First up - Nerdy asks three questions of Dave:
1. Now that Seattle has embarked upon the post-Sigi-era, what have been the most significant changes made by interim head coach Brian Schmetzer?
The biggest change is in attitude. Schmetzer's 4-2-3-1 is a less complex version of Schmid's 4-4-2/4-3-3 hybrid thing, but all of the non-new players are generally in the same spot in the lineup so far. New DP Nicolas Lodeiro is either out right or underneath Jordan Morris (Dempsey would be central if healthy). Fullbacks provide most of the width in attack. The shape, and how they use it is fairly conventional. The players (usually Lodeiro) decided when to trigger a press situation and they are doing so a bit more often.
With a new coach, and one who has been a Sounders since the age of 17 back in the early 80s there is a strong "play for the badge" vibe right now. At the same point Schmetz points to his players for every success. Every failure he takes as his own. One of the first things he said to the team, back before their 4-1-1 run is that they are in charge of making the playoffs, not the coaches, not the trainers, not other teams. Then the players that had failed so long, plus player of the month Lodeiro, took charge.
2. What's the word on Clint Dempsey's heart arrhythmia, and is there a schedule for his return yet?
There is no schedule for his return. While US coach Jurgen Klinsmann seemed to think he'd be back quickly, things from Seattle are very quiet. This is not a "no news is good news situation." Clint Dempsey is vital to the success of the Sounders. He is rather important for the US National Team. For now, there is no public timeline. Instead we watch, we wait and we pray that he's just going to be OK, as it's something with his heart and soccer is so far from the important part of that.
3. Is the team considering this game a must win?
Absolutely. Seattle doesn't want their seven-year playoff run to end. They desparately want an MLS Cup, and if they make the playoffs, and if Clint comes back that 4-1-1 run in the right order is the type that goes from lower seed to trophy winner.
First things first though, beating San Jose. Without points on Saturday night the dream of a mighty comeback is essentially over.
Projected lineup: Frei; Jones, Marshall, Torres, Evans; Alonso, Roldan; Ivanschitz, Lodeiro, Fernandez; Morris
Next up - Dave asks three questions of Nerdy:
1 - With the Sounders regularly attacking wide spaces, how can San Jose's fullbacks defend the likes of Andreas Ivanschitz and Nicolas Lodeiro?
Cordell Cato and Jordan Stewart have been the recent starting full backs - Trinidadian Cato is one of six players who has returned from international duty this week. Cato has great speed, and can certainly keep up, while Stewart is solid and unflappable - both Cato and Stewart show great athleticism with their interceptions of incoming passes to opposing forwards.
Lodeiro has been singled out for attention by the Earthquakes - and I think that it will take more than just the full backs to take care of him. I think you'll even see Wondo back to help defend, and probably more than once. If Cato starts at, or moves to midfield with a substitution, then Sarkodie and Francis are other full back options.
Frankly I'm more concerned about the center backs - Bernardez is questionable, and with Goodson out for the year, Wynne and Imperiale will make up the back line in front of the goalkeeper. Talking of which, if neither David Bingham nor Bryan Meredith can start (both are listed as questionable) then rookie Andrew Tarbell will bring his solid Clemson resume to the field - he subbed in for Bingham in the last MLS game in Columbus, and filled in admirably, coming up with a few good saves to keep the Quakes in the game. If the Quakes can't shut down Ivanschitz and Lodeiro's service to Morris (in the presumed absence of Clint Dempsey) the Quakes will be in for a long night.
Overall, while it can be good to have players multi-tasking their way around the roster, it does mean that they will have to pay attention to keeping their position to maintain the team's shape, which will be key to countering the Seattle attack.
2 - How does the lack of a consistent creator change the Earthquakes offense?
Well, the offense has been sparse over the past few games. Wondolowski's production typically dips after a stint with the USMNT, and he returns this Saturday after warming the USMNT bench in the WC qualifiers. The new arrival from Sweden - forward Henok Goitom - seems to be a straight replacement for Adam Jahn (traded to Columbus). Compound all of this uncertainty up front with the injury to forward Quincy Amarikwa (right ankle), and the fact that the service from the midfield usually revolves around Panamanian international Anibal Godoy (out with a left hamstring injury), the Quakes will have to come up with a hitherto unseen formation.
It's right to focus on the lack of an effective playmaker underlying the Quakes' offensive woes. While the Earthquakes have several midfield options, they have continually accrued injuries throughout this season. The lineup has been highly variable with many different players plugged in: Godoy, Dawkins, Alashe, Thompson and new signing Darwin Cerén (from Orlando in exchange for Matias Perez Garcia) have started in the middle, while Cato, Shea Salinas and Alberto Quintero have all started on the flanks. Cato and Quintero have been favored recently over Salinas, but when Salinas subs in, usually for the last thirty minutes or so, he brings energy to the field, and the fans love his continued determination despite being benched. A couple of goals from Salinas in last week's friendly against Pachuca augmented his case to start the Seattle game.
Coach Kinnear has (to the frustration of many fans) been known to play Wondo further back in the lineup, which makes it much harder for him to be the typical goal poacher that he is. Given the Quakes extensive injury list, it's possible that Kinnear might line up Wondo with Dawkins behind Goitom (and/or maybe Chad Barrett) as the target forward(s).
3 - Is the team considering this a must win?
Absolutely yes - as I suspect it is for the Sounders (9-13-4), so I believe that each coach will roll out an all or nothing attacking formation. The Quakes haven't lost many games (7-8-11) this season, but too many of those draws could have (should have) been wins. Those missed victories will be rued most by players, coaches and fans alike if the Quakes don't make the playoffs.
The Quakes recent (August 29) dismissal of General Manager John Doyle has put the technical staff on notice that the current lack of success on the field in unacceptable. Not too many fans were sorry to see him go - many the DPs that Doyle brought in since 2008 have underperformed, though it's hard to know how much Doyle's hands were tied by the club's financial constraints. It was, however, a surprise to most that the Quakes pulled the plug midseason. To quote one longtime fan, John Doyle's departure was "Earlier than I expected, and also much later."
If the Quakes don't make the playoffs this season, I suspect that more changes will be made in the offseason - maybe Kinnear gets one more year in charge because of his history with the club, but his future will depend on the new GM improving the roster -- and quickly.