evans; Pappa, Dempsey, Cooper; Martins
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S@H: How many of the DPs will play on the most dangerous playing surface the universe has ever seen? Are TFC fans supportive of Nelsen holding players out from playing here?
WTR: I think Gilberto will be out as he seems like he's still recovering from a preseason hip flexor injury. As for Bradley and Defoe, who knows really, Nelsen says they may not be fully fit and he doesn't want to risk them if not (got to think of the season, not just this game etc ), though he later said everything was pointing in the right direction for them. Defoe came out and said he's 100% healthy, and Bradley said he's ready to go as well. Who's telling the truth, who's trying to kid themselves or kid Seattle? Who knows really? The fun part is all those quotes came after training, which had just taken place on turf. I'd guess both of them play, though maybe not for the full 90 minutes.
Are fans supportive? Well that's a bit of a tricky issue, what with TFC about go into a groundsharing deal with the CFL Argonauts, talking openly of going to a hybrid pitch and with the unspoken fear that they'll eventually have to go full plastic. I think TFC are a bit of a minor concern for owners MLSE so TFC's interests need to be loudly and repeatedly voiced so they don't get complacent, so I think some TFC fans feel an obligation to be as stridently anti turf as they can which can cloud this sort of issue.
My own opinion, and I'd guess it's representative of most TFC fans is that if there is a genuine injury concern, then yes it's fair to not play them, but if they're fit then put your big boy pants on and put them in the game, don't throw away points out of turfophobia like the Red Bulls do.
S@H: The defense was also reworked, but less famously than the attack. What are goal prevention expectations like?
WTR: Last year saw a big drop in goals allowed (only 47!), but if playoffs are going to be achieved, which seems to be the minimum expectation, then that'll need another reduction, they'll be looking to get that goals against down to roughly 40. The full back positions were both pretty dodgy last season so Justin Morrow and (when he's fit) Bradley Orr will hopefully be big improvements. Given we have two new players, and 20 year old Doneil Henry in the first choice defence, the one player we can't afford to lose for any length of time is Steven Caldwell. the veteran brought stability to chaos last year and will be relied upon to do the same again. Any of the other 3 are relatively replaceable, but the dropoff in quality from Caldwell to the bench centre backs would be alarming.
Then of course there's Julio Cesar. Joe Bendik looked ok last season but his sv% was down among the lowest of the regular keepers at 66.2%. Given the hype it's not unreasonable to hope that Cesar will be among the top keepers and well over 70%. Even a 5% improvement over a full season would have seen 7 fewer goals conceded last season. How long Cesar plays is of course a whole other concern. The biggest potential for improvement lies with Doneil Henry, but that's the next question.
S@H: Which former TFC Academy players are going to impact the game?
There'll probably be only one true academy player that will have an impact and that's Doneil Henry. Already very tall, he bulked up a lot in the off season and has all the tools to be a physically dominant defender. The mental side of the game, reading the game, knowing when to get tight on an opponent, when to commit to a tackle, all that sort of thing, remains a bit of an adventure at times. If and when he figures that bit out, he could become one of the top defenders in the league. Depending on that, I see his potential as been somewhere from Andy Iro (can do a decent job in a good defence but in no way should ever be trusted to be the man you build a defence around) to Jamison Olave (absolutely the rock you build your defence around). Having Caldwell, Cesar and Bradley around him this year can only help with that.
For this game specifically, it's a bit of a worry as I can totally see him getting pulled out of position by Martins or Dempsey or whoever.
There's also Jonathan Osorio who's technically a former academy player but who spent his formative years in Uruguay before coming to TFC's academy in September 2012, then signing with the first team at the beginning of last season. He had an impressive first season, scored some goals, did a lot of good things and forced his way into the first team. Used primarily as an attacking midfielder last year, this year through pre season he's been slotted into a deeper position alongside Michael Bradley. He's got the game sense and passing skills to complement Bradley well, but the big question mark will be about how he can contribute defensively, he's certainly no Matias Laba when it comes to that whole breaking up opposition attacks thing. If we still had Laba then I'd expect Bradley to be the more attacking of the pair, but with Osorio, I'd expect Bradley to take the more defensive role as well as being the guy who starts the attacks and distributes rather than provided that attacking thrust through the middle, which seems a bit of a waste for such a name and a pay cheque.
Significant Absences (injury, suspension): No suspensions, but injuries? Bright Dike (definitely out), Gilberto (probablly out), Defoe, Bradley, Orr, Alvaro Rey (maybe out, maybe just bullshitting, we'll see)
Projected Lineup: Julio Cesar; (left to right) Justin Morrow, Doneil Henry, Steven Caldwell, Bradley Orr; Michael Bradley & Jonathan Osorio in the middle, Dwayne de Rosario on the left, Alvaro Rey on the right; Jermian Defoe, Andrew Wiedeman.