The Seattle Sounders visit USL side Sacramento Republic FC on Thursday (7:30 p.m. PT / Live-streamed on SoundersFC.com) for the final tune-up before the 2018 season begins in El Salvador for CONCACAF Champions League play against Santa Tecla. Here are five things to look out for:
1. What formation will Schmetzer play?
Since taking the managerial helm in July 2016, Head Coach Brian Schmetzer has deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation, relying on a double pivot in the defensive midfield and explosive fullbacks to provide width. During the preseason, though, the club has tinkered with a 4-4-2 diamond. Is this a change we’ll see more of in 2018?
2. Who replaces Kelvin Leerdam?
The club’s starting right back, Kelvin Leerdam, suffered an ankle injury at training earlier this week. He won’t be playing in Sacramento, so it will be interesting to see who takes his place. Jordan McCrary, a 24-year-old defender who was signed on Tuesday, is a possible replacement, as is left fullback Waylon Francis. Other candidates include Gustav Svensson, Jordy Delem and Cristian Roldan, although each player is more primed for the midfield.
3. Who shines in the crowded midfield?
With the signing of midfielder Magnus Wolff Eikrem earlier this month, the Rave Green have a bounty of attacking talent. Víctor Rodríguez has looked dynamic in his combination play with Nicolás Lodeiro all preseason, while Clint Dempsey has shown no signs of slowing down. All four players have a tendency to occupy the center of the park, which leaves plenty of room for competition among the group.
4. Is Jordan Morris ready to shake off the sophomore slump?
After an impressive rookie season that saw him score 12 goals and win the AT&T Rookie of the Year Award, forward Jordan Morris was hit by a frustrating, injury-plagued 2017 campaign. He played a full 90 minutes in a friendly with the U.S. national team on Jan. 28, which is a good sign, because a healthy and confident Morris will go a long way in 2018.
5. Will the rookies see meaningful minutes?
Homegrown Player Handwalla Bwana has been the starlet of preseason, displaying impressive athleticism and no fear of running at defenders. Midfielder Alex Roldan earned a First Team contract, but it will be difficult for him to see the field in a packed midfield corps. Thursday’s match may be his final test to show he’s worthy of being included in the 18 to begin the season.