On paper the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC are two of the most talented teams in MLS.
But when they meet on Saturday night in the Pacific Northwest all eyes will be on the two managers, and what they do to compensate for the absences of several key players.
Seattle’s Roman Torres, captain of Panama’s national team, and Marco Pappa, who has been called to join Guatemala, will miss the match due to international duty, as will TFC’s Jozy Alitdore.
Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley are expected to join the U.S. national team setup following Saturday’s match, but the former’s health has been in question the last few weeks. Sebastian Giovinco, the league’s MVP, was called into Italy’s national team but an adductor injury will keep him out of the Azzuri’s Euro 2016 qualifiers.
Benoit Cheyrou (calf) and Daniel Lovitz (heel) left last Saturday’s match versus the Impact with injuries. While Greg Vanney believes those injuries aren’t serious, the pair’s status for Saturday remains unclear.
Vanney has shown a willingness to adapt when it comes to the formation he employs. Depending on who is available on Saturday, he may have to change it up again.
Here are three keys to the match.
Vanney Marks Year One
One year is in the books for Greg Vanney as TFC head coach. Since he became head coach the Reds have made a number of changes, including the additions of Giovinco, Altidore, Cheyrou, Damien Perquis, Marky Delgado, Robbie Findley and Ahmed Kantari.
The core of this team bonded in Florida in February and the key members of the squad have been in place since then. That hasn’t happened many times before for the Reds.
“Obviously they’ve made great strides,” said Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid following training on Tuesday.
“Giovinco has had a fantastic season. They’ve got a number of good attacking pieces. [Vanney] has been given time to implement his system and how he wants his team to play.”
Vanney understands his job isn’t done.
“I will continue to work on this club from top to bottom and spend most of my waking hours thinking about the club and how we can continue to get better,” said Vanney.
Most of those hours this week will be dedicated to figuring out what the Reds will do up top without Giovinco and Altidore available.
A Chance For Herc?
The prognosis is good on Giovinco’s injury. “Everything we’re getting [is that he’s out] a couple weeks,” indicated Vanney.
“We’re hoping by the time we hit the three game week he’ll be back and ready to roll.”
In the meantime a trio of veteran strikers will have a chance to fill the void. Robbie Findley was a force after coming on as a substitute against the Impact last Saturday. Meanwhile, Luke Moore has fully recovered from an ankle sprain.
Herculez Gomez has yet to start for Toronto since joining the club.
“I’ve been racing against time to get as much match fitness under my belt to be ready when called upon,” he said on Tuesday. “But to be quite honest I feel good, and the only way to get that fitness is to be out there.”
A Gomez-Moore partnership could be fun.
Only Altidore has recorded 10 goals in fewer shots (28) than Obafemi Martins (29). Martins' scoring rate of 0.77 goals per 90 is second in the league and he has reached the double-digit goal mark in just 14 games, which is pretty incredible.
The Nigerian star has battled injuries this season but he’s emerging as an important force for the Sounders at a crucial juncture.
Seattle is clinging to the sixth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They’re tied with the San Jose Earthquakes on points and have played one more game. Schmid’s side plays San Jose the following week, making Saturday’s contest against the Reds a big one.
Martins and Dempsey have excellent chemistry up top. Containing them will be of the utmost importance for the Reds.