Ahead of Wednesday’s first round playoff between Seattle and Colorado, here are the most knows about the Sounders ahead of the 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff (NBCSN):
- This is not your normal Sigi defense
Seattle’s used to having one of the best defenses in the league, a combination of Sigi Schmid’s approach, Osvaldo Alonso’s ball-winning, and Michael Gspurning’s quality in goal. But Gspurning has struggled, the team’s shakeup (Dempsey, Moffat additions) has left questions through the middle, and Schmid’s failed to find answers. As a result, a solid-if-beatable core of defenders has been left exposed.
While the team’s moved on from performances that conceded nine goals over two games (Oct. 5, 9), fans have only seen stopgaps, not solutions. Seattle’s 42 regular season goals allowed is second-worst amongst teams that qualified for the playoffs, leaving questions as to how they’ll handle Deshorn Brown, Gaby Torres, and Vicente Sanchez.
- Obafemi Martins is probably out
Dempsey continues to be the focus, but Obafemi Martins was the Sounders’ original statement of intent, albeit one that’s limited to 17 starts. Word out Seattle this morning leaves Martins unlikely to play on Wednesday, the Nigerian international skipping Tuesday’s training with a groin injury that’s cost him four of the Sounders’ last five games.
With Sigi Schmid switching to a diamond midfield (deploying Dempsey at its tip), Martins’ fitness seems to absolve Seattle of a tough decision, though it’s looking less-and-less likely a choice between Martins and Lamar Neagle will have to be made. This late in the season, you wonder a healthy Martins may be relegated to a super-sub’s role, Seattle needing to find a winning formula before the big-ticket acquisition can have an impact on this postseason.
- Confidence has got to be an issue
Seattle played well in Sunday’s first half against Los Angeles but came out of intermission with a different mindset, eventually regressing into a defensive posture that saw them holding on for dear life far too early in the match. Robbie Keane’s 78th winner would cost them full points, relegating them to Wednesday’s playoff.
Those aren’t the actions of a confident side, a mentality that shouldn’t be surprising given the team’s October swoon. But with a squad full of veteran, accomplished players, Schmid should be able to convince his team they can do better. It’s not as if his crew have no history of success to draw on.
If the Sounders pull ahead of the Rapids, they need to kill off the match, not sit back and pray Colorado won’t find a goal. That mentality cost them on Sunday. On Wednesday, they have no room for error.
- In Eddie, they may have to trust
Eddie Johnson provides a great Get Out of Jail Free card. When all else fails — when tactics or the confidence of a broken team can’t be turned around — Seattle can always play it to Johnson. They can win corner kicks, try to earn fouls, and hope the U.S. international can get the best of Drew Moor or Shane O’Neill.
It’s not the most complicated plan, but it’s one even a struggling team can execute. If all else continues to fall, Seattle may have to rely on the matchup they can win: EJ against that Rapids central defense.
- The obvious: This game is very important to Siegfried Schmid
Speculating about a coach’s job is always precarious, more so when you’re talking about a unique situation like Seattle’s. After joining the Sounders at the dawn of their MLS adventure, the 60-year-old became the face of the franchise. He’s become much more than a coach.
But there’s no appetite for failure right now. If Seattle bows out in the first round, it will be hard to justify keeping him on. Joe Roth has made the financial commitment, and Adrian Hanauer expected this team to compete for titles (even before acquiring Dempsey and Martins).
If they come up five games short, Schmid may be gone, opening up the most attractive coaching job in Major League Soccer.
- (MORE on MLS Playoffs: Previewing Seattle-Colorado)
- (MORE on MLS playoffs: Are there too many teams in the post-season?)
- (MORE on MLS playoffs: ProSoccerTalk’s post-season picks and predictions)
- (MORE on MLS playoffs: Schedule and TV times)
- (MORE on MLS playoffs: Top story lines for the post-season)