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Know Thy Enemy: Three Questions with Sounder at Heart

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The Sounders have gone to the last two MLS Cup Finals, but they are not good at soccer in 2018. Dave Clark stops by to explain why.

New England Revolution v Seattle Sounders Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The New England Revolution are in the middle of a three game homestand, facing the Seattle Sounders tonight at Gillette Stadium.

The Revs will eventually finish with a slog of road games in the second half of the year, so they need to rack up points now coming off the World Cup break before the schedule gets significantly harder. The Revs beat DC United last week and then face the LA Galaxy the following week, and they should be favored in all three of those games. Anything less than seven points from these three games should be considered bad, and it would not be wrong to say the Revs should get all nine.

The Sounders might be struggling overall this year, but they are slowly and surely getting healthier and are on a bit of an upswing. We chat with Dave Clark from Sounder at Heart about why Seattle has been so bad and why maybe we shouldn’t call it a comeback. Check out my answers to Dave’s questions over on their site as well.

TBM: So after back-to-back MLS Cup Final runs, both Seattle and Toronto have hit the skids are well off the playoff pace. So what the heck happened with the Sounders?

DC: Reason the First: Injuries hampered the team’s ability to execute their strategy. They lost their star forward. Their creative right back went down. I should just start listing the players that got hurt. I’ll speed that up though. Only one player hasn’t been hurt yet -- Cristian Roldan. Every other who should be expected to contribute on an MLS Cup side missed at least a game. Only 4 players have started 75% or more of the MLS matches to this point.

Reason the Second: Clint Dempsey isn’t Clint Dempsey. He’s just an old soccer player who kind of executes once in a while, but it’s rare that we actually see the shadow of Deuce. He’s faded like 30-year-old NFL running back.

Reason the Third: In Seattle’s first three games they played short a man. Want to try to overcome injuries and age? Don’t try when you’re also short a man for half of the first 270 minutes of the season.

Reason the Fourth: No one can score so Brian Schmetzer got more conservative tactically, which meant that no one could score, which meant he started playing even more defensive players. That spiral seems to have stopped.

Reason the Fifth: Playing through the MLS Cup Final for two straight seasons kills most teams (not the Revs, but normal teams).

TBM: Seattle has an MLS low 15-goals but the Revs defense has been conceding a lot the past few weeks, how would you attack the New England defense and/or which Sounders attacker should the Revs be most concerned about?

DC: This is the question that’s caused me the most trouble. Seattle’s attack is bad. When healthy the components shouldn’t be bad, and they’re basically healthy lately, but they still aren’t great. And yet, they have 8 goals in their last five matches. If you aren’t great at math that means they scored more than half their goals in this recent 2-2-1 positive stretch.

Much of what’s gone right about that has been the return of Victor Rodriguez and Nicolas Lodeiro, even a bit of Harry Shipp. With this roster the Sounders are at their best when they practice patient possession in the final third, slowly prodding for weaknesses. To do this well they need to have players with vision and technical ability. Having several players like this rather than youngsters like Alex Roldan and Henry Wingo, or worse fullbacks playing up a line, means that Schmetzer’s side has the skill necessary to break apart a defense that’s withdrawn into perfection.

They’ve also pressed a bit higher, which leads to turnovers in spaces where the Sounders can succeed. Finally, they are actually finishing their chances. It doesn’t matter how many good opportunities a team has if they squander them.

TBM: There has to be something good about the Sounders 2018 season - a player having a career year, new player or rookie having a good start, a nice team or fan storyline - give us something positive.

DC: Here’s a few of the good things:

The Chad Marshall of the Year Award probably deserves to have Chad Marshall as a finalist. Somehow he’s not an All Star, but he’s the key defender on a team that doesn’t give up goals. He is still a leader in interceptions and in passes blocked, because Chad doesn’t need to be fast. He reads a game better than any defender to make MLS their league of choice.

He’s already in the USMNT picture, but you should probably know more about Cristian Roldan. He’s probably best as a classic number 8, effectively moving the ball forward while also being a strong defender. He has enough defensive ability to play a six as well. Roldan the Elder completes 86% of his passes, wins 2.1 aerials a game despite being tiny, is a strong tackler and can dribble out of traffic.

The Sounder at Heart motto is on the jersey, but maybe this is a curse.

LINEUPS/PREDICTIONS/ETC

There will be heavy rotation due to the midweek match. Let’s make the following Wild Ass Guess.

Stefan Frei; Nouhou, Chad Marshall, Kim Kee-Hee, Jordan McCrary; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Victor Rodriguez, Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro; Will Bruin

Jordan Morris (ACL) and Handwalla Bwana (foot sprain) are both out. Kelvin Leerdam might be able to return, which would be handy with the squad rotation being needed.

I don’t make score predictions, but I’ll say this -- Clint Dempsey will score in the same place he’s scored so many goals back when he was young.