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Three Questions with Sounder at Heart

I got with Dave Clark from our sister blog to discuss Thursday’s Knockout Round match

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Sporting KC Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Well... they made it.

But once again SKC travel to face perhaps the hottest team in MLS in the Knockout Round of MLS Cup Playoffs. I got with Dave Clark from over at Sounder at Heart to discuss Thursday’s match.

Here are your Three Questions But Really Six

We ask them...

The Blue Testament: The arrival of Nicolás Lodeiro has obviously been paramount, but what else contributed to such a complete turnaround in form for Seattle this year?

Dave Clark: It's hard to separate several factors. Signing an MVP caliber player is huge, but it could be overshadowed by a few other things. Sigi Schmid was fired. Brian Schmetzer then took over as the interim head coach - a silly phrase the Sounders insist on using. Roman Torres returned from his torn ACL. Clint Dempsey had to step away from soccer for the rest of 2016. All of these things combined lead to improved play, improved attitudes and an intense drive to succeed.
Together those things returned the Sounders to the place where all of MLS expect them to be, the MLS Cup Playoffs. The identity is a simple 4-2-3-1 that uses an intermittent high press, that pursues goals with a purpose, that plays at a high pace and keeps the ball from the net with a defense powered by Alonso-Roldan in front of two of the best CBs in the league and a quality keeper.
The Sounders are back, and just maybe capable of an MLS Cup Final appearance.

TBT: Like last season, SKC are traveling to take on the hottest team in the Knockout Round. Are the Sounders the team of destiny this year?

DC: Yes.
This isn't a team that needs a double-post penalty kick. Seattle is not Draw City. This club either wins, or loses, but mostly wins since Schmetzer-Lodeiro started. At home the Sounders are 10-5-2 on the season, but a potent 5-0-2 +6 when they surged away from the Sigi Schmid era. It is unlikely that the Schmetzer lead Sounders play conservatively in the playoffs. In his USL era he once played a forward as an upback (an attacking CB). During this win streak they generally try to continue scoring rather than sitting back. Both defenses are strong, so this won't be a high-scoring game, but it won't be because Seattle is too cautious.

TBT: Seattle has had a lengthy injury report also, but they've clearly been coping well. Will we see any changes to the starting XI that beat RSL on the weekend?

DC: One thing Schmetzer isn't a fan of is rotating players for fitness reasons. If they are hurt they will sit, but if they are tired he tends to make them play through it. Just like during those couple of midweek games the lineup will be pretty familiar. They'll be able to rest when their season is over.

Projected Lineup:

4-2-3-1: Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Tyrone Mears; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Alvaro Fernandez, Nicolas Lodeiro, Brad Evans; Jordan Morris
There's a chance that Erik Friberg starts instead of Brad Evans. Friberg would be a DM with Roldan playing out right.

They ask us...

Sounder at Heart: What's the attitude of the team after qualifying for the playoffs on the final day?

Cody Bradley: Sunday was a really good win for KC. They dominated and for once had the scoreline to show it. It was their second straight shutout and Zusi's emphatic goal has to be good for his confidence. He has struggled with injuries and struggled to play well when he did get on the field. It was a good way to end the regular season, but beating San Jose at home isn't something to be get too excited about. So while I think the attitude of the team and the fans is better than it was a few weeks ago, there is still a lot of skepticism. They got a huge point at RSL two weeks ago, but they have a terrible road record with just three wins. One of those was the first game of the season in Seattle and the other their was their second away match. So they've only been able to get one damn win on the road for - what feels like - the entire season.
Personally, I probably feel way better about this match than 90% of fans. I like the back to back clean sheets and that they perhaps have a little bit of momentum. I think these guys are still fired up about last year's terrible ending in Portland and are determined to bring a playoff game back to KC.

SaH: Will health be a significant factor in the XI or 18?

CB: In what is a rarity for the last few seasons, I think I can say that injuries are not going to be a significant factor for SKC. PV has all of his center-backs healthy (although he will probably play Ellis much to the chagrin of many), Zusi appears to be over a nagging injury, and the midfield is good to go as well. However, Dom's backup Rubio is out for the season. So attacking reinforcements are in short supply. Plus, the wing opposite Zusi is in question. Brad Davis and Jacob Peterson are both nursing leg injuries so Vermes deployed Espinoza there on Sunday. That worked well enough, but that winger spot is still the question for Vermes going into this. If he declares Peterson is fit (as the player says he is) then Peterson may get the nod.
I am leaning towards rolling with last weeks lineup. Moving Roger up meant Paulo Nagamura was in the midfield. Paulo's best days are behind him, but that man comes up big for this team. It is undeniable. He won't be shaken by the environment, he knows the system as well as anybody, and you know he will always be that scrappy, grinding player that coaches love.
One option for Vermes in the attack, is Jimmy Medranda. Very talented youngster who found his place as a fullback this year, but many fans want to see him up front. He is prone to poor decisions in back as evidenced by him missing a game for suspension. Seth Sinovic came in and played well enough to earn the start on Sunday. Medranda subbed in for Dom in the 90' minute that match, and I think you can expect to see more of him on Thursday.

SaH: If you had to beat Sporting KC in a single game how would you do it?

CB: I would do it the same way that basically all MLS teams have figured out. You can give Sporting KC possession. Let them move the ball around and even get some shots off. Hell, you can give them all the corner kicks they want! But they won't score, very much at least. This team has bossed so many games this year, but can't get THAT goal to put the game away. SKC leads MLS in corner kicks but didn't score off one until the season was winding down. And I believe that is still the only one they scored all year. Dom misses chances, the wingers lack creativity and have barely contributed any goals all season. You don't have to park the bus against them, but just sit back and wait for your chances. They WILL give them to you. Plenty of them. So it isn't anything groundbreaking, but I would sit back and work on the counter attack for 90 minutes.
However Sunday's match, they proved that to be wrong. They DID put the game away (eventually) and they DID get production from a winger. The problem is that one game doesn't mean the issues from the entire season are fixed and Graham Zusi is back. A lot will have to go right for SKC's season to live past Thursday night.

Projected lineup:

(4-3-3) Tim Melia, Saad Abdul-Salaam, Kevin Ellis, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic, Soni Mustivar, Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber, Roger Espinoza, Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi