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San Jose Earthquakes vs. Seattle Sounders: Three Questions

You think the Quakes are hot? Check out the Sounders.

MLS: LA Galaxy at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The San Jose Earthquakes will make their first midweek appearance of the 2021 season on Wednesday, when they host the Seattle Sounders for the teams’ first meeting of the year. To gear up for the clash, I spoke to my old friend Dave Clark of SB Nation’s Seattle-area soccer site Sounder at Heart to get the scoop. Many thanks to Dave for taking the time to answer my questions!

Center Line Soccer asks Sounder at Heart:

1. The Sounders are atop the Supporters’ Shield standings at present, just a point ahead of the Quakes. We know Seattle is good, but did you expect them to start the season unbeaten and be at the top of the heap right now?

Sounders fans probably expected Garth Lagerwey and Brian Schmetzer to work their typical late season magic. There were just too many questions about the roster — no Jordan Morris, no Gustav Svensson, no Kelvin Leerdam, other less significant players. Plus, the injury to Nicolas Lodeiro added to that doubt. Mix in a new formation and a pandemic-reduced preseason, there was little reason to feel that Seattle would burst out like this. Even the schedule was against such a run.

Here we are in the sixth season of Schmetzer’s MLS coaching tenure and people are still doubting him. He’s got two MLS Cups, two other appearances, wins 50% of his games, and yet people doubt. He coaches players up into national team appearances, into Best XI appearances, and yet people doubt him — even the people who love him, doubt him.

There’s no reason that this roster should be at the top of the table right now, except for Brian Schmetzer.

2. Are there any players (new or returning) having breakthrough starts to the season for the Sounders? How and why?

One old, one new.

Old is a former left back who Schmetzer found a much better role for. Now that Nouhou almost solely focuses on defense his magic is more powerful. The hype train was already huge. It should grow, because Sounders have only given up 2 goals, neither from the run of play. Yes, it’s a team game, but none of Seattle’s defenders has taken to the new system as well as Nouhou. Some of the opposing teams thought that he was the peak point. They didn’t score, didn’t even threaten really. Is it too early to start the Chad Marshall Defender of the Year conversation? Maybe. But not when Nouhou is outperforming the last three winners of the award.

The new has to be the returnee to his hometown club for which he’s never played. All indications from the past few years was that Kelyn Rowe was done as a significant contributor. Rowe has more than proven this doubter wrong. As a starter he’s a capable defensive midfielder who moves the ball into the attack quite well. Off the bench Kelyn offers a high quality utility knife capable of playing every midfield role in the 3-5-2 and the 3-4-2-1 that Seattle’s used late. As one of those doubters I’m enjoying the crow that he’s served me, with a wonderful wine.

3. Given that the Sounders have frequently had the Earthquakes’ number the last couple years and this is a midweek game, do you expect Seattle to make some adjustments, maybe bring in some new players for Wednesday’s game, or just keeping going with the group that’s in an early rhythm since the games haven’t yet piled up for them?

Any adjustments that Schmetzer makes to the lineup will not be based on his history against San Jose. As a coach that generally rides his preferred hand, there will probably be relatively few lineup changes. Nicolas Lodeiro will almost certainly not start, as he didn’t make the bench and Brian’s history is with a slow re-insertion to XIs.

Changes to expect will be on the backline where he has four starting quality players and is still trying to figure out which triplet is the best. There’s also a chance that Fredy Montero gets the start. He’s probably close to full fitness now. With the way that Seattle is pressing up the pitch more rotating the forwards makes sense.

Projected lineup: Frei; Nouhou, Arreaga, Yeimar; Smith, João Paulo, Rowe, A.Roldan; C.Roldan; Montero, Ruidíaz

You can read my answers to Dave’s questions at Sounder at Heart.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.