By Toby Dunkelberg
The Seattle Sounders are set to welcome Toronto FC to CentruyLink Field on Saturday for the teams only faceoff this season. Coming off of a controversial win against their arch-rivals in the Portland Timbers, the Sounders know how important it is to get another three points and put a disappointing stretch of summer result behind them.
Watch below for Stefan Frei and Sigi Schmid’s thoughts on the importance and difficulties of facing off against Toronto.
Stefan Frei – “We have a few games coming up on the road and those are all going to be tough in conference games. We’re at home so we need to get three points… especially now with that playoff push.”
Toronto is most notable for all of their recent additions. Jozy Altidore, Micheal Bradley, Herculez Gomez, and of course MVP frontrunner Sebastian Giovinco are all relatively recent arrivals to Toronto. The big signings appear to have worked to as Toronto is sitting comfortably at fourth in the East and would have to fall a whole nine points in order to miss making their first visit to the MLS preseason. Unfortunately with the news of injury to Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore’s call up to the US National Team, Toronto will be forced to shift from their usual identity of relying on Giovinco and co. to outscore their opponent into something new.
Sigi Schmid puts it best when he mentions the difficulties of predicting Toronto’s starting eleven.
“The challenge right now with Giovinco hurt and Altidore gone, is what formation are they gonna come with? Are they going to drop back into a 4-4-2? Are they going to come at us with a 4-2-3-1? Who’s going to replace those particular people. Is [Herculez Gomez] going to start his first game? Is Luke Moore back into the mix? There’s different situations we have to look at and there’s different obstacles there.”
If Toronto does opt for a 4-2-3-1 that gives them the best of both worlds as they can hold their defensive mid’s back and plug the gaps where Obafemi Martins normally operates. A 4-4-2 meanwhile allows for more of a offensive shape while letting the two forwards attack. Key to this decision is Michael Bradley.
With Giovinco and Altidore gone and Herculez Gomez only having played 20 minutes in five games, the offensive responsibilities fall to Bradley. Jurgen Klinsmann left him off of the USMNT roster specifically so he could play in this game so Toronto will need him to preform. A 4-2-3-1 slots Bradley into more of an offensive role where he can use his pinpoint passing to get behind Seattle’s defense. But a 4-4-2 allows him a more free-flowing role where he can do as he wishes in midfield, running back to make a tackle and then sprinting forward to start the counter with a long searching pass.
However, Toronto only has one proven starting forward right now in Robbie Findley so a 4-2-3-1 formation makes much more sense, especially with Portland having just shown the formations effectiveness against Seattle the week before. This is assuming question Gomez isn’t ready to start. If he is fully fit expect Toronto to utilize him to the fullest in a hybrid 4-4-2 that looks like a 4-2-3-1 in defense with him and Findley up top and Bradley sitting in midfield. Gomez has looked good in his 20 minutes so far and sparked Toronto’s attack the second he came on. His size and physicality are sure to give Chad Marshall a handful and add another dimension to Toronto’s attack
The Sounders are also without a couple key players. Marco Pappa, and Roman Torres are out with international duty. The loss of Pappa won’t be that impactful since he only rejoined the team a week ago. However, the loss of Torres is huge. Although he’s only recently arrived in Rave Green his presence has helped to solidify the back line. His long passing from the back can’t be replicated by anyone else in the Sounders squad. Luckily for the Sounders they have a replacement tailor made for that second centerback role in captain Brad Evans.
There’s no doubt he’s familiar with the position and has good chemistry with Marshall and Frei. The real question is whether Sigi Schmid will force Evans back into positional limbo. It looked as though Evans was destined for his more traditional center mid role ever since Torres’ arrival. But his absence makes everything murky again. The other option is Zach Scott, who’s subbed in admirably in his few appearances, but there’s simply too much upside to having Evans at centerback not to have him start there. In addition moving Evans back to centerback free up a midfield spot for Osvaldo Alonso’s return to the starting lineup. That combination of Evans, Marshall, and Alonso should be well equipped to handle Bradley’s roaming nature, and Gomez’s physicality should he make the start.
Just like with Toronto, the question for Seattle is about who’s going to start in the attack. Obafemi Martins and Nelson Valdez are locked in starters at forward, but if Dempsey is finally back from injury, which is still questionable at this point, then he returns to his familiar forward position and Valdez slots over to right midfield. With Martins, Valdez, and Dempsey back look to Seattle to pinpoint pass their way past Toronto’s shaky defense. Without Dempsey Seattle hasn’t shown as much competency in really turning up the pressure. Sure they’ve scored goals but they’ve either been against 10 men sides or drastically against the run of play. The simple truth is without Dempsey there Seattle hasn’t shown the ability to dominate in the attack.
Even still this is a Sounders side that’s looking to put their last two months behind them. With returning faces as well as new additions this is one of the most talented sides in all of MLS and should get into the playoffs on talent alone. Their pedigree demands that they go into the playoffs with a clear path to MLS cup. With a tough stretch of games coming up against SKC, Vancouver, and San Jose, they need all the points they can get. A win on Saturday would put them on solid footing for a postseason push. It’s time for Seattle to stop it with the excuses and either show the MLS what their made of or accept their fate as a middle of the table side. Saturday’s game will show us which one the Sounders really are.
PREDICTION (With Dempsey and no Gomez)
Seattle Sounders FC 2 – Toronto FC 0
Martins 15′ (Valdez)
Dempsey 44′ (Martins)
PREDICTION (Without Dempsey and with Gomez)
Seattle Sounders FC 1 – Toronto FC 1
Martins 40′ (Valdez)
Findley 85′ (Bradley)