Over 2,800 miles separate the stadiums of the opponents and the two fans who preview this match. Who solves the problem of space will no doubt be the key factor in the outcome Saturday night, but for the two friends it is solved by Slack. I reached out to Harrison Crow, Sounders fan and the man behind American Soccer Analysis, and we took to our phones to share thoughts on the Union at Sounders, Curtin's job security and the call for CJ Sapong to make the U.S. Men's National Team.
Jared Young: My surprisingly hot team is about to visit your surprisingly cool team. How you feeling about this game?
Harrison Crow: I'm skipping the game to take my wife out for her birthday if that tells you anything...which to most of your readers probably communicates very little. So let me take a step back....
I think the Union as a whole have a lot of interesting pieces. I think last year they were unlucky and vice versa I think this year they've been lucky. That said, how I'm feeling about the game has less to do with the opponent and more to do with the current status of the Sounders. I think it's unfair and premature to say that the Sounders are a bad team, but I do think there is something behind their string of of results that relates back to their current roster and weekly XI.
But back to the more important issue at hand. Birthday plans are: taking the wife out to the Spring State Fair where we will ride all those rides you can't ride when you have young children. Then we will have sushi, like good sushi -- and maybe find a theater that is still playing Midnight Special. So yeah...
JY: I love a good fair and good sushi even more. I'm imagining you can get good sushi at a fair in a place like Seattle but I hope you find some place nicer. This is awkward to say in a match preview but that sounds like a better time than watching the game. You're a good guy.
Unlike you, I will be abandoning my wife to watch this late night affair with other obsessed fans. Definitely no sushi. Probably Philly type things like pretzels or Butterscotch Krimpets will be sitting around.
Speaking of the game setting, the Sounders subtracted more names than they added not counting for Jordan Morris and Herculez Gomez who are on different sides of their best years. You mention roster issues. Is it a simple matter of getting this roster some time or will reinforcements be needed? Expectations are always high in Seattle. A subpar roster isn't an option.
HC: I think there are a lot of things at play with this XI...
First, I don't think they all fit together very well... the 4-3-3 has done its job and it's probably the best shape given the propensities, general wanderings of players and their talents. But it's far from perfect as a whole. Valdez just doesn't help facilitate shots in any respect, Morris doesn't know how to play with/off Deuce and Andreas Ivanschitz may be the most dangerous player out there. AND IF I HEAR ONE MORE PERSON TALK ABOUT DEUCE DROPPING TOO FAR (there is a joke here but I'm skipping it for the sake of what will be a lengthy response) I'M GONNA LOSE IT.
Dempsey has pretty much always dropped (hehe, Deuce drop... there you are, further proof I'm an 8-year old and can't resist the poop joke) into the middle. He drops deep and runs right back up the alley. What made it really work was he had someone to play off of that could either release him into space or vice versa. Morris hasn't figured that part out, Valdez seems like a poor partner, and Ivanschitz wants to either run into the same lanes or occupy the same space (which is a less talked about issue that will end up becoming a thing in the next two-to-three weeks).
What's worse is that it's up to these four guys to figure things out.
Second, the depth for any formation is exceptionally shallow. The first guy off the bench has been either Oalex Anderson, who in every right is an exciting talent but is still trying to "figure things" out at this level, or Aaron Kovar who I still am convinced is overrated because of his crossing ability. Gomez is a huge pick up but this team needs more. The weird thing is--i'm not really sure what that "more" is... just more better, I guess.
Third, nearly every player is in a different role than what it what was thought they might play. Everyone, EVERYONE has to step up into the attack from Ozzie in the midfield up to Morris. The problem has been the lack of ebb and flow. There is an obvious disconnect and it feels like everyone is expecting someone else to do X while they do Y. Herculez Gomez came on the field and kind of changed that. He got into Clint a bit and coached up Oalex Anderson on what he needed out of him, and bam things started looking very different (they still had NO right to take points from Houston and I'm pretty certain ... blah, blah, blah lame Texas Ranger joke)
Last, this is an XI that, as alluded by both me and you, is young and pretty inexperienced. Anderson is a fun talent but very raw. Morris is pressing and is trying to justify his value. Kovar, Oneil Fisher, Christian Roldan and Darwin Jones are all second year players with rather large roles on a team that has a very high aspirations given their current and precipe situation.
But... before I make it all sound like doom and gloom let me say that this is a team that will carve you up from a dead ball position, and considering they're fifth in fouls suffered... they'll find a way to get into threatening positions to create scoring opportunities. Chad Marshall is amazing and Nelson Valdez is quietly very good himself. Dempsey is also a threat... but that's if he's not the one taking the free-kick.
The other side of the coin is that they're very good defensively. Stefen Frei is a top five goalkeeper in this league. Ozzie is still a premier ball winner and there really isn't a "weak" link among Mears-Evans-Marshall-Jones though... I'll admit that Jones can get a bit up field, but much in the vein of Yedlin (as you all might remember) he has the speed to recover.
JY: Definitely a few more problems than the Sounders are used to having. Yet it seems like it's just a matter of time before they are the Sounders again. If you're Jim Curtin how are you attacking Seattle?
HC: Don't mistake good defense for a defense that doesn't allows shots. They allow plenty of shots. They have for years and they're alright with it... so long as those are bad shots. The back line are going to stay compact and cede outside 18 yard box shots all the day long. If I'm Curtin, I let Ilsinho or Le Toux run it down the line at Jones, perhaps try to bend the back line's shape like Reed Richards hoping Marshall would commit to support and create some one-v-one opportunities for Sapong in the middle of the park with Brad Evans. But aside from that I take what they give me. I shoot and I shoot often.
That said, I'm not Jim Curtin and he's not me.
JY: My bet is it's Le Toux on the right and Ilshino gets to rest his hammy one more week or tests it off the bench.
HC: Who has the highest xG+xA per 96 minutes in MLS...in all of his 120 minutes [JY note: That means that he's theoretically created more goals or assists per game than anyone so far, so it's a good thing]
JY: Le Toux?
HC: Yes sir...
JY: So he just might be Mr. Fantastic after all.
HC: heh...so is a playoff berth enough to help Curtin keep his job?
JY: I have to think so. As much as Earnie won't have much patience he knows this is a transition year. If Curtin can take all these new pieces, start two rookies on the back line, start implementing a press AND make the playoffs, even I, who have been challenging why he is the coach, would give him the job next year.
While the midfield has gotten stronger and the Goalie Gods are finally smiling on the Union, its not like this team is stocked with talent.
HC: To that end, does this team have ALL the pieces that it needs to facilitate making the playoffs, realistically?
JY: No.The Union are a Sapong injury away from having literally zero threat up top. Last thing the Union can afford is for Klinsmann to listen to Twellman and call up CJ. Total disaster.
HC: Is CJ Sapong a USMNT caliber forward?
JY: Before I'm honest I have to say I love CJ and the way he plays. He does it all - defends, holds it up well. He distributes better than I expected. But he doesn't create chances on his own and he doesn't shoot from distance. I would say he is not yet. Last year his expected shooting percentage was over 16% [note: that's the shooting percentage an average player would have shooting Sapong's shots, and 16% is about 60% higher than average]. That tells me he only takes very close safe shots. All three of his goals this year are from the 6 yard box. He has to extend his range to be dangerous enough at the international level.
So what's your prediction on this Union Sounders match?
HC: I think I'd be surprised for the Sounders not to get a point. Not because they're my team but because they've had a lot of things go against them and vice versa Philadelphia has had things really go their way. I'll call a 2-2 draw and be okay with it.
JY: I'd be happy to take that point. I agree the law of averages is working against the Union on this one. It's a tough place to play with big name players that can break the game in a split second. I'll optimistically go for the 1-1 draw.
With that I will wish you and Kasandra nothing but a wonderful birthday date. And a happy birthday to her of course. Sounds awesome.
HC: Thanks man. Enjoy the game!
Game time is Saturday at 10PM EST and broadcast on MLS Live, TCN and JOEtv. The Union are 2-2-1 against Seattle in their last five meetings.