Well it is just about 24 hours from when Real Salt Lake and the Sounders will take the pitch to do battle as both look to turn their fortune back in a positive direction. So it is time to exchange 3 questions with Dave Clark of Sounder at Heart, the SB Nation blog that covers all things Seattle Sounders. So lets get started with my questions for Dave:
1 - The last time the Sounders and Real Salt Lake played Seattle had an impressive 7-1-1 record, but since then they haven't won a match and now sit at 7-5-5 but are still in 3rd place in the West. What has happened to the Sounders?
A - "Defensive woes caused by injury and miscommunication. While that early hot stretch had a mix and match defense in many ways the lineup changes were as much about tactical choices as they were about injury. Then Michael Gspurning, Adam Johannson, Leo Gonzlez and Patrick Ianni were all hurt during overlapping segments of games. Players who can be good in limited times were forced into prolonged usage. Eventually a collection of rotational quality players started failing. Sometimes it would be a simple mistake of thinking that the other guy would provide cover because that's what their normal partner would do, or it would be trying to pull on offside trap but not having worked together, or getting too far forward without a shift along the line. The collection of too many simple mistakes has compounded. Oddly, the season long shots/goals against average is probably reflective of where the team belongs, but in the last eight MLS games the Sounders are a bad defensive squad."
the rest of my questions and his answers after the jump:2 - At the start of the year a lot of people questioned the trade that brought Eddie Johnson to Seattle, but over the last few weeks he has been one of few bright spots for the Sounders, what is it that the brings to the team and will it be enough to make the team better?
A - "EJ is a combination of power, speed and finesse. His recent goals come because he's combining his complete package (2007 Johnson) with knowledge of his teammates. The feed from Mauro Rosales to Eddie Johnson for the first goal against New England is a classic example of this. Seattle hasn't had a tall forward with the speed to break away like that. Since the international break the Eddie Johnson that Seattle has is the one that crossed the Atlantic and not the one who failed in England. The forward rotation of Johnson, Montero and currently injured Estrada is scoring plenty of goals, if the midfield was like its past self Seattle's offense would be as potent as any in the league."
3 - Sounders owners have been rather vocal in recent weeks about wanting to see results or that changes would have to be made, is Sigi on the hot seat? Or were they talking about making some roster changes?
A - "It's about the roster not the coach. While some could quibble about a lineup choice here or there, on average Sigi Schmid is doing what he does with Seattle - win more games than he loses, win Open Cups and probably make the Playoffs. Some players though are having issues. The causes are hard to know, but Alvaro Fernandez is not the player he was in 2010 and '11, nor is Mauro Rosales. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado never returned to his pre-ACL tear form of 2009. These are players that can and have dominated MLS. There are some weaknesses at fullback and central midfield as well. If this team was healthy they wouldn't have the 8 game slide, but they also wouldn't have the slide if players were just performing at the levels that their names are known for."
So are you ready for my answers to Dave's questions?
SaH: Both sides involved are in middle of slides. While Real Salt Lake's isn't as long they are still pointless in their last 3 played. Are fans worried yet?
A: I think some are, I think that the number of mistakes that RSL are making (and being punished for) has risen over the start of the year, when some of those mistakes were being made but teams weren't taking full advantage of them. Now that teams have had a chance to study all the other teams, clearly there are a few things that opponents have found as weaknesses within both RSL's tactics and roster and they are taking advantage of them.
Most fans however I think are more like me, we have seen the team do well and we have seen the team struggle and while we know that there is a great pool of talent on our roster, we also know that things happen and that almost every team goes through rough patches during the course of the season. I have noticed and I don't think I am alone that for several years (2009-2011) that RSL played with a real chip on their shoulder, that despite a good deal of success, many in the media (local and national) didn't really take them seriously, and some of that seems to be gone this year. I am hoping that despite still being one of the top teams in the league, that we can find that chip and get it back on our shoulder, we tend to do best both on the pitch and in the stands when we are playing the role of the underdog.
SaH: Injuries have tested the backline lately, what's the health outlook for Wednesday's game? How did Tanaka look as a starting right back?
A: Well, the report I got from RSL training today is that both Jamison Olave and Ned Grabavoy practiced and that both would be in consideration for the lineup for Wednesday. That being said the injury to Chris Schuler is healing much more slowly than anyone anticipated and he has been out now for about 6 weeks. I do think that unless Olave is back to close to 100% that it is likely we won't see him start, the couple of matches he started when he was less than fully ready to go didn't go as well as expected. I have a feeling it will likely be a match time decision on what our back line will look like on Wednesday.
Tanaka is an interesting player, while he is clearly still trying to figure out what his role with RSL is, there have been many who love the way he is willing and able to get forward and be a positive part of the attack, while others are very concerned about his tactical awareness and ability to defend well enough within the RSL system. We have often heard that for a lot of players coming into MLS it can take weeks and months for them to fully adjust to the league and their new teams, but with injuries we have been forced to give Terukazu minutes earlier than I think the team wanted to.
I like him, I think he has a good bit of pace and I love that he is aggressive on the ball, oh and he has done really well crossing the ball for RSL. I do think that he could be a bit more focused on his defensive responsibilities, but I can't single him out for blame as many of our defenders and midfield have been lacking on their defensive responsibilities lately.
SaH: Do you expect Salt Lake to add an international player during the transfer window or are their recent waiver pickups the only additions for the second half?
RSLSB: I think there is a real possibility that we will add someone, I know that the team has brought in a number of trialists and been linked to a couple players but right now there is nothing pending that I know. Picking up both Kenny Mansally and Kwame Watson-Sirboe gives us one known quantity that can provide depth at a number of positions as well as a lesser known player who the RSL staff believes has great potential. It was interesting that while bringing in 2 players that RSL let 3 go, leaving a bit of hope that another move may yet be coming, which leaves us with just 24 players currently on our roster. I do think that RSL is going to look at potentially signing another HGP this summer, and I hope for a lot of reasons that they can convince Jordan Allen to sign, he has looked very good when playing with our reserves this year. The challenge will be that he has shown a very strong interest in attending the University of Virginia after graduating next year.
Finding another international player is an option for RSL but with very little wiggle room left with the salary cap it would likely be a role player from South America as opposed to a big name player or a 3rd DP. I do have to believe that with Champions League coming up, that some players who might want to get a bit of attention might just consider taking a shorter term deal with the team for less money, but again RSL is rather particular about who and how they bring players in.
So there you go, a good round of 3 questions.
OFF MY SOAPBOX