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Three questions on the Seattle Sounders with Sounder at Heart

Seattle has lost two in a row at home, which makes you wonder if they are ripe for the picking tomorrow night.

MLS: Cup Conference Semifinals-FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

In most years, this is the kind of game you get up for. A playoff rematch against the team that knocked you out the year before. That should be where FC Dallas is at going into tomorrow’s game against the Seattle Sounders. But maybe they’ve already moved on from that loss last December, I know I have.

Anyways, it is time once again to do some three questions with a fellow SB Nation blog ahead of our next match. Today we welcome Dave Clark from the esteemed Sounder at Heart blog. (Note: you’ll be able to see our answers to their questions later today)

BDS: While FC Dallas has signed over 30 HGPs over the years, Seattle has taken more of a quality over quantity approach. Has that paid off for them here as they’re finally having to dip into their HGPs for playing time or has this recent run been more about injuries and needing fresh players?

SaH: Injuries gave the youth opportunities, and a few of them exploded into looking like MLS stalwarts. Whereas in the past a youngster might get 10 minutes or even a rare start, this season they’re getting major minutes, regular starts. A few have looked more than capable, the type of player that is not just a replacement-level talent, but someone who should be in a national team conversation and would be regular starters for average MLS teams.

Josh Atencio is half Gustav Svensson, from the MLS Cup-winning squad, and half Cristian Roldan, also from the MLS Cup-winning squad. Josh went from a replacement-level DM/CB into an occasional contender for Player of the Week in the space of a couple of months (he also missed time due to injury). No longer a potential talent, he’s a former Tacoma Defiance captain who has stepped into his role with ferocity and verve. Atencio is already the 4th best HGP in Sounders history (Yedlin, Morris, Wingo - a UCL starter) and at only 19 has a couple more years to keep growing.

BDS: Speaking of injuries, that injury list for the Sounders appeared to be a mile long a few weeks ago. How are things in that department now for the team? Is anyone set to return on Wednesday night?

SaH: Will Bruin was available as a sub and might be ready to start. Maybe Nouhou moves to questionable soon. The Gold Cup is finally over so both Alex Roldan and Cristian Roldan will be back in some capacity. Just as Sounders fans were starting to get excited about good health and availability we learned that Josh Atencio (remember him from above?) broke a rib in the loss to Sporting KC.

There may only be one extreme hardship signing for this match — a huge improvement from the norm during the slump. But, it’s not great. Seattle’s injured XI (ish) would be a playoff team. There’s two Best XIs on the list, the modern-day version of Nick Rimando, a contender for Defender of the Year, and significant other talents. Getting healthier is great. Getting healthy will be better.

BDS: Seattle has been impressive defensively to me this season, what has been the main reason for the lack of goals scored against? How can teams break them down?

SaH: A few weeks ago my answer would be Nouhou. Then it would be Stefan Frei. Maybe I’d lean into Cristian Roldan after that. But the defense is still strong and none of them are playing. Is it the formation? Likely a bit of that. Even more than that is the coach.

It’s also the culture. There are mistakes that head coach Brian Schmetzer will accept — none of those are on defense. Giving up a goal through lack of effort offends, disgusts, disappoints him. You could hear it in his halftime interview during that San Jose loss. For years now Schmetzer spoke of duels and tackles, rather than shots, or chances, or expected goals. He wants every single player to put their full heart into helping the team defend — whether that’s the Golden Boot leading forward or the rookie winger turning into a withdrawn forward after an Academy career at defensive mid.

Even taking into account the slump and injuries Seattle has the best raw Goals Against in the league and the fifth best-expected GA.