This week I chatted with Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart, SB Nation's Seattle Sounders site. Clark and I discussed various things about the teams, including broadcasters. Some very good tactical information about how the Philadelphia Union can exploit the Sounders' defense this afternoon.
The Brotherly Game: My first question for you is how the Sounders have done so well so far (13 points from six games) despite Eddie Johnson having showed little thus far? David Estrada stepped up and filled the gap in the first few games, but what since?
Sounder at Heart: Seattle is a defense first team that rides the back of quality keepering, strong centerbacks and one of the best players in MLS at the defensive mid - Osvaldo Alonso. So even when the offense isn't that good, like right now, the Sounders will always be competitive. From day one they built along the spine from the back forward with the notable exception being the 09 DP. Estrada isn't as good as his first 2 games show, and EJ7 isn't as bad as he's looked so far, plus Montero and Rosales aren't in midseason form yet. When the offense gets going it will again be amongst the best.
tBG: Which member of the backline has impressed the most thus far?
SaH: Patrick Ianni - while Jeff Parke got the national team call and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is near his 09 form, Ianni has grown from a useful 3rd CB to one who can start and succeed at this level. He's probably the best in offense of the group and as a defender is good enough to start for a majority of MLS teams.
tBG: All of that adds up to a big problem for the Union, who have had problems generating shots and scoring with a single forward formation this year. In what situations has the Seattle defense looked most vulnerable this season?
SaH: Seattle is a bit weak on fast counters down an emptied wing when either of Burch or Johansson get forward.
tBG: That's rather unfortunate for Philadelphia, since it has yet to put together a threatening counter in 2012.
SaH: I don't set the weaknesses just show where they are. Honestly, if Adu starts on the right (he's been there a bit right?) and Burch starts there's an opportunity for Philly.
tBG: Union have done a lot of in game switching on the wings. Adu on the wing has worked out better for him than whatever he did last year. What about in goal? Has Gspurning done notably well, or has he benefited mostly from the defense's stellar play?
SaH: I think that Gspurning is a bit better than Keller at handling crosses, though he's a puncher. He may be slower reactively and slow to get down, but that is more an assumption people have due to his height rather than actual game analysis. He's also great with the ball at his feet and you'll see Seattle switch the ball through their keeper more than most MLS teams.
tBG: So he's more than satisfied concerned fans and questioning writers after taking over for Keller?
SaH: Keller was a great keeper in MLS and is a US legend. Replacing him was always going to be hard, but Gspurning looks more than adequate. He'll never be Kasey, and no one is asking him to do that.
tBG: Speaking of Keller, has his transition from field to broadcast booth been smooth?
SaH: He's been solid. The biggest issues he has are developing a vibe with his partner, but it's coming along. I love his pre/half/post comments and think he'll be one of the better analysts in American soccer in a year or two.
tBG: Does he chew gum in the booth? For some reason him doing that in game is etched in my mind whenever he's brought up in articles or conversation.
SaH: Yes, and always long pants. I actually don't know if this is true.
tBG: I don't think anything will beat Taylor Twellman wearing suit pants and either flip flops or chucks during a Union game in '11. Seems like former players don't lose their quirks once crossing over.
SaH: Ideally. Note - they aren't hired to be a suit
Onto Dave's questions for me about the Union:
SaH: Should Seattle expect Philly to be less "aggressive" with Nowak watching from the pressbox?
tBG: The Union ran pretty much the same formation and tactics they've played all season with him off of the bench this past weekend. I think that might change given Lionard Pajoy's failure to establish anything as a loan striker, and the Danny Mwanga-Jack McInerney partnership's success late in the second after both were substituted into the game. Perhaps Kai Herdling, a recent loanee from Hoffenheim's reserve team, might change things as well, but it'll have to be seen on Saturday. It would seem to me that being more aggressive on the road against the league's best defense would make little sense, so I'm leaning toward a more conservative outlook on Saturday.
SaH: But less "fouly"?
tBG: Gabriel Farfan won't be on the field... going with yes on that one. He and his twin brother, Michael, have gotten away with fouls all season. This Union squad is rather chippy, led by box-to-box midfielder Gabriel Gomez. I don't think it'll get through the rest of the season with less than a card per game.
SaH: From the outside Adu still has all the talent to be a strong MLS talent, what's holding him back?
tBG: This season it's the fact that he's still transitioning into a full time winger. I'm in the camp that believes Adu is best when he's deployed centrally and allowed to make square passes that rip apart the opposing defense. However, Adu has shown heart and energy out of the wing position, including once when he was visibly upset at being taken out of a game midway through the second half. Adu is actively trying to put his best self out on the field and that's all that was being asked of him last year. Now he has to live up to his high price tag ($600,000+ in guaranteed compensation) and the hype behind his name. The Union offense has so much potential between him, Michael Farfan and the young strikers in tow, but it has yet to be put all together.
SaH: Will the real Zac MacMath please stand up?
tBG: In terms of what?
SaH: His early games he could be blamed for a couple goals. Lately his numbers are great. Which is the real MacMath?
tBG: The San Jose game is what he is right now. A very good up-and-coming goalkeeper that has confidence in his defense. Early season MacMath hadn't totally taken control of his role, but now he has. The former University of Maryland star can be a potential difference maker when it comes to shot stopping and it's certainly telling when the defense isn't as shot stopping as it was last season, yet MacMath manages to keep the ball out of the back of the net for over 400 minutes. That period of time includes Danny Califf missing games, uncertainty at the left back position and rookie Raymon Gaddis playing right back. MacMath has a very bright future ahead of him at this rate.
SaH: With the split playoffs is there any more comparing how the Union did to Western expansion teams?
tBG: Last year, this year?
SaH: now and moving forward
tBG: I think player development, brand development, stadium situations and playoff advancement can still be used as comparison subjects.
A big thanks to Dave for participating in this week's chat.