The Kansas City Wizards get their first taste of the road this weekend, when they travel to Seattle, the land of lattes, flannel shirts and neon-green color schemes.
And, in a theme that will recur over the next few weeks as the schedule gets nasty (5 of the next 6 games are against class teams, the other is DC United), this is a very, very challenging fixture for the 'Zards.
That's because Seattle presents a few things that KC hasn't seen yet this year: Overall team speed, players that emphasize skill over throwing elbows, 30k+ fans and field turf.
Did You Know?
I've scoured the internets and can't seem to find this information exactly, but it's a fact that Seattle invented the sport of soccer and, as such, Major League Soccer didn't exist until last year.
What To Expect
You know the history. Seattle is the most successful expansion franchise in the history of the planet. They were the second expansion team to win the U.S. Open Cup (Chicago was the first) and they made it into the playoffs before the goals dried up.
This is a well-organized team with a lot of attacking ability. The attack will flow through the Freddie Ljunberg no matter where he plays. And it's guaranteed that Fredy Montero will flop over like a fish the first time Jimmy Conrad looks at him.
The Sounders are more physical than they might appear (not Colorado-like, but Colorado-lite), but their physicality is in the midfield not the backline.
Here's the highlight package of their 2-2 draw with Real Salt Lake on April 10.
Behind the Stats
Since the MLS doesn't have a working "stat" section on their web site yet... I've had to pull my own. Here are two that stand out.
• The hallmark of KC's style (as we've mentioneda time or two) is pressure. And, in two games, the Wizards have placed 16 shots on goal*
. (They've taken 19 shots total.) This is simple: More shots on target, the more work for the keeper.*If you include the U.S. Open Cup game, the Wizards have taken 29 shots and put 20 of them on frame. That's nearly insane.
• Seattle isn't just going to roll over either. While they haven't put as many shots on frame (11 in three games), they have takenan astonishing 25 corners
. Corner kicks also mean pressure. But it's a two-tiered pressure. Not only does this glut of corners mean the team is pressing their opponents to deflect shots in the box, it also means the attacking team can pile people into the box for a set piece. KC is a good defense against the run of play, but on set pieces -- against a team with some serious scoring talent -- they can be beaten.
The Blasted Turf!
Soccer wasn't meant to be played on carpet. It's a serious knee injury waiting to happen and it just plain looks stupid on TV.
Remember Last Year!
In the first meeting between these two teams, Kasey Keller drew a red card for handling the ball out of box and Davy Arnaud scored late in the game for a 1-0 win. It was Seattle's first ever loss at home.
I'll Say This...
For as smug as Seattle fans might be, they show up in great numbers and are a shining example of everything that's right with American soccer.
Take your pick. Fredy Montero and his quick feet and diving tendencies? Freddie Ljunberg and his bull-in-a-china-shop mentality? Osvaldo Alonso and his ability to pick-off a pass and then pick out an attacker? Or Kasey Keller and his secret fountain of youth he keeps locked up in the bowels of Qwest Field?
What aboutSteve Zakuani? The mohawked left winger has speed, touch and puts the fear of Freddie Krueger in me when he cuts into an inside channel. Plus, it's kind of cool to think the two most dangerous players on the pitch Saturday are former Arsenal youth products who play on the left side. Plus he was college teammate of Teal Bunbury.