In Seattle, competition has always been key for Sounders FC.
Now, more than ever, though. After the addition of Adam Moffat last week, another veteran hungry for an MLS Cup title joined the fold and added to the competitive depth as Seattle continues on its quest for the club’s first Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup titles. And while the Sounders are on a five-game winning streak and have victories in eight of their last nine matches, they are far from content with their place atop the MLS standings.
“I don’t think they’ll become complacent. It’s going to be a little bit tougher to determine who’s the 11 on the field and who’s the 18 that’s going to travel. That keeps everybody on their toes a little bit,” said Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid. “Moreso than anything, we’re in a position now to do something that we haven’t done as a club. To be able to do that – to finish first in the West and win the Supporters’ Shield – are goals that are there year-in and year-out that we haven’t accomplished yet. We want to go after those.”
Schmid will have many challenges in determining his starting 11 when he draws up the lineup in the final seven matches of the regular season and Moffat adds a new element to the middle of midfield.
A veteran of seven MLS seasons, Moffat also has 22 appearances in CONCACAF Champions League play with the Columbus Crew and Houston Dynamo. A hard-working, rugged central midfielder, he gives Schmid another versatile option to join a midfield group that includes Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Shalrie Joseph, Andy Rose and Clint Dempsey.
“He can play the deep role. He can play the more advanced role. If we go to three in midfield, he can play one of the three in there. He can do a number of things,” Schmid said. “He can adjust his game to fit with the guy he’s playing with and that’s important.”
That versatility has become a hallmark of the Seattle team in 2013 and is a key to the depth of the squad. Evans, for one, has played every field position in his five years with Seattle, but has been a stalwart across the midfield. Dempsey can be used in any attacking role. Lamar Neagle has been best as a forward, but has shown to be a capable outside midfielder, too. Even left back Marc Burch has added to the depth on the left side of midfield, playing a standout role as a starter in seven of Seattle’s last 11 matches.
As Schmid continues to seek out his best starting group, Moffat may make those decisions harder, but he also gives Schmid the flexibility to try different combinations in different formations. One thing he does better than anyone on Seattle’s roster – and as well as anyone in the league – is shoot from distance, as evidence by his two-goal performance in July against the New England Revolution when he stung two shots from outside the box to give the Dynamo the victory.
“If we implement that, I think we’re coming at everybody from all angles,” said Evans, who played with Moffat in 2007 and 2008 with the Columbus Crew.
Evans, for one, embraces the competition being wrought on the training grounds for Sounders FC, saying that it carries over onto the field on matchday.
“You just want to be out there. With our team, somebody is going to be left out that are good players, that are probably starters on any other team in the league,” he said. “It’s definitely a positive and hopefully it pushes us in training and gives us harder training sessions.”
The midfield and forward spots aren’t the only ones seeing intense competitions. A four-man group has emerged to compete for the starting center back roles, too, as Djimi Traore and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado have been joined by Zach Scott and Patrick Ianni as viable starting candidates for Schmid. Regardless of the center back combination, Seattle has had success, though, leading the West and ranking second overall with a 1.00 goals against average, ranking behind only Sporting Kansas City’s mark of 0.96.
With each of the four defenders offering different strengths, Schmid has been able to use different combinations to combat the opposition while also gauging the individual levels of play to determine the starters each match.
“It’s a close competition between them for sure,” Schmid said. “It’s a little bit about who we are going to play, what the matchup looks like and a little bit about their form.”