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Know Your Enemy: Seattle Sounders - Part One - The Lineup and the Form

The first installment of the Know Your Enemy series, previewing TFC's upcoming opponent, the Seattle Sounders

Sigi Schmid when last the two met; pointing towards goal as if to say, put the ball there - Seattle won 3-0
Sigi Schmid when last the two met; pointing towards goal as if to say, put the ball there - Seattle won 3-0
Otto Greule Jr

With the midweek distraction passed and the storms brought on by loose lips still circling, it should be remembered that come Saturday, Toronto FC has another match to attend.

Two-straight wins and unbeaten in three; there have been precious few times that those words have been applicable in the history of this club.

The come-from-behind 2-1 win at home over Columbus in the pouring rain was fun; withstanding the assault of New England after scoring an early goal was less so, but the end result, a 0-1 win on the road, made the stress worth the bother.

But the weekend brings with it a new challenge, a Western Conference one at that: the Seattle Sounders.

It has been seventeen months since the two last met, on that damnable turf in the Pacific Northwest that could not handle the manful tackling of Torsten Frings at the start of 2012.

Seventeen months is a long time – especially in the world of soccer; a closer look at the enemy is in order.

The Lineup

For those living under a rock, Seattle unleashed some massive news after a brief Twitter storm of Sharknado-esque proportions (we’re both hip and current here at WTR, as well as a little sleep deprived) when they announced the signing of US International Clint Dempsey.

Officially unveiled moments before last Saturday;s kickoff against Dallas – to his own rhymes no less – Dempsey’s acquisition may one day be seen as heralding in a new era of MLS.

A glimpse to the future, a time when transfer fees on par with the rest of the world and salaries somewhat approaching those befitting of North American sporting stars are doled out by this growing league of humble beginnings.

Dempsey is no aging veteran, yes he is slightly more grizzled than when he last graced the league in 2006 (rumour has it he feared the possibility of playing Toronto and so decided the time to test foreign climes had come), but it is fair to say his prime is not that far behind him and he will have plenty to contribute in the years to come.

And lucky Toronto may well be the first recipients of that salute (more on that later in Part Two).

With such big news and a spate of injuries in various stages of recovery, predicting just what coach Sigi Schmid has in mind for a crucial cross-conference clash (alliteration is fun) is difficult.

With that caveat firmly entrenched, their projected lineup is as follows: Michael Gspurning in goal; from right to left – DeAndre Yedlin, Zach Scott, Djimi Traore, and Leo Gonzalez across the back; Ossie Alonso sitting just in front of the back four with Mauro Rosales, Brad Evans, and Lamar Neagle across the midfield; Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins paired up top.

football formations

First things first, Dempsey should be fit – having come to the league from Tottenham’s preseason – but word is that all of his jet-setting of late has seen him pick up a virus of some sort.

Possible viral-considerations aside, there is no need to unsettle a winning side for a road match against lowly Toronto. Schmid is savvy enough to know that there is no rush to get Dempsey into the starting lineup.

Good things come with time; of course the season is running short and Seattle has some way to go to correct a poor start, but still it is more likely that Seattle goes with the above eleven and Dempsey enters in the second half, if at all.

Should Dempsey start, it is most likely he will sit in front of Alonso in the centre of a diamond 4-4-2, either replacing Evans or forcing him out to the left, where he has featured many times before.

Gspurning has missed their last three matches after spraining his forearm in a clash with San Jose’s Steven Lenhart some weeks ago, but has returned to training and looks set to return to his starting position. If not, Marcus Hahnemann deputized admirably on the weekend, though he is nursing a knock of his own, and pool keeper Andrew Weber is still in camp.

With so many options, it is inevitable that some miss out.

Servando Carrasco has been very impressive this season – filling in for the absent Alonso on occasion, or playing alongside; Marc Burch has put in a shift on the left-side when called upon, while Andy Rose and Alex Caskey have both struggled to recreate the performances that saw them figure much more prominently in their rookie campaigns than this season.

Jhon Kennedy Hurtado has been terrible, unable to find his form this season, while Steve Zakuani has once more missed large swathes with injury – he is currently troubled by a sports hernia (which sounds much kinder than the athletic pubalgia that is listed on injury reports).

And David Estrada, who looked set to break out with that dynamic three-goal display in last season’s meeting, has been largely limited to a substitute’s role.

Then, of course, there is Shalrie Joseph – who graciously negotiated his contract down under DP status to clear way for Dempsey’s arrival – showing glimpses of his old self before being laid low by a calf strain.

The Sounders are stacked.

The Form

Seattle enter on a three-game unbeaten streak of their own, having also won their last two.

Though they currently sit in seventh place in the West, after an abysmal start that saw them winless through the first five matches – they finally won at the end of April – they lay primed to be one of the big movers as the season comes to a close.

On thirty-one points through twenty matches, a mere two points off the fifth and final playoff berth and just seven from the top spot – with at least two games in hand on each of the teams ahead of them and as many as four on Colorado – Seattle is proof positive that in the playoff system rough stretches do not matter, as long as one can make swift amends before the final bell is rung.

They will want these three points.

The poor start was never representative of the team, their Champions League commitments – defeating Tigres before falling once more to Santos Laguna - disrupted their ability to find rhythm and hurt their results in the league.

Emerging from that funk, they strung together a six-match unbeaten run that included a 4-0 walloping of San Jose and a 4-2 shootout victory over Dallas before seeing their run ended by an emphatic 4-0 defeat in Los Angeles.

Three days later they were unceremoniously dumped from the US Open Cup having travelled to Florida on short rest to lose to Tampa Bay 1-0 and see their hopes of reacquiring the precious trophy dashed.

Rebounding with wins away to Chivas and at home to Vancouver, Seattle closed out June with a 2-0 loss in Salt Lake, before opening July by the reverse score-line back at home against strugglers DC United.

A pair of disappointing losses – away to Vancouver on goals from Kenny Miller and Darren Mattocks (in the fourth and 79th minutes, respectively) and away to San Jose on the strength of a lone strike from Walter Martinez just after halftime – followed.

The loss to San Jose was, to quote Schmid, "ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly" – yes, six uglies – physical and lacking in flow.

That disappointment may well prove to be the turning point in their season.

A week on, they proved their mettle.

Responding just five minutes after a goal-keeping error from Weber allowed Drew Moor to open the scoring with a header off a corner kick on the hour - Yedlin powered home his first MLS goal, to earn their first point from a losing position of the season.

A feat they accomplished again the following match, this time nabbing two – through Evans and Neagle – after ‘Cubo’ Torres had put Chivas in front.

And they were positively rampant against a floundering Dallas on Saturday, buoyed by the news of Dempsey’s arrival, winning 3-0 on goals from Martins and Johnson inside the first twenty-two minutes, with Evans adding a third from the spot in stoppage-time.

Toronto will have their hands full; good thing they had a leisurely week to focus on maintaining their streak.

Part Two, reviewing the game film in search of strengths and weaknesses, as well as digging into some points of interest is now available right here.