#ThisMoment: Sounders primed for the MLS Cup Playoffs

Ahead of the Seattle Sounders’ 2016 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Knockout Round match against Sporting Kansas City on Thursday (7 p.m. PT; FS1, UniMas, KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, El Rey 1360AM), SoundersFC.com caught up with FOX Sports analyst Alexi Lalas, who will be calling the game with John Strong.

SOUNDERSFC.COM: What are your initial thoughts on the match?

LALAS: When you talk about this Seattle team, you can’t help but talk about it in the context of what has happened over the year. It was a really strange year: You lose Obafemi Martins, you lose Clint Dempsey for international duty and then you lose him for the rest of the year because of the heart problem. And yet after you fire Sigi [Schmid], you have [Nicolas] Lodeiro come in, who has completely changed this team, fundamentally about the way they play and the results they’ve gotten. He’s an incredible addition. They go on this long run and all of that plays into this 90 minutes that’s going to happen [on Thursday].

There are so many stories to talk about, but what I’m really looking forward to is seeing if they can parlay the success that they’ve had in the regular season and certainly ending on a very, very high note, into the postseason. History tells us that it doesn’t always work out like that.

SOUNDERSFC.COM: What are some key matchups to watch?

LALAS: Dom [Dwyer] has quietly had a very good year in a year where Sporting KC is also a very strange team. They have to a certain extent gone stale. Dwyer is still worth the price of admission because he does score goals, but often times he’s left on an island. I don’t think that he should scare the Seattle defense, and I don’t think that he is scared of the Seattle defense. The way that they play and the way that [SKC] plays him, often times means that he is left to his own devices.

When you have a guy like Roman Torres who gets to face Dwyer for the first time, and Chad Marshall, that’s developing into a really good tandem. Torres is physically coming into his own. It’s taken a bit of time, but I think he’s getting fitter and I think he understands much more.

SOUNDERSFC.COM: What do you make of the job interim head coach Brian Schmetzer has done?

LALAS: He has done certainly enough to be considered for the head coaching job. You hire Garth Lagerwey, big hiring. You spend a lot of money and bring in someone who has had a lot of success, but he comes in and is under that shadow of Sigi Schmid, who is just the icon. It’s not really your team. You come to a point where you make the change for Sigi. ‘OK, the season hasn’t gone well, I’ll let it run its course and in the offseason I’ll go out and get my guy.’ And it will be Garth’s team.

What he didn’t anticipate was this incredible run led by Brian Schmetzer. Now he’s left in a situation where he has to decide if he found a diamond in the rough and was incredibly fortunate where this guy is presented from within who can do the job, or if is this an anomaly where while it works right now, you’re in rarified air. It’s a different thing coming in the whole season, being the man, having the type of pressure that a head coach has as opposed to an interim coach has.

If [Lagerwey] doesn’t think that Brian Schmetzer can do the job from a head coaching perspective starting next year, he has to have the courage to go against what a lot of the public outcry is going to be to have him name Schmetzer as the coach. It’s fascinating theater and drama that’s probably going on behind the scenes.

SOUNDERSFC.COM: How would you assess Jordan Morris' rookie season?

LALAS: He’s definitely Rookie of the Year for me for a number of different reasons, not the least of which is because of the back-and-forth and consternation from press and public and the national team about what he was going to do. Was he going to go to MLS or was he going to go overseas? He has come in and he has been asked to shoulder the load in terms of the scoring. You have Obafemi Martins that goes out, you have Clint Dempsey that goes out. Morris has at every turn accepted it.

You look at all the chances that he’s missed, and he could be in the twenties in goal production. It’s amazing. I love the fact that he was getting the opportunities even though he didn’t convert them. But he did get his fair share of goals and I have a lot of respect for the way he came in. I think he was under more scrutiny and pressure going to MLS as opposed to going over to Europe especially because he was thrown in and asked to be a starter and to shoulder that goalscoring load for a team that didn’t anticipate that happening.

SOUNDERSFC.COM: Who is your favorite to win 2016 MLS Cup?

LALAS: New York Red Bulls. They have an identity, they can beat you multiple ways. They know what they are, but they also know what they aren’t. They have a solid defense and an ability to generate chances and goals. They’d be a favorite along with FC Dallas, if I picked one for each conference.

As far as the play-in games right now, I think you’re hardpressed to pick anybody but the home teams and history bears that out. But if I meet the man or woman who is able to successfully and consistently predict what happens in MLS, then I will take them immediately to Las Vegas and we will win a lot of money.

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