It’s just the second week of the 2021 MLS regular season but LAFC has a doozy of a game on Saturday, when they host the Seattle Sounders for the teams’ first meeting of the year. Before the game, I talked to my old friend Dave Clark of SB Nation’s Sounders site Sounder at Heart to get the lowdown on the upcoming foe. Many thanks to Dave for taking the time to answer my questions!
Angels on Parade asks Sounder at Heart:
1. The Sounders had a really good opening-day win, 4-0 over Minnesota United. Are you all scheduling the MLS Cup final at Lumen Field or taking a more measured look at the victory?
Matchday one is always too early to make end of season plans. It was a big win, a fun one. But there are still questions that need to be answered, especially in the depth of the team. This year’s MLS schedule is going to test roster depth more than any other, because while April is a standard match a week pace, May gets close to twice a week and then the summer will be brutal. Every side will need to deal with rotation for fitness and depth in order to succeed.
2. We know Seattle has a very good core, but there’s a few slots open for starters this year, right? Who’s the new or new-ish faces moving into a starting role this season?
New to being a starter will be either Will Bruin or Fredy Montero. Bruin got the nod in last week’s win, but Montero is the better attacking player. Both will get more than 20 starts on the year if healthy, because Raúl Ruidíaz will miss games while with Peru.
Like in the MLS Cup loss, Alex Roldan will be the primary starter at right wingback.
There’s also four starting quality players for three spots at centerback in the switch to a 3-5-2. One of the biggest surprises was Yeimar not starting at CB in the win over Minnesota. If I had a vote for Chad Marshall Defender of the Year in 2020 it would have been for him, but instead Xavier Arreaga and Shane O’Neill earned the nod. Again, rotation should be expected in this second pandemic season of MLS. While none of the four are new to the squad, their sharing of the burden of the formation will be key.
3. I’ve heard the Sounders are making some formational tweaks this season. What are they doing, and why?
The exploration of the 3-5-2 started after the MLS Cup loss, but became locked in as a necessity for 2021 when Jordan Morris was lost via loan and then ACL injury. In order to get the most talent on the field Brian Schmetzer wanted to switch to two forwards, and the 5-man midfield gains him the most touches for Nicolás Lodeiro, João Paulo, and Christian Roldan.
Schmetzer’s using a version with a free-10 at the point of the midfield triangle, and even with teen-sensation Josh Atencio starting, two 8s that enter the attack regularly. Both wingbacks are expected to be quite high, making the distinction between 5-3-2 and 3-5-2 easy to see. The only speed in the starting lineup is Brad Smith, at left wingback, but the team compensates by moving the ball quickly through the midfield buzzsaw, while seeking out long switches to break lines as well. They move fast while looking slow. It will be even more dynamic when Nicolas Lodeiro returns from his injury.
Projected lineup (L-R, 3-4-1-2) - Stefan Frei; Nouhou, Xavier Arreaga, Yeimar; Brad Smith, Josh Atencio, João Paulo, Alex Roldan; Christian Roldan; Raúl Ruidíaz, Will Bruin
You can find my answers about LAFC to Dave’s questions on Sounder at Heart.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.