Preview of MLS Cup Playoffs: Seattle Sounders

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The Seattle Sounders are once again entering the off-season as one of the teams to beat.

After appearing in four of the last five MLS Cup finals – winning two of them – the Sounders have become the super club in an equal league. With their quality and experience one would be surprised to see them go all the way again.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Seattle Sounders ahead of the off – season – from tactics to key players and their chances of winning the grand prize.

For a brief moment, some Sounders fans dreamed of an invincible regular season after their team went undefeated in the first 13 games (eight wins, five draws). Rave Green was a little more inconsistent from mid-July and even ended the season with a win-free series of six games, which effectively blew first place in the West. Maybe assistant coach Gonzalo Pineda’s departure to Atlanta United in the middle of the season hurt a little more than first expected …

Still, none of that matters now. Seattle have been in worse shape and less fancy in the past, and yet they always make an impression in the playoffs. If anything, they will probably feel lucky to get their bad form and mistakes out of the system before the post-season. And even if they do not, the Sounders already have the Leagues Cup trophy to show for their efforts this season.

Schmetzer is an extremely flexible coach. / Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

He may look unassuming but do not be fooled, Brian Schmetzer is one of the most accomplished coaches in MLS – even without Pineda by his side. The 59-year-old has shown incredible tactical flexibility over the years, changing the form and line-up of his side to deny the opposition in a wonderful display of true pragmatism.

This season, Schmetzer has mostly stuck to close variants of a 3-4-3 system. Raul Ruidiaz runs points, backed by Nico Lodeiro’s creativity, while Fredy Montero often plays just below where he can combine with the Peruvian. Aggressive outfielders provide width and traction, while Joao Paulo and Josh Atencio advance the ball well and block the opponents’ breaks just as much.

Of course, all this can change when we enter the playoffs – Schmetzer has set his team to absorb pressure and meet the opponent in the transfer many times earlier in the post-season. Jordan Morris’ return from an ACL injury makes it an even more realistic option.

Raul Ruidiaz: There are few strikers in MLS right now who can match Raul Ruidiaz. The Peruvian has scored 61 goals in 94 games in all competitions since joining the Sounders in mid-2018, with 19 of them this season alone. Ruidiaz is very powerful despite his small size, explodes out of the blocks and bullies much bigger defenders than him. The 31-year-old is also smart with his movement and, in addition to being a sniper, he can score spectacular goals from a distance. Ruidiaz is the first of many problems Seattle’s opponents must solve.

OH MY WORDS

RAUL RUIDIAZ SEES HOLDERS FROM THE LINE AND ….. ??? pic.twitter.com/J42xDEyZE4

– Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 23, 2021

Joao Paulo: He will not win the award, but Joao Paulo deserves at least a mention in the MVP conversation this season. The Brazilian is often seen as a No. 6 and, yes, he is excellent and controls the defense. But Joao Paulo is so much more than that. A superb ball carrier, precision passer and goal scorer with fantastic goals, there really is not much he can not do. Schmetzer will sleep soundly in the knowledge that his engine room is well stocked.

Nicolas Lodeiro: Almost every team in MLS has an extraordinary playmaker and for the Sounders it is Nico Lodeiro. And as MLS No.10s goes, he’s right up there among the best. The Uruguayan has 44 goals and 48 assists to his name in 156 Sounders games so far and is capable of playing physics-defying passes and shots that break the sound barrier. Lodeiro has struggled with knee problems throughout 2021 and even needed surgery in September. He got some valuable minutes under his belt in early November and even though he is only 50 percent in shape, Lodeiro will have his moment in the playoffs.

Can the Sounders go all the way again? | Matthew Burt

Hosting Real Salt Lake at home should be easy enough for the Sounders. RSL is entertaining, but terribly open at the back and feels like a perfect replacement for Ruidiaz.

But after that, they will likely face a Sporting Kansas City team that is much closer to their level, and one that has already won twice at Lumen Field this season.

You can never, never write off Sounders in the playoffs. But with Morris and Lodeiro still patched, you wonder if they have enough differences to get past the Western Conference semifinals.

Forecast: Western Conference semifinals

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