Oppositional Lowdown: Seattle Sounders
As the Portland Timbers prepare to meet their rivals for the first time this season (Mar. 16, 5pm PT, NBC Sports Network, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940), find out everything you need to know about the Seattle Sounders.
A brief history…
Similar to the Timbers, the Sounders took its name from a team that previously played in the United Soccer League (USL) before the franchise was elected to MLS in 2007, beginning its first season in 2008.
Playing at CenturyLink Field, they have hosted some of the most memorable games in MLS including the derby game against the Timbers last year that attracted 66,452 supporters. They have been successful too with three US Open Cup triumphs and a runners-up finish in the MLS Supporters’ Shield.
How did they fare last season?
Reaching the MLS Conference Championship game and making it through to the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League would be viewed as a hugely successful season for most clubs, but Seattle now expect to be winning silverware so anything less is not good enough.
Of course, there were a lot of positives to take from their 2012 campaign, which saw them finish seventh overall in MLS. The introduction of new players, like goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, gave them an extra edge and they did make it all the way to the final of the US Open Cup, but lost to Sporting Kansas City.
Who have they brought in for this season?
There haven’t been too many new faces drafted in, but the arrivals of DeAndre Yedlin, Djimi Traore and Shalrie Joseph are considered to be shrewd signings. Yedlin, in particular, is one to watch out for this term, as the former Akron Zip is an outside back with a lot of potential. Friday also saw the Sounders sign a new DP in striker Obafemi Martins, most recently of La Liga's Levante.
Martins looks to replace Fredy Montero, who joined Millonarios in Colombia on loan. Also gone from last year’s squad are Jeff Parke, Christian Tiffert and O’Brian White.
How have they started their season?
Defeat at home to the Montreal Impact was the worst possible start to the new MLS campaign. However, the 1-0 result did not reveal the full story as the Sounders registered 15 shots on goal and boasted a passing accuracy of 80 per cent in a game that they dominated.
Then Sigi Schmid’s men fell to another narrow loss, this time away to Tigres in the CONCACAF Champions League. But they responded this week by securing a 3-1 victory over the same Mexican opponents to book their place in the next round of the competition. Things are suddenly looking up for them.
Head coach: Sigi Schmid
Now in charge of his third different team in MLS, Schmid has won MLS Cup twice – in 2002 with LA Galaxy and in 2008 with Columbus Crew. A fiery character with a great soccer brain, Schmid can be an imposing boss but his players always have full respect for him and he has an ability to get the best out of them. He has also led Seattle to three US Open Cup victories.
Star Player: Mauro Rosales
A classy playmaker with an eye for a defence-splitting pass and the ability to execute it, this Argentine is one of the best at his position in MLS. He has played at the Olympic Games, starred for Dutch giants Ajax, and forged a reputation as in his homeland for being a game-winner; now Rosales is a firm favorite amongst the Seattle supporters.
One To Watch: Steve Zakuani
Back to full fitness following a career-threatening injury, this skillful winger is starting to look as deadly as he did two years ago. When in full flow, he is a nightmare for full-backs to deal with as the former Akron Zip--and close friend of Darlington Nagbe--possesses the lethal combination of pace and power as well as an eagerness to get in behind defenders.
What can the Timbers expect?
High intensity, plenty of running and flashes of brilliance. The Sounders break forward on attacks quite quickly and can punish a team if their concentration levels dip, while they are also defensively strong with a superb goalkeeper in Gspurning.
Movement is a big part of the Seattle game-plan, so the Timbers must be wary of players switching positions. Whether it is Rosales, Brad Evans or Mario Martinez shuttling across midfield, they are always trying to squeeze into gaps and get the ball through to their main striker, Eddie Johnson.
Where are they most vulnerable?
With Parke now playing for Philadelphia Union, the Sounders are missing a leader in the heart of their defense. Former Liverpool player Traore has settled in quite well so far, but the 33-year-old has always been vulnerable in one-on-one situations and could be a weak link if dragged out of position and isolated.
If they commit too many men forward, Schmid’s team can be caught out. It is how they were unlocked by Montreal as their defensive line pushed up too high and gaps opened up in their midfield. Defending set-pieces, especially corner kicks, is also something that they are vulnerable at.
Who are their main threats?
Stopping Rosales from doing his thing is crucial. If afforded enough space, he will wreak havoc – just like what fellow Argentine Diego Valeri has been for the Timbers. But focusing on one player would be a mistake as Zakuani, Johnson and Sammy Ochoa are real threats going forward and must be shut down.
The real heartbeat of the Seattle team, though, is midfielder Osvaldo Alonso. He sits in front of his defense and gets things moving with his short passing, while his defensive play is superb. Putting pressure on him could cut out the link to Rosales and then service into their strikers.
Did You Know?
New Timbers defender Mikael Silvestre spent time training with both Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders this off-season during a visit to Arizona. Following a trade for his discovery rights with Seattle, Silvestre signed for Caleb Porter’s team just prior to the season opener.