The Seattle Sounders FC sent a resounding message to the entire league last night in their 2-0 win over top ranked Real Salt Lake in front of 55,107 home fans at Century Link Field. The Sounders dominated RSL from the start, with a 3rd minute goal from Obafemi Martins and another in the 38th from Lamar Neagle. As Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson watched from the bench, the Sounders produced a superb attacking display in the opening 20 minutes, with the duo of Neagle and Martins being well supported by attacking midfielders Andy Rose, Marc Burch, and Mauro Rosales.
Dempsey and Johnson were being held in reserve by Coach Sigi Schmid after their return from international duty, both playing extensively against Costa Rica and Mexico in the past week. Their absence however did nothing to impede the attacking prowess on display by the Sounders. And the decision to put them in a substitute role proved wise, as Schmid stated in the post-game press conference that Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who was on international duty along with Dempsey and Johnson, gave “not a normal game for him” in a 90 minute performance last night.
Such an impressive display against arguably the best team in MLS is everything that Sounders players, management, and supporters could hope for. But there is one niggling question that surfaces: what do you take from such a dominant display that doesn’t include Seattle’s two glamour players? Simply put, the Sounders did not need Dempsey or Johnson to romp to such an emphatic win. Their attack and defense were fine without them. Better than fine in fact, they were complete.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the attacking duo of Neagle and Martins has played together extensively this season, and played well.
Even before the arrival of Dempsey, forward Eddie Johnson missed several matches while with the US Mens National Team. In his absence, Neagle and Martins produced several effective and dynamic performances, and were 4-0-2 without EJ. Since Dempsey joined the team, in perhaps the most celebrated MLS transfer next to David Beckham, there have been further USMNT call-ups for EJ and Deuce, and an injury to Martins, with the result being that all four players had yet to be in a match at the same time… until last night.
Sigi jokingly described the formation employed after the entrance of Dempsey and EJ as “the Amoeba”, and a fitting description it was, not only within the game itself, but also to describe the ongoing situation of trying best to fit such an un-molded attacking mass into one of delineated form and function.
Martins and Dempsey looked to click in the last 20 minutes of the game, while Johnson was content to sit wide to the right and assume a more supportive role. And while Dempsey looked creative and determined on the ball, it was often him going it alone against two or three defenders without success.
After the game when asked about his zero goal tally thus far, Demsey said “Im enjoying my football and I’m happy with the way I’m playing. I’m on a good page with the rest of my teammates… and the chances are coming. At the end of the day the most important thing is that the team wins, not how I do.”
Neagle addressed the question of how the four attackers would gel together from this point on, by saying ”It was a glimpse, but different… than if we were to start the game out [with all four on the field]. I really don’t know what’s gonna happen, but I know we’ve got the personnel to put on the field to go at anybody.”
As for his recent form, with one goal in each of the last three games, Neagle said that he is “definitely confident, I enjoyed playing up front and enjoyed having that freedom… I was getting on the end of a bunch of crosses.”
For now, it would be a disservice to not simply revel in a string of 8 wins in 9 games, that has shot the Sounders to the top of MLS, and seen epic crowds witness the dispatching of rivals Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake in the past weeks. But the formidable attacking acumen of the Sounders, demonstrated so profoundly against RSL, perhaps raises more questions than it solves in regards to how best employ Seattle’s attacking personnel.
In the end, the rest of the league won’t be concerned with how Seattle utilizes its plethora of attacking players, only with the fact that the Sounders can score with whomever they roll out from one game to the next. Last night proved that. The talent is first class, the only challenge- how best to assemble the splendid pieces. Seattle has not been held goalless in its last 10 matches, and is 8-1-1 over that stretch.
When asked about how he would choose his team and starters going forward, Sigi joked that he might draw names from a hat or flip a coin. ”It always has a way of sorting itself out. Having quality players is a good problem to have.”