1 - After a slight hiccup in performances, it looks like the Sounders are back on track in challenging for the top seed in the Western Conference. What’s changed from the run of losses in midseason?
The injury narrative is boring. It’s also true. Seattle had a sequence of matches where they used up extreme hardship callups on three players and called up a couple others. The bench was diminished, the depth of the depth peces having to play significant minutes. They weathered the storm getting decent enough results, but faded from a team that looked to be ready to challenge New England for that 70 pont mark.
Since the worst of the injury crisis the following players have returned — 2020 MVP candidate and Best XI player Nicolás Lodeiro, 2021 Best XI and Defender of the Year candidate Nouhou, and perennial Goalkeeper of the Year candidate Stefan Frei. They also missed depth pieces like Will Bruin and Shane O’Neill during the injury woes, and of course that all happened during an international break so there were a handful of dudes gone then too.
Now, I love watching young players play. But I prefer that down at the USL level, not when challenging for a Shield or at least a CCL spot.
2 - RSL fans are (rightly) worried about facing the Sounders right now. Is there any reason not to be worried?
Nearly a mile high and with one of the best home records versus Seattle, Salt Lake should be confident that they’re a home team capable of beating any MLS side. Sure, Seattle only has one road loss so far in 2021. The Sounders have pulled off a couple miracle road wns that will boost their own confidence. Can they continue those kinds of results during this pandemic compressed season? Maybe.
Seattle’s attack is as capable of scoring three goals as it is just netting one. RSL’s defense may not be great, but can it stifle an attack that is inconsistent and great at the same time?
3 - Will we see any substantial rotation from Seattle after the Leagues Cup win in mid-week?
Almost certainly. Part of the need for rotation is that two players with recent long term injuries are vital for a chance to beat Club León. Nicolás Lodeiro and Nouhou have seen limited action lately. Both players, when healthy, would be in the discussion for MLS Best XI for 2021. Nico saw limited training this week and shouldn’t be expected to play Saturday. Nouhou probably won’t start either.
There’s still enough depth for Seattle to be at the top of the West, even with heavy rotation. That’s where they spent most of the season, only falling off when having an absences list that was double-digits in size. When they don’t start Raul or Nico or Cristian they can come off the bench and change games.