The buildup to the tonight’s’ match has already exceeded what I would have expected. While it might seem as hyperbole to many fans, or even outsiders, to label this match as, “the most important in the (short) MLS history of this franchise”, it’s not quite as outrageous as it may be perceived on the surface.
The Sounders are the proud owners of 3 wonderful US Open Cup trophies from 4 final visits, had a trip to the Western Conference Finals last season and finally were runners up to the Supporters’ Shield (short 4 points to the Los Angeles Galaxy) and winners of the Cascadia Cup in 2011. The club has given their fans and supporters numerous memories over a very short time span.
And yet, even in 2011, they never had an opportunity to slide ahead in the lead for the Supporters’ Shield this last in the season. According to Forbes writer and unabashed Sounder supporter, Zach Slaton, there is approximately a 40% swing in either team’s direction in regards to the likelihood of projecting the leagues’ top team at the end of the season. Currently, both the Lakers and Sounders remain the top two choices among MLS/EI–a probability metric, constructed by Martin Eastwood and adapt for use with the North American league, primarily used to predict table outcomes by way of Monte Carlo simulation.
This clash is just another great story a long the growing narrative and rivalry between Seattle and Real Salt Lake. Each passing season has seemingly held drama in the regular season and has been compounded by meetings in the play-off games, added with memorable season moments.
One memory that might stick out, it does for me, is the red card award to Zach Scott one year ago in a draw at home, a match in which the Sounders posted a bit of a depleted roster. A game refereed by Ricardo Salazar and a result that contributed to Salt Lake finishing ahead of the Sounders in the conference standings.
However, justice would be found with the Sounders finishing off the Lakers playoff run with a late curling goal off the foot of Mario Martinez. It was the lone difference maker in the home-and-away matches and help defeat Real Salt Lake while on the road in Sandy, Utah.
This season has been less charmed.
Early this season the Sounders took a pounding by Real Salt Lake. Really, they took two poundings. With both matches on the road the Sounders looked overwhelmed with missing key. The losses, first back in March 2-1, and again in late June 2-0, were both games reflecting a somewhat respectable score line. However, if your memory feels betrayed by the results, you may find the shot ratio—or disparity—will validate that feeling of post-disaster following each of the matches. Over the course of 180 minutes, the Sounders were out shot by a grand total of 42 to 10 cumulatively. The stats are a better reflection of the nature of the matches.
Shot ratios can be useful measurement device, as they have some inherent predictive applications that are associated with them. It’s a practice that seems rather obvious and probably doesn’t need much in way of introductions. More shots, means more goals. More shots than your opponents often equates to more goals than your opponents. The frequency to which you have more goals than your opponents at the end of 90 minutes, the likelihood of you being place higher in the table. Not to sound like a 12-year old, but, duh.
Real Salt Lake has taken to the theory of creating shots and currently leads the league in shots on goal and, in turn, total goals scored.
Now, shots on goal—hereby referred to as SOG—are a smaller, sub category, of total shots. Shots on goal is not a consistent metric and it’s doesn’t carry with it the predictive measures that total shots does. It’s obviously influenced by who is taking the shot, the defense that they are playing against and, of course, the keeper.
That said the attacking force that has been RSL has been magnificent this season. Their distance shooting and scoring is outrageous, and has been documented by others. I’m not going to go so far as to say that it’s unsustainable—the last time I said something like that they beat the Timbers for four goals, we don’t need that type of luck—I will go so far as to say that I’m still more worried about what they can do in the box.
I suppose this is where I tell you not to worry that the Sounders are going to be able to counter that or score more often or something happy, upbeat and encouraging, right?
It’s not so much that the Sounders won’t be able to counter what Jason Kries with devise. It’s a matter of if they can get the ball past Nick Rimando. Assuming, that is, that Rimando plays. I’m not sure what their line-up is going to feature at this point and I would just assume that it’s something of Neagle-Martins duo.
Both are very capable of finishing and that’s exactly what the Sounders have done this year. They’ve been about finishing the chances they are given, while being patient on the ball and allowing the attack to develop. They don’t force shots and they look for position in high percentage locations rather than just letting loose shots—well, they did before Dempsey anyways.
The importance for the Sounders is finding those pockets of space in the 18-yard box, just as Neagle did against Chicago last weekend. If they can do that and do it relatively consistently, again, as the Sounders did last week, there is no reason why the Sounders can’t leave the Clink with 3 points.
This game is going to be very dependent upon Ozzie and his ability to control the rhythm and disrupt what the opposition does on the periphery of the box. Likewise, it’s going to help having Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Djimi Traore to slow down shots like they did last time we saw RSL.
If I were to bottom line this game, I’d have to say it’s about the ability to score goals. I don’t think it’s as crazy as it might seem, that the Sounders might not be able to create as many shots as their opponents tonight. But could still out score more them. They’ve been doing it most of the season anyways.
Now, how’s that for happy, upbeat and encouraging?