The LA Galaxy trounced the Sounders last time out. Robbie Rogers was starting to show hints of form (before he went down with that hamstring setback) and Robbie Keane showed that the early season rust was gone. Since then the Sounders went out and got really good, and also went out and got Clint Dempsey. That's like, bang bang.
Anyhow, I asked three questions of Dave Clark over at Sounder at Heart to get a better sense of what's gone right along the Puget Sound. Is this club really supersonic or is it just thunder and no lightning?
(Get it, because the old Gary Payton Sonics are now in Oklahoma City?)
Okay, let's begin:
LAG Conf: Congratulations to the Sounder faithful, first place is a fun position to be in. So going from below the red line to in the Supporters' Shield leader, what's clicked into place that wasn't there before. And please, if you could save any Dempsey related answers until we get to the Dempsey question.
SaH: A lot. Clubs don't go on 8 of 9 runs with a lot of good fortune to combine with their actual qualities. The defense has been stellar. During this run the team has given up more than one goal zero times. In fact you have to go back 11 matches to find when Seattle gave up two. On the season Sounders FC has 19 matches of one goal or less and are 1-4-1 in matches when they've given up two or more goals.
On top of that defense when you've got a scoring trio of Johnson, Neagle, and Martins with assist man Rosales helping the team to 10 straight with a goal scored there will be a lot of results in your favor. Would a team with those numbers be expected to win that much? Probably not, but that team also wasn't supposed to start with a five game winless streak. So its a wash in the end. Good fortune, good squad. About to get better.
LAG Conf: So Clint Dempsey. Word around town is he's pretty good. How has he looked since joining the squad and how much has it changed the way the Sounders play?
SaH: Tough to say. He hasn't played much, and all of it has been as either a second forward or a withdrawn man. He has not played in the midfield yet despite that being where Sigi indicated that was where he was wanted. In all the winning here a strange thing happened. They've done it without America's Captain.
He's done some really amazing ish as the kids say. He's not here to be a FIFA Street salesman though. He's here to score goals. It's going to come. The good thing about everyone else stepping up is that there is no Beckham '07 pressure. This was already a good team. With Clint Dempsey this can be a great team. It's just up to he and the other 30 or so players.
LAG Conf: Who Scored lists the Sounders as being very strong at stealing the ball off the opposition. Who are the players to watch out for when it comes to ball theft?
SaH: Inigo Montoya: Let me 'splain.
Inigo Montoya: No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
Osvaldo Alonso. DeAndre Yedlin. Alonso. Leo Gonzalez. Alonso. Djimi Traore. Alonso. Jhon Kenney Hurtado. Alonso. Patrick Ianni. Alonso. Zach Scott. Alonso.
It begins and ends with the man that we called the honey badger before the other football started that with some dude from LSU. Then a lot of other players do their part along the backline. Seattle is interception happy. That can be risky, but it also sparks rapid transitions.
Significant absences: Zakuani (not fully fit). Joseph (probably injured). That's it.
Projected Lineup: I don't think Sigi knows. He's talked about not planning this until the day before the game because of things that get in the way of plans. Here's my best guess. It will change a dozen times.
Gspurning; Gonzalez, Traore, Scott, Yedlin; Alonso; Evans, Dempsey, Rosales; Johnson, Martins
May SaH have mercy on my soul.
SaH: The last time this two teams met Robbie Rogers was some sort of psychic. How's he played since then?
LAGConf: Okay so Robbie Rogers (hold on, my uncle is pouring pour red wine in my glass. Okay, back) is still probably the sorest subject of the season. Every season needs a sorest subject, because then if you don't win everything it can be pointed to. Like hey, it's okay that there's no hardware in the case cause I know the answer.
So yeah Mike Magee is out with Chicago now and he's scoring lots of goals because he's allowed to be the target forward he really is. Robbie Rogers, meanwhile, suffered a hamstring injury after struggling to get fit enough into the starting XI.
So Rogers is hurt. His injury has led to Gyasi Zardes playing in his spot and learning how to stretch a defense and not shoot twelve times a match. So that's certainly something.
SaH: How is the Juninho/Sarvas partnership doing? I mean besides well enough that the 3rd DP wasn't a central mid.
LAG Conf: "They say Rome wasn't built in a day, but I wasn't on that particular job." -Brian Clough
Brian Clough was one of those English managers that just pissed off enough people to never really get his dream jobs (English manager, only kept Leeds for a few weeks) but was so good that he kept winning trophies.
Bruce Arena has faired a bit better, winning tons of domestic trophies and managing the US national team to their furthest World Cup finish. When he gave a DP contract to Omar Gonzalez and re-signed Landon Donovan to MLS' biggest contract after incentives, it seemed strange as LA has used the DP rule to bring in some huge names.
I'm getting to the midfielders. See, with Beckham leaving naturally all the rumors were about older, high profile midfielders. Yet, Arena already had gone out and snagged two great midfielders. Their engines are constantly going and working in tandem they have turned LA into a club that keeps the ball in the attacking third. To the extent that the 2-2 draw against DC United had much to do with heavy legs from the midfield. When they're on their game LA dictate the pace of the match, and when they're no the club is vulnerable.
True story: This one time last year Juninho was on fire with goals from outside the penalty area just raining in. The media wanted to speak to him, but he left the locker room before he got in there. When he found out we wanted to talk to him Juninho came up into the press box and through a translator answered our questions. The only time I've seen him answer a question in English was after his loan was up in 2011 and we asked him if he wanted to come back to LA.
I freakin love Juninho.
SaH: From loyal readers David Horm (and others with slight variants): How will Bruce Arena balance the injuries, CCL and a key Western Conference contest?
LAGConf: Well I waited until after the contest to answer this, cause with Arena you never really know. He's never been afraid to use the reserves in Champions League, and not in that Colorado Rapids never should have won MLS Cup or gone to CCL way. Arena believes in his depth.
It turned out Arena used the reserves in the home tilt, got the goal to go ahead, and sat on the lead bringing on the aforementioned Juninho/Sarvas pairing to shore up the midfield. He didn't bring on Leonardo to give the defense some legs in parking the bus. No, he brought on Juninho/Sarvas.
Josie: Bruce Arena, how would you describe your managing style aside from being brilliant?
Arena: Hahaha, good lass.
Significant Absences: Robbie Rogers, A.J. DeLaGarza
Projected Lineup: Penedo; Franklin, Gonzalez, Leonardo, Dunivant; Jimenez, Juninho, Sarvas, Zardes; Donovan, Keane