TUKWILA – The Sounders have just culminated a five-month grind from last place to first, and somehow now comes the hard part — figuring out a first-choice starting lineup.
Seattle, finally nearing full strength, boasts four dangerous options at forward (Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Eddie Johnson, Lamar Neagle) and more quality options in midfield (Brad Evans, Mauro Rosales, Osvaldo Alonso). Six of the seven have played for their national teams in major competitions.
With more stars than available positions in the lineup, there has been a popular question for coach Sigi Schmid the past few days:
How are you going to decide who starts?
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Schmid, for his part, has played it close to the vest, offering jokes in place of tactics. After beating Real Salt Lake last weekend, the coach said he might draw names out of a hat or flip a coin to determine his starting forwards for Saturday’s road game against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Asked again after Tuesday’s practice, Schmid quipped he was going to consult with reporters to see who should start.
“It’s a good problem to have because you have options,” Schmid said. “The team is playing well, so obviously there is going to be disappointment in whoever’s not in that lineup.”
National-team call-ups and injuries had kept Seattle from having everyone available since Dempsey signed in early August.
Fans got a glimpse as to what the Sounders might look like in the final 15 minutes of Friday’s 2-0 win against RSL. The team shifted into a three-forward formation featuring Neagle, Martins and Johnson from left to right and Dempsey underneath as a central attacking midfielder.
It was a fluid structure with lots of interchanging in the attack.
“We can describe it as ‘The Amoeba,’ ” Schmid said with a laugh. “It sort of floats around and moves wherever you want.”
That was just 15 minutes, however, and when it comes to the starting jobs, players are also unsure how things will work.
“I really don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know we’ve got personnel to put on the field to go at anybody,” said Neagle, who has had a breakthrough year and is tied for the team lead with eight goals.
Evans said “one or two or three guys are going to get left out who are good players, who are probably starters on any other team in the league. It says something. It’s definitely a positive — it’ll piss guys off that they’re not playing, for sure, but hopefully that pushes us in training and gives us harder training sessions.”
This week of practice is going to serve as the drawing board ahead of what could be an MLS Cup run. Schmid has said he has a few ideas on how to arrange the surplus of talent, but noted he has always been a coach who gears his strategy around the players and not vice versa.
There is also a risk involved in putting too much emphasis on the starting 11 as injuries and national-team call-ups could still have an effect in the coming weeks.
“Everybody’s got to be on top of their game and working hard,” Schmid said. “For sure, on any given game day there are probably going to be one or two disappointed people, and that’s natural and that’s to be expected.
“But I know they’re all good professionals, and I know they want to see us succeed as a team. That’s the most important thing. As long as we all keep that in mind, I think we’ll be fine.”
• New acquisition Adam Moffat is the first player in the MLS era to join the Sounders after having played for Portland. Schmid said: “That’s OK. We’ll take one or two of those. Not a lot, but one or two.”
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org