Bring the heat while keeping cool — Sounders v. DC United Preview

Can Mauro Rosales and Eddie Johnson team up to recreate some of last year’s magic? The tandem have yet to hit full-stride this season, but tonight could be a perfect opportunity to start.

It’s been quite the month for the boys in Rave Green. With only three matches in the month of June, Seattle Sounders FC now enter July winning two of their last three, and with all players back from various national team duties.

It’s been a week and a half since the disaster at Rio Tinto — a 2-0 mauling by Real Salt Lake June 22 — which should be just enough time for both the players, staff and fans to clear their heads and make a big push in the standings before the MLS All-Star game at the end of the month.

This push starts at home tonight against the worst team in the league — DC United. The red and black are last in the table in points, points per game and watchability. Their two wins this season were both 1-0 victories at home against west coast opposition. Tonight will also mark their first foray west of Dallas this season. United will also be without Bill Hamid (Gold Cup), Dwayne De Rosario and Nick DeLeon (injuries), meaning an already mediocre side will take on a four-time playoff team without their starting goalkeeper, best offensive weapon and key midfield piece.

Although the Sounders are not at 100 percent either (more on that later) this is a match where the people standing behind the goalpost flamethrowers get a pretty damn nice tan. Of course it could be a trap match — but let’s just not talk about that possibility.

United has been a team this season that tends to bunch in the middle and play through the flanks with attacking fullbacks. Their one forward — Chris Pontius — isn’t actually a forward, and their back line is amazingly young and inexperienced with the exception of former Vancouver left back Alan Rochat. This is a team that likes to keep possession, but when it’s given away are more vulnerable than any team the Sounders have faced this season — Tampa Bay Rowdies included.

Seattle needs to win this match — a loss would be embarrassing and a draw would show a lack of care for the opponent. There is only one option — and that option puts Seattle on the right foot going into their easiest month of the season in which three of five matches are at home.

Three keys to three points —

1. Avoid a midfield collapse — Each team in MLS is allowed three Designated Players, the Sounders most important player though is none of those three. Without Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle is no better a midfield than… well DC United. Ozzie will again likely miss tonight due to a lingering quad injury, which means the rag-tag cast of central midfielders will again have to step up for the Sounders. The tandem of Servando Carrasco and Shalrie Johseph has been terrible every time we’ve seen them this year, which means I’m hoping for a Joseph/Andy Rose pairing tonight.

2. Left wing problems continue — Since Steve Zakuani went down over a year ago in Colorado, the Sounders have had little luck in filling his left wing slot. Many, including myself, thought the answer had come with Mario Martinez. That now looks to not be the case as the Honduran’s loan to the club has expired and the player and club have not been able to meet on terms to keep the talented left footed player in the Pacific Northwest. If Martinez is able to re-sign it’d be great news for the club, but for tonight he’s out of contract and unavailable. This likely means an Alex Caskey cameo, unless manager Sigi Schmid puts goal-scoring machine Lamar Neagle out wide to keep the trio of Neagle, Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins on the pitch together.

3. Keeping an eye on Maruo — When the Sounders are at their best — four goal outbursts against San Jose and Dallas — midfield master Mauro Rosales is playing at a very high level. Tonight is a chance for Rosales to return to that form against a struggling side. Both Martins and Johnson thrive on the service that Rosales can deliver from the right flank, and good service means a ton of goals. It’s also important to remember that Rosales can score a few too, so watch him trailing plays for scoring chances.

Sounders MIA —

OUT — Josh Ford, Steve Zakuani and Mario Martinez — QUESTIONABLE — Ozzie Alonso and DeAndre Yedlin

Projected Starting XI — Other possible options for positions in parentheses 

GK – Michael Gspurning
CB – Jhon Kennedy Hurtado             CB – Djimi Traore
RB – Brad Evans (Yedlin)                           LB – Leo Gonzalez
CDM – Shalrie Joseph (Carrasco)
RM – Mauro Rosales                LM – Lamar Neagle (Caskey)
CM – Andy Rose (Evans)
FW – Eddie Johnson           FW – Obafemi Martins

Where to watch — Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight and can be seen on KONG 6/16 locally and KOMO2 in Spanish. As usual, tickets are still available for the match and it’s going to be a beautiful night in the Puget Sound to catch a little soccer. Remember though that if you’re attending the match this is the first night that security will be using the new metal detecting wands on all entrants, so plan accordingly.

Fun fact of the day — DC United player Lewis Neal is out tonight while healing a Pubic Stress Reaction, which basically means he has a stress fracture of his pubic bone. Commencing laughing which holding groin just thinking about that.