On Sunday, Sounders FC will face Western Conference rival Real Salt Lake in arguably the club's most important match of the season. With a playoff spot on the line for the Rave Green, the points are paramount as all teams in the West face off at once in MLS' inaugural Decision Day.
To preview this weekend's season finale, SoundersFC.com caught up with Brian Dunseth of The Original Winger. Dunseth retired from MLS in 2006 and now provides color commentary for RSL and runs Bumpy Pitch, a soccer apparel company based in Los Angeles.
Will RSL rain on the parade?
Outside of Kyle Beckerman, who won't be available due to yellow card accumulation, I think Jeff Cassar will try to put out the strongest possible formation for this match. They owe it to the fans after this season. The fans are hoping this year was an anomaly; they expect them to get back to their winning ways.
Tuesday was huge for this team, as they now know they're qualified for the quarterfinals of CONCACAF Champions League. That already gives a glimmer of hope heading into next season and something to shoot for next year. Ultimately, this is a chance for them to play spoiler and this group likes that idea. This is a match against a rival, and it's a team they've had mixed success with on the road.
It's not just pride; this is also guys auditioning for jobs for 2016. Similarly to what we saw with Colorado Rapids going into Kansas City and taking all three points [on Wednesday], I would say make no mistake about it: RSL is well-aware of what this match could mean for the playoff picture in the Western Conference, even though they're on the outside looking in.
Welcome to Decision Day
The new structure leaves more on the table. This is really the first time we've seen the Western Conference shape up like this in the final month of the season. I love it. I love that on any given weekend you can see teams vault up the standings and others parachute down. The pressure is on. When people talk about promotion and relegation and the added pressure that would provide ... I think you saw that pressure this season. If you think there's not passion and pressure, it's all laid out.
For Seattle, this is a playoff game. They have the mentality of needing to get things right and the need to win at home. It's going to be a really fascinating 90 minutes in Seattle and a really great three and a half hours of matches on Sunday afternoon.
New challenges face both teams
For RSL, this is about pride and playing for the fans back at home. For Seattle, the pressure is on in a lot of ways. The Sounders have an incredibly proud fan base and are themselves an incredibly proud organization. It's had a lot of success and the team has qualified for Champions League, but it has yet to lift any silverware this season. The most meaningful trophy will always be MLS Cup, and this team knows that.
I expect Sigi Schmid's squad to come out composed as they usually do. Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins are talented and know how to get on the transition and create goal-scoring opportunities for themselves. With injury concerns and the defense in Seattle, this is one they're going to want to get right. They're not just looking for three points ... I think they're looking for the shutout. They want a confident team performance this Sunday.
What is it about Oba and Clint?
I think it's their presence. Obafemi Martins makes Clint Dempsey and Clint makes Oba better. They are both hybrids; neither are true out-and-out strikers. They want to combine on the ball and they're not afraid to put themselves in a spot where they know there will be strong defensive pressure.
I think Seattle doesn't have much structure to their attack when both Clint and Oba are playing together. I mean that in a positive way. They are both so creative with their movement and shape. They're intentional with their touches and they are incredibly talented. They create their own opportunities and find the chances that other players can't find. It's almost as if they are watching the match in slow motion while everyone else is in regular speed.
Their movement in the final third off each other is leagues away and they can find the cracks in an opponent's defense in the first ten minutes of the match. I don't think you can ever count either of those players out, regardless of the perception of what their current form may be.