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MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on the Seattle Sounders ahead of Thursday’s visit to Portland

Nov 7, 2013, 5:00 PM EST

Lamar Neagle, DeAndre Yedlin
  • We should see DeAndre Yedlin, Obafemi Martins

PORTLAND, Ore. — I’ve been a fan of DeAndre Yedlin’s all year but mostly kept my mouth shut. Every time I opened it, I’d find myself saying “he’s good, but not that good,” speaking to those who wanted the 20-year-old to be chosen to the All-Star Game (thanks, Commissioner Garber), get consideration for the senior national team, or make this year’s Best XI. The guy was good, but he’s 20-year-old, ‘I’m taking over someday but not now’ good. It’s a hard concept to get across in 140 characters.

That said, he was missed on Saturday. Not that Zach Scott was bad — he wasn’t (and he earned a cracked rib for his trouble) — but as we saw Portland’s not-so-natural right back Jack Jewsbury play a part in both Timber goals, you couldn’t help but think of the options Yedlin would have offered to a Sounder team that held 60 percent of the ball. Perhaps that tight Timber defense that (as Caleb Porter reminded us after the match) never let anything behind them would have had to stretch to account for Yedlin’s presence.

[REVIEW: Johnson, Nagbe goals allow Portland to take edge out of Seattle]

It will be shock if he doesn’t start on Thursday. If Saturday’s was an elimination game, Yedline probably would have played then, too, but with Zach Scott injured, there’s little reason to doubt.

Obafemi Martins, on the other hand, carries few more question marks, given the Nigerian international has played once since Sept. 29. But it’s all hands on deck for an elimination game, and with Lamar Neagle suspended after picking up his postseason’s second yellow, Sigi Schmid needs the option.

There are whispers he could start, but given this match could go 120 minutes, that seems a stretch. Better to keep him on the bench and bring him on in the second half, potentially having him on the field for penalty kicks.

(And penalty kicks, between the Timbers and Sounders, with the teams kicking into the Timbers Army? If the MLS is going to fix/arrange anything, please let start with this!)

[MORE: MLS Playoff Preview: Seattle Sounders at Portland Timbers]

  • Need to sort out the diamond or let it go

Sigi Schmid was clear after Saturday’s loss. He sees the midfield diamond (a 4-3-1-2 formation, in this case) as the Sounders’ best option. Yes, they gave up two goals because of the formation, but Schmid seemed to be saying they needed to play the formation better, not scrap it altogether.

But a few things have changed since Saturday’s kickoff. Lamar Neagle got suspended, leaving only Clint Dempsey and a not 100 percept match fit Obafemi Martins as reasonable options up top. Mauro Rosales is also a possibility here, but if he’s coming into the team, might as well put him into his best position (wide right), move Adam Moffat back to a more comfortable role, and deploy Dempsey in support of Eddie Johnson.

And that’s the other factor: Mauro Rosales. Granted, a lot of his late-match effectiveness in Seattle may have been about Portland playing with a two-goal edge, but the team looked better with his threat wide (after a short, failed spell playing him at the tip of the diamond). If he starts, he could partner Johnson up top, but it makes more sense to play as many players as possible in their best positions.

Watch the game tonight at 11 p.m. ET on NBCSN or watch it on NBC Sports Live Extra

source: AP

Djimi Traoré (right) was at fault on Portland’s winning goal Saturday in Seattle. Central defense partner Jhon Kennedy Hurtado made the key error on the Timbers’ opener. (Photo: AP.)

  • The obvious: Defenders have got to be better

Each Portland goal was a result of an individual mistake. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado failed to track Ryan Johnson’s run on the first goal. Djimi Traoré tried a low percentage tackle ahead of Darlington Nagbe’s high percentage shot. Perhaps Portland presses to score other ways if those mistakes don’t happen, but Seattle has reason to believe the errors played as big a part as Portland’s execution.

The solution isn’t complicated. Play better. Don’t underestimate Ryan Johnson’ persistence. Know Darlington Nagbe’s not going to turn onto his left foot. Deny Jack Jewsbury that cross when he’s standing right on the end line. This isn’t about approach. It’s about execution.

  • Quality over quantity when it comes to chances

Seattle placated themselves with the quantity of chances they produced on Saturday, which is a mistake. At the end of the game, they may have doubled the Timbers’ overall shot total, but they put as many shots on target as their opponents: Five. In that light, it looks like the Sounders may be playing Portland’s game. While they weren’t exactly roasted on the counter attack (as Caleb Porter implied after the game), Portland generated the slightly better chances. And they executed on those chances.

[MORE: Portland Timbers thriving after unexpected death of ‘Porterball’]

Seattle’s capable of creating the same opportunities, but they have to work for them. They can’t settle for the low percentage chances Portland cedes and prepares for. They can’t assume one of their set pieces will come good. They need to be more patient. They need to execute the same way the Timbers executed on their second goal. Despite holding the ball for three-fifths of the game, we didn’t see many (any?) sequences like that from the Sounders.

source: Getty Images

Sigi Schmid is the only coach in the Sounders’ MLS history. The team’s poor finish to the 2013 season has led to speculation about his future. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Like Seattle, Portland isn’t blessed with stellar defenders. They’re fine, not great, and they’re dependent on good goalkeeping and a strong shield. Getting through Diego Chara and Will Johnson is not easy, but Seattle needs to get at Pa Modou Kah and Futty Danso. They need quality over quantity.

  • And of course …

This is a very important game for Sigi Schmid. Is he gone if Seattle loses tonight? I don’t know, but there’ll be every reason for Joe Roth and Adrian Hanauer to doubt he’s the man that can get them over the top. He’s done a remarkable (perhaps under-appreciated) job getting Seattle to this point, but year after year, it seems this point is a stumbling block. Given how the team has performed in first legs, it’s fair to wonder if preparation or mindset is a problem.

[MORE: The hard truth in Seattle: Sigi Schmid is almost certainly gone without a big series reversal]

But the stakes and consequences transcend Sigi Schmid. This is a team which this year (with the help of Major League Soccer) spent more in transfer fees than any in league history. They have a full allotment of Designated Players and two other stars (Osvaldo Alonso, Eddie Johnson) who’ll want that recognition in the near future. While not winning a title could be chalked up to the variability of a playoff system, nose-diving at the end of a season is a much more worrisome outcome.

If Seattle loses tonight, they’ll finish the season with one win in their last 10 games. Even if they hadn’t landed Clint Dempsey, those results would have forced the team to reconsider their course. All their personnel decisions — not just coaches, but also players — would be made knowing they came up well short in 2013.

  1. miket333 - Nov 7, 2013 at 5:28 PM

    So what? How about an article on what the Timbers are GOING to do in order to win this game? Every article is about the Flounders! Screw those posers!

    • talgrath - Nov 7, 2013 at 5:58 PM

      They’re going to do two articles, they do two articles on every team in the playoff games, calm yourself.

      • miket333 - Nov 7, 2013 at 6:17 PM

        yes i am calm. must have been the !’s..thanks.

      • Richard Farley - Nov 7, 2013 at 6:18 PM

        It’s almost done, guys. 45 minutes or so.

  2. Travis.D - Nov 7, 2013 at 5:49 PM

    (And penalty kicks, between the Timbers and Sounders, with the teams kicking into the Timbers Army? If the MLS is going to fix anything, let this be it.)

    WTF is there to fix?

    • Richard Farley - Nov 7, 2013 at 7:12 PM

      I’m going to change the wording a bit, but please note definition number six from this list. A couple of people have assumed I meant “fix” as broken, but seems to be people’s biases re: MLS, playoffs, etc. bleeding into their reading ot the sentence.

      fix |fiks|
      verb [ with obj. ]
      1 [ with obj. ] fasten (something) securely in a particular place or position: fix the clamp on a rail | the upper jaw of an amphibian is firmly fixed to the skull.
      • lodge or implant (an idea, image, or memory) firmly in a person’s mind: he turned back to fix the scene in his mind.
      2 (fix something on/upon) direct one’s eyes, attention, or mind steadily or unwaveringly toward: I fixed my attention on the tower.
      • [ no obj. ] (fix on/upon) (of a person’s eyes, attention, or mind) be directed steadily or unwaveringly toward: her gaze fixed on Jess.
      • attract and hold (a person’s attention or gaze): their taut relationship fixes your attention.
      • (fix someone with) look at someone unwaveringly: she fixed her nephew with an unwavering stare.
      3 mend; repair: you should fix that shelf.
      • (fix something up) do the necessary work to improve or adapt something: we want to fix up the house before we sell it.
      • make arrangements for (something); organize: he’s sent her on ahead to fix things up | I’ve fixed it for you to see him on Thursday.
      • informal restore order or tidiness to (something, esp. one’s hair, clothes, or makeup): Laura was fixing her hair.
      • informal prepare or arrange for the provision of (food or drink): [ with two objs. ] : they were fixing him breakfast | Ruth fixed herself a cold drink.
      • (fix someone up) informal arrange for someone to have something; provide someone with something: I’ll fix you up with a room.
      • (fix someone up) informal arrange for someone to meet or go out with someone in order to help them establish a romantic relationship.
      • (be fixing to do something) informal be intending or planning to do something: you’re fixing to get into trouble.
      4 decide or settle on (a specific price, date, course of action, etc.): no date has yet been fixed for a hearing | the rent will be fixed at $600 a month | [ no obj. ] : their thinking then seemed fixed on conventional projects.
      • discover the exact location of (something) by using radar or visual bearings or astronomical observation: he fixed his position.
      • settle the form of (a language).
      • assign or determine (a person’s liability or responsibility) for legal purposes: there are no facts that fix the defendant with liability.
      5 make (something) permanent or static in nature: the rate of interest is fixed for the life of the loan.
      • make (a dye, photographic image, or drawing) permanent.
      • (Biology) preserve or stabilize (a specimen) with a chemical substance prior to microscopy or other examination: specimens were fixed in buffered formalin.
      • (of a plant or microorganism) assimilate (nitrogen or carbon dioxide) by forming a nongaseous compound: lupines fix gaseous nitrogen in their root nodules.
      6 (informal) influence the outcome of (something, esp. a race, contest, or election) by illegal or underhanded means: the foundation denies fixing races.
      • put (an enemy or rival) out of action, esp. by killing them: don’t you tell nobody, or I’ll fix you good!
      7 (informal) [ no obj. ] take an injection of a narcotic drug.
      8 castrate or spay (an animal); neuter.

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