Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Take Two: Union vs. Seattle Sounders

Now that I finally got all the rainwater out of my computer bag, here are my thoughts on the Union's 1-1 draw with the Seattle Sounders on Saturday.

Take Two: Union vs. Seattle Sounders


Now that I finally got all the rainwater out of my computer bag, here are my thoughts on the Union's 1-1 draw with the Seattle Sounders on Saturday.

- Is Sebastien Le Toux finally back in form? I wouldn't say he's all the way there yet, but Saturday's game was the most active we've seen him all season. Had Le Toux finished his wide-open chance in the 51st minute, there wouldn't be any question as to what level he's at. But he didn't take a great shot, and Kasey Keller made an easy save. So the jury is out for a little while longer.

- The Union did a great job of containing Steve Zakuani. Seattle's roster is stacked with creative players (we'll get into that more shortly), but Zakuani is really the guy who makes the Sounders' offense go. His runs down the left flank routinely set up scoring opportunities, whether for forwards from a cross or Zakuani himself cutting in.

Zakuani did not take any shots in the game. His only real impact was playing a one-two with Fredy Montero to set up the Sounders' equalizer at the end of the game, and that was with a crowd of players in the box after a corner kick.

Credit for containing Zakuani goes primarily to Sheanon Williams. Williams' athleticism came in very handy, as he was running all over that side of the field to keep Zakuani in check. But he did so, and let his teammates take the ball forward.

- Here are some numbers to think about. According to Major League Soccer's statistical engine, the Union completed a higher percentage of their passes than the Sounders did - 73 percent to 67 percent. That was the case even though Seattle made more passes in the game, 408 to 381, and had 51.4 percent of the possession in the game.

Considering how many good possessors of the ball the Sounders had on the field yesterday - I count eight of the 14 players who played - it's impressive that the Union had a better passing percentage.

- So you want to know who the eight Seattle players are? Here's my count, starting from the back: James Riley, Leo Gonzalez, Osvaldo Alonso, Erik Friberg, Alvaro Fernandez, Steve Zakuani, Mauro Rosales and Fredy Montero.

Now let's look at the Union players who were on the field. Starting again from the back, I count six: Sheanon Williams, Jordan Harvey, Amobi Okugo, Justin Mapp, Sebastien Le Toux and Carlos Ruiz.

The margin of two players may not seem like much, but let's think about who those two players are in context.

Subtract the three defenders from each side: Riley, Gonzalez and Alonso for Seattle, and Williams, Harvey and Okugo for the Union. Then take out one pure striker from each side: Montero for Seattle and Ruiz for Philadelphia.

The remaining four Sounders players are Friberg, Fernandez, Zakuani and Rosales. The remaining two Union players are Mapp and Le Toux. That's a pretty big difference.

You would probably expect me to start another riff about why Roger Torres should have been on the field. In this instance, though, I'm not going to. The Union actually did a pretty good job of possessing the ball on Saturday without Torres. Even more surprising was the fact that they seemed to get better possession as the weather conditions got worse.

I thought Kyle Nakazawa played especially well in the bad weather. Even though the Comcast Network starting lineup graphic had him placed quite a bit farther forward than his actual position, Nakazawa was on the ball a lot nonetheless. The 23-year-old did a good job of holding the ball up, and drew four fouls in doing so. One of them resulted in the free kick from which Carlos Ruiz scored.

There's one more player we should discuss, especially in the context of midfielders who can possess the ball...

- I don't think the Union are out of the Benny Feilhaber sweepstakes just yet. Even though Peter Nowak said the Union aren't interested in the U.S. national team veteran, they might still have a shot to get him.

The Washington Post's Steven Goff reported late last week that Chivas USA might pass on Feilhaber in the allocation standings, or try to trade with another team that wants the midfielder.

Chivas would benefit from whichever path they take. Feilhaber would be a huge boost to their midfield, and going to Los Angeles makes a lot of sense for a UCLA alum and Southern California native.

If Chivas decide to pass on Feilhaber, they would retain the top spot in the allocation standings. The Union are second in the table, so they would get the next shot.

If Chivas work out a trade, they would be in a similar situation to how the Union found themselves when they acquired Fred last year.  The Union were at the top of the allocation table when goalkeeper Troy Perkins came back to MLS, and D.C. United really wanted him. So the Union effectively held Perkins ransom, and got Fred in exchange for the rights to Perkins.

Goff also reported that MLS made a contract offer to Feilhaber that exceeded what he had been making at Danish club AGF Aarhus: between $240,000 and $300,000 per year. That is below the $335,000 salary cap hit that a designated player costs an MLS club.

The Union have both of their DP slots open, and still have five of their total 30 roster spots unused. Although I think Chivas passing entirely on Feilhaber is the least likely outcome, I wouldn't be surprised if the Union at least have a chance to get him.

Tactically, Feilhaber would be an easy fit with the Union. He would slot into an attacking central midfield role right away, which would allow Peter Nowak and the Union's coaching staff to develop Roger Torres at a more measured pace.

What do you make of the Sounders result, and of the Feilhaber situation? Let me know by posting in the comments.

I'll be back tomorrow with your Rank and File player ratings from Saturday's game.

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