SAH) There have been few changes in personnel with EPL/Championship vet Tyrone Mears being the most well known addition. The right back is more defensively sound than Yedlin was, but still gets forward a bit. Draftee Cristian Roldan is a central mid who sometimes heads out wide, he teeters on the edge of being a possession-man and a creative threat. The newest signing is Thomas. The Brazilian attacking mid is all flair and exuberance, but has yet to fit into the team.
The biggest change comes in style. Where last year was a kind of run-and-gun that just aimed to outscore the other side, this year is central third possession that can put an opposing defense to sleep. When the timing is just right a quick strike lashes out destroying an organized defense, usually through the creative skills of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins.
tBG) Not having both Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins will be a huge blow. Can you talk about what those guys mean to the Sounders and who we can expect to see in their place?
SAH) A list of top five attacking talents in the leagues probably looks something like Keane, Giovinco, Kaka, Martins and Dempsey. Only TFC has another attacker that can pair with their top talent in that discussion. What that means is that Seattle's offense, when healthy and playing, can entertain like clubs around the world. With Clinfemi on the pitch the Sounders are grand entertainment that slips through cracks and racks up goal scoring data.
Marco Pappa has a bit of that flash, but without the scoring ability. Lamar Neagle is capable of scoring, and even earns assists, but he's a very conventional American talent who gets by with extraordinary effort and good fortune that he makes himself. Without Clinfemi the Sounders are merely a great defensive team than can score often enough to make the Playoffs. With them the Sounders look like a side that could make a case for history, and the CCL.
tBG) Can you give my readers a sense of the soccer culture in Seattle? For many of us here 3000 miles away it seems like a deep-rooted tradition that is almost universally accepted there. Is that the case?
SAH) Seattle's soccer lovers are clearly a large group. The crowds are large and passionate. The TV ratings are being chased by the rest of the league. For the rest of MLS, maybe with the exception of Portland, Orlando and Toronto, Seattle is the goal. Scarves, marches, songs, tifo, all are growing in popularity, even if they aren't right for the local soccer culture. From the outside, the Puget Sound soccer culture is amazing.
From within Puget Sound things are different. Despite the Mariners being awful for a decade their fanbase is at least twice as large as the Sounders' fan base. In some office environments you still can't strike up a conversation with "Did you see what Oba did last night?" For all the popularity as compared to MLS sides (and even Liga MX sides within the USA) this organization's goals are much bigger than that. To reach their goals they'll have to get creative in selling the game, and not just the atmosphere.
Predicted lineup: Stefan Frei; Dylan Remick, Chad Marshall, Zach Scott, Tyrone Mears; Thomas, Micheal Azira, Gonzalo Pineda, Cristian Roldan; Marco Pappa, Lamar Neagle
Predicted score: 1-1 I think Seattle can scrape together a goal. They'll give up at least one.