Ahead of tonight's Western Conference Championship First Leg with Seattle Sounders FC, I spoke to SoundersFC.com's Matt Gaschk to discuss the current play of the Sounders head into tonight's all-important match up.
I had a similar conversation with Gaschk, which can be found on SoundersFC.com.
My conversation with Gaschk is below...
The Sounders advanced to the Conference Finals for the first time in club history. How big of a boost has this been to the club and how can it carry them into the match against LA?
GASCHK: "The win on Thursday night at Rio Tinto Stadium can’t be understated. In a lot of ways, this team has been carrying that burden for the last three years – that they can have success in the regular season and Open Cup, but can’t solve the playoffs. Now, with that behind them, they can relax and be themselves. At the same time, there are 14 players on this year’s squad that weren’t on the team last year when they lost to Real Salt Lake in the Conference semifinals. So a lot of players on this team haven’t felt that history of trouble in the playoffs and are coming in with a clean slate, which is good in a lot of ways."
Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero are well known entities up front for Seattle, what are some of the club’s other weapons and how do they integrate with the big two?
GASCHK: "Seattle’s greatest depth has been in the midfield and this year, they can add forward to that list too. David Estrada was incredible for this team in the opening weeks of the season while Eddie Johnson was sidelined with a hamstring strain. Throughout the year, Sammy Ochoa has also shown that he can score when called upon with his goals coming in the CONCACAF Champions League and US Open Cup. Meanwhile the midfield remains a strength, with Mario Martinez really showing his quality with the game-winner against Salt Lake on Thursday. With all of those options within the starting lineup, assuming Mauro Rosales is unavailable, it’s easy to forget about Steve Zakuani too, who has shown that he is nearing the form that had him penned as one of the best young players in MLS two years ago before his injury that ended his 2011 season after just five matches."
The Sounders allowed the lowest goal total in the West this season and held Real Salt Lake scoreless in the WC Semis. What has been the rationale for their success?
GASCHK: "The backline has been very good throughout the year, showing their depth as well with seven players seeing regular playing time. They have also shown a commitment to defending throughout the field and when they are at their best; all 11 players are playing active roles in winning the ball and eliminating easy opportunities. Add to that the stellar play of Osvaldo Alonso in the midfield and the record-setting first season in MLS by Michael Gspurning and it’s no wonder they have the top defensive numbers in the West."
DP Christian Tiffert came into the club at midseason; how role has he played since joining the team?
GASCHK: "Tiffert has shown versatility in that he can play all three midfield roles in front of Alonso. He’s not afraid to track back and get involved in the action, but his best attribute is his ability to set up goalscorers in opportune places. He was the top setup man in the Bundesliga for a reason and while the assists haven’t come yet, his calmness on the ball has been important in the patient attack for the Sounders."
What will Seattle’s mindset be heading into the first leg, knowing that the club will have a second leg at CenturyLink Field?
GASCHK: "That is a great question. Coming off of a very difficult series with Real Salt Lake, many teams would bunker in and hope for a scoreless draw in the first leg. But that’s not really the style that has gotten this team to the point where they are one of the top two teams in MLS over the last four years, along with the Galaxy. This team likes to play and I think that’s what we will see on Sunday."
Lastly, Seattle has enjoyed success against the Galaxy this season, but have struggled in the past. How does this Seattle team view the Galaxy and how do they feel they can beat them?
GASCHK: "The Sounders have a tremendous amount of respect for what the Galaxy have been able to do. There is a reason they have had the success that they have had in recent years and the series between the two teams has been very tightly contested in every year except 2010, when the Galaxy won all four meetings in the regular season and playoffs. Outside of that year, Seattle has gone 3-2-2 against LA and has won twice on their way to the US Open Cup title. This year, they are much more equipped to take a patient tact against the Galaxy and that’s how they’ve had success. There are key matchups all over the field, but if the forward tandem of Johnson and Montero can have success against Omar Gonzalez and Tommy Meyer – if A.J. DeLaGarza can’t play – then that could carry Seattle in this playoff series."