The headline for this one is obvious: Clint Dempsey is back in New England. But this time he'll wearing rave green. Seattle sits comfortably atop the Western Conference while the Revs are tied for first in the East. It's quite a matchup, but one that has to have the Sounders as the favorites. We spoke to Sounder At Heart's Dave Clark about what he expects from Sunday's game from a Seattle point of view.
TBM: Is Seattle's recent hot streak the real deal? Will it sustain all season and will it carry the Sounders to the playoffs yet again? What, if anything, could you foresee going wrong down the road and spoiling the party?
DC: The attack is multi-pronged enough that no defenses have figured out how to stop it on their own. It can get weaker, remove a Clint Dempsey, but it even when he doesn't score Seattle is averaging 1.67 goals scored (not including own goals). There are three non-Dempseys pacing for 10 or more goals on the year. Things will slow down during the World Cup. Losing at least two players and maybe three for two months is going to hurt. An injury to another starter during that stretch could make Seattle merely average in the attack then. That's part of why banking points and goal differential now matters so much.
TBM: Clint Dempsey is good at soccer, I guess. But, there was a pretty turbulent start for him when he first landed in Seattle last summer. What's been the biggest factor to his MVP-quality success this season? His shift to striker instead of midfielder? His partnership with Martins? Impending World Cup adrenaline?
DC: He's healthy, fit and used to life in MLS. For all the reports about how "bad" his Fall here was, the non-scoring data points out that he was doing damn fine for a man playing half the time with a separated shoulder (thanks Chara). Though he's now listed as a forward, both he and Oba drop back into the midfield quite a bit. You can see in the last average position map that Neagle and Pappa play as high as Dempsey and Martins. He's going to do amazing things in nearly every game. Sometimes those things will include goals.
TBM: It seems like Seattle is most lethal on the counter-attack. Is that the general game plan for any given game? And what is one weakness that teams have been able to exploit so far in 2013?
DC: Sounders FC have recently taken to using the counter, because teams are bunkering so much. They have to either go wide and in, or suck the defense out and then quickly transition. Essentially the first 30 minutes or so are a feeling out period to figure out where the spaces are and how to get to them. Then Seattle scores at least twice.
The defense does have a bit of an issue with gap control. Communication is improving so covering for Yedlin's runs or the Alonso/Pineda pivot are not creating the problems of TFC/Portland, but they will show up at times. A team playing against Seattle can not waste those moments.
TBM: And how about a projected starting lineup and scoreline prediction?
Significant Absences: Remick (ankle)
Projected Lineup: Frei; Gonzalez, Traore, Marshall, Yedlin; Pineda, Alonso; Neagle, Dempsey, Evans; Martins
Projected Scoreline: 1-3 Sounders