Well the nice thing about being on SB Nation is I get to work with good people, this week Dave Clark (Sounder at Heart)and I exchanged questions about each others team, and I thought I would share those with you:
First up his 3 questions for me:
1 - RSL has had a core of players over the past 2+ seasons, are you seeing year to year improvements as they learn each others games?
It has been huge for RSL, the team that took the pitch in 2008 had over 20 new faces from the 2007 squad as RSL's new coach and GM built a team that would embrace the mentality of the team being the star. Once you find players willing to commit to that mentality and show the heart and passion to match their talent, you want to keep them around, the ability for them to know what each other is capable of allows them to take chances both on offense and defense, and that has made us a better team. It is that type of familiarity that allowed us to make two early subs in the MLS Cup and actually not drop off in performance but actually start to dominate the match. I heard RSL GM Garth Lagerwey once say that RSL wants great players who are good people, and that mentality has shown in the relationships of the teammates, how they interact with the fans, and mostly how they perform on the pitch.
2 - Rimando doesn't have the build of the typical keeper, but puts up solid efforts - how?
Nick is a cat, somewhere in his DNA are the genes that allow him to pounce on shots like a big cat. His reflexes are simply amazing, so when you combine them with his vision and ability to track the game, and his knowledge of the league and it's players, it makes him a top level keeper. I think if Nick were 6'2" there is no way he could make some of the amazing saves that he has made over the last few years, it is that incredible combination of a smaller frame, great vision of the game, knowledge of the sport and league, and reflexes that are catlike, that makes him who he is.
3 - Does the altitude change how opposing teams typically play Salt Lake, or is it overrated?
Most teams come in looking to slow the match down and will try to play long balls to their forwards in an attempt to not have to go full out for 90 minutes because the elevation does impact their play. For most players you see it about the 60th minute, they come out for the second half hoping to be refreshed but quickly find themselves sucking for air. RSL has taken great advantage of that with bringing in their creative offensive players to cause chaos on weary foes, it could be Andy Williams confusing them with his footwork and ball control, or Robbie Findley coming on late and defenders simply being unable to deal with his speed. I don't think a team can put up back to back 1 loss seasons at home without some type of advantage. Some places it is the heat, or humidity, in Salt Lake it is the altitude and fan support of their home team.
So this lead to me asking Dave the following questions:
1- A lot of attention goes to the "fred's", who are the other players on the Sounders squad that fans should be paying attention to?
While much attention is focused on the Freddyain (two guys named Freddy), opposing fans should never ignore the skills of Steve Zakuani. He is magical with the ball at his feet, a real difference maker, and this year he isn't just running straight for the endline, but is sliding short crosses, drop passes and is leading the team in shots on goal.
Defensively Osvaldo Alonso is just another awesome defensive mid. Sure MLS has a lot of these, but he's another one. He doesn't get forward quite as much as your Beckerman, but he has solid footskills and a nice long range shot as well.
2- Away from Qwest field the Sounders have to play on grass, does playing on different surfaces cause issues for the team?
The Sounders in all competitive matches last year put up 7 wins, 6 losses and 5 draws on the road, taking out artificial surfaces performances at New England, Toronto, New York and Portland (Open Cup) they were still 5-5-4. That's pretty good in this league. The primary practice fields at Starfire are grass, and the primary talents on the club have long histories with the sport on grass as well. Ljungberg claims he's a better free kick taker on grass as well.
3- After a very un-expansion like year in 2009, what changes have been made in Seattle to build on what was a very successful first year?
Adrian and company seem to be against roster churn. They only made minor tweaks to the current roster, though the depth chart has shifted a bit. The thought is that playing and practicing together will be a better way to improve than just nearly randomly inserting new bodies into an ever changing lineup.
From a business standpoint there has been much less marketing this season, but they sold even more season tickets (10,000 more than 2009). There is more soccer talk on the radio and in the news paper. There is still momentum to be captured.
Dave was also nice enough to forward me some quotes from:
Sigi Schmid - Head Coach
(On Real Salt Lake's midfield . . .) "Well, they pinch their midfield. They play more of a diamond in midfield so their outside midfielders [Will] Johnson and [Ned] Grabavoy really operate more like central midfielders than they do like wide midfielders. They sacrifice a little bit of attacking play and try to build their game around possession in the middle of the field."
(On how to counter Real Salt Lake's midfield . . .) "When we have the ball, we need to keep the ball. We need to make them defend as much as possible so we need to keep the ball. When they have the ball, we just need to do a good job defensively - talking, shifting, making sure we keep them on the same side of the field."
(On Nate Jaqua . . .) "Well it's nice being able to identify and have a solution for what his issues were and his problems were. It was something that was a number of different things but the doctor feels good about the surgery that was performed and hopefully he will be ahead of the timeline that is set for him."
(On Pat Noonan . . .) "I knew what we were getting with Pat in terms of his character and his attitude and how he would fit in. I knew he would fit in with our team. He's a good soccer player. He knows how to play the game. Now we just need him to give us some of those benefits on the field, get some goals and get some assists. I think he is capable of doing that."
(On facing defending MLS Cup champions for first road match . . .) "We feel good. We felt we were a good road team last year. We feel confident going on the road. Sometimes it's good to have a change of scenery. We have been at home for the first two games. We felt obviously a little disappointed our last home game but we are excited to be able to go into Salt Lake and anytime you can match against a team that is a quality team it gives you a good idea of where you are at for the season as well."
Folks I have a feeling that tomorrow will be one of the best matches of the early MLS Season.
OFF MY SOAPBOX