1) The Blue Testament: Sigi Schmid has been juggling CCL while in the midst of a tight Western Conference race. They just beat the Whitecaps and advanced to the quarterfinals next year. How important is the CCL for Seattle? Sporting KC rushed through preseason in order to get everyone in top form so early in the season, possibly hurting them later in the season. Might the Sounders have to do something similar?
Dave Clark: President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey and owner Adrian Hanauer would call the CCL goal 1B. It isn't as big a deal as the MLS Cup, but they want it. They want it bad. But controlling owner Joe Roth doesn't really care about the CCL. Sigi will never be fired or retained based on CCL play.
The good news for fans that don't like friendlies and do like competitive games against Liga MX sides is that is now likely next Spring. This roster, when healthy, looks well suited to face off against a Club America or the UANL Tigres team they've beaten in knockouts in a previous CCL cycle. Dempsey, Martins, Valdez, Alonso, Ivanschitz, Friberg, Marshall, Evans are a strong core to build around for 2016 even without the CCL. What will probably happen as soon as they are out of the tournament is that they will heavily rotate guys out. They've learned a lot from burning through Clint and others in the past.
2) TBT: I saw the owners of the Sounders are holding a meeting and inviting fans. Turf seems to be a popular topic. Is a grass field something fans are pushing for in Seattle? Will it ever happen?
DC: As part of "Democracy in Sports" the Sounders host an End of Year Business Meeting for all season ticket holders. There are a few topics that come up every single year - grass, getting their own stadium, standing vs sitting, can the stoppage time clock run in the stadium. Nothing is going to change on these items in the foreseeable future. They are things that exist and vocal minorities (some large) use the EoY to complain.
The most likely path to an all-grass Sounders mostly field is the Seahawks moving to the suburbs in a decade or so and the Sounders redeveloping CenturyLink Field into a perfect downtown soccer shrine rather than the pretty damn good one it is now.
3) TBT: The Sounders went into a bit of a mid season lull, but they are back at full strength and have got their mojo back with 4 games undefeated. In great form sitting in 4th right now with 4 games remaining (a huge one against LA), where do you expect them to finish the regular season? Are you still eyeballing that Supporters' Shield?
DC: I expect them to finish third in the West and about fifth overall which gives them a shot at hosting the MLS Cup Final. But, they are on a great run and there's a slim chance that they are 1st in the West and Shield at the end of the weekend. Maybe the team isn't watching the Shield, but Sounder at Heart readers are. Having a Shield worthy 1st 15 games and a Shield worthy final eight is going to be awesome. The roster adjustments made in the middle 11 were important. A slide like that won't happen again.
Sounder at Heart Projections:
Frei; Fisher, Marshall, Evans, Mears; Ivanschitz, Pineda, Alonso, Valdez; Dempsey, Martins
1) Sounder at Heart: Sporting KC will be without three of its best players for the match. Which one of losing Benny, Roger and Matt hurts the team the most?
Cody Bradley: Great question. When Espinoza went down in August, the rest of the team followed suit. They were flying high and perhaps favorites for the Supporters' Shield, but when he picked up his injury SKC went on their winless streak of 5 games (4 losses). At the same time Soni Mustivar was out for a few games, but this injury has shown just how important Roger is to this team.
But then there is Benny. He's Benny Feilhaber. I'm running out of superlatives for the guy! Everyone in the league knows he is the MVP of Sporting KC. In the past when he has had to sit, the whole thing falls apart and there is nothing in the attack at all. Without his creative passes, without the dinks and flicks, this is just a different team.
However, KC has at least dealt with Feilhaber's absence before. Peter tried for the first half against RSL in July, but was forced to bring him on. Benny immediately scored his best goal of the season in his eyes. And then he sat once more in August for a red card. So it has been awful, but it has been done.
But Matt Besler has been the lone constant. There have been a lot of injuries, Ike Opara being the biggest one. Besler has been partnered with Kevin Ellis (who is not even a real CB) and had to work with 2 rookie fullbacks. Sporting KC has needed a lot from their captain this year. They needed him to hold it all together for every minute. And he has.
Vermes is now scraping the bottom of the barrel to get a CB. Amobi Okugo was brought in or depth in the defense, but is coming off an injury and hasn't looked good when he did play. The most likely option is Jalil Anibaba who has experience in central defense, but he has not played much at all this season and has also just recently recovered from an injury. Another possibility is an actual CB! Hometown, homegrown, 18 year old Erik Palmer-Brown. He is a very bright prospect, but he is very much still just a prospect.
So in a round about way, losing Matt Besler is going to hurt the team most.
2) SaH: The defense has struggled lately. Is it a personnel issue or tactical?
CB: As I discussed above, there have been a lot of questions in the defense all year since losing Opara. Matt Besler most of the time being the only guy that wasn't a rookie or playing out of position. These guys were all doing JUST enough. Kevin Ellis played out of his mind for a long time, as did the rookies.
Tim Melia came out of nowhere and was a super hero in goal. He was bailing out the defense time after time with incredible saves.
The problem is a combination of several things. Kevin Ellis started to get exposed a lot. Tim Melia, while still great, came back down to earth. But the real problem was losing both Soni Mustivar and Roger Espinoza in the midfield. Those two did so much in covering up the holes in defense. Roger and his ferocious, relentless work rate lead the play right to Soni Mustivar. They stop the play before the other team has a chance to test the back line. No matter where on the field, it is a centerpiece of this system to recover the ball quickly. They crash and try to win the ball back immediately when it is lost. Without Roger and Soni, this was not happening.
It was improving, however. Mustivar returned and things have looked much better.
3) SaH: Now that you've had nearly a season in the West, do you wish you were back in the East?
It is hard to say actually! We would definitely have more points and a better shot at the Supporter's Shield that is for sure.
But so many of all the fun games are in the west. The West kind of just feels right. All the rivals, all the matches that get the fan bases going. It had been fun to have multiple games against the likes of RSL, LA, HOU and even The Sounders. Although this match is definitely poor timing and could get ugly.
The Blue Testament Projections:
Its going to be a crazy lineup.. but here it goes..
(4-3-3) Melia, Myers, Ellis, Anibaba, Sinovic, Mustivar, Nagamura, Quintilla, Anor, Dwyer, Zusi
Seattle Sounders 3 - 1 Sporting KC