After arguably the worst loss in franchise history, the Sounders need a bounce-back game.
And a match against a lower division side in a competition Seattle has historically dominated seems like the perfect opportunity.
But as last night’s upsets showed, early round Open Cup games are no walk in the park for MLS teams. With a quality opponent, cross-country travel and the absence of multiple key players, tonight will be a serious test of the Sounders’ depth. Reserve players have come up big in the past to help Seattle reach four straight US Open Cup finals and that has to be the case once again today.
Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans are away on national team duty, Patrick Ianni and Osvaldo Alonso are suspended due to red cards in last year’s final and Mauro Rosales, Djimi Traore and Leo Gonzalez reportedly flew back to Seattle after Sunday’s game for fitness reasons. For those counting at home, that’s six regular starters (and a starting-quality player in Ianni) who will miss out. Throw in the cross-country travel plus short rest for the guys who are there and it starts to get real messy for Sigi Schmid.
But hey, at least Schmid is actually there to coach.
With all that in mind, here’s my best guess at a Sounders starting XI:
Bench: Michael Gspurning, Dylan Remick, Alex Caskey, Ashani Fairclough, Philip Lund, Servando Carrasco, Eriq Zavaleta
Hahnemann is solid even at 40 years young so nothing to worry about there. Yedlin seems to have no end to his energy and although it’s a legitimate concern he could burn out later this summer (especially after the U-20 World Cup), I think Schmid will start him. Scott can be a dominant defender against lower-league opposition and with Tampa Bay featuring his brother, Daniel, he’s a lock to start.
Schmid would be wise to get as many minutes out of Joseph as possible since his red card against LA makes him ineligible for the Chivas game on Saturday. However, it’s doubtful he can go two full games in three days so Carrasco should feature at some point. With Joseph and Rose sitting deep in the center, it will be up to the front four to provide the offensive spark. Fortunately, there’s serious talent available if Schmid does decide to go with Neagle and Martinez on the wings. I expect Martinez will be given a free role to drift and will probably see plenty of the ball in the middle of the field. Yedlin overlapping on the right will provide compensatory width. Estrada probably drops deeper to help with possession while Ochoa stays high.
As far as Tampa Bay, it’s a squad that definitely has the talent to pull the upset. That said, Seattle has enough quality, even without the regular starters, and this should be a comfortable win.
For more specifics on Tampa Bay and to see what Sigi had to say about the game, check out Sounderatheart.com