With less than six hours to go before tonight's New York Red Bulls-Seattle Sounders match (9pm, ESPN2), it is time to take a closer look at the match-up itself as we see a brand new team take on a revamped squad.
The reality about the Red Bulls is that for all the moves the club has made, the makeover might not be as noticeable tonight. Not when several of the team's acquisitions won't be in action tonight. Khano Smith is suspended, Albert Celades and Alfredo Pacheco are awaiting paperwork and Carlos Johnson is a question mark for tonight's match despite having his paperwork come in because of an arm injury.
The Sounders have some injuries, to Peter Vagenas and Taylor Graham, but Seattle will have a mostly full-strength squad on display for its inaugural MLS match.
What we should have tonight are some very intriguing match-ups and a wide open game between two teams that won't mind throwing numbers into the attack.
Here is a closer look at the match-up:
Here is a lineup we could see tonight from the Red Bulls:
So who is missing? Seth Stammler still isn't ready to start as he is still working his way back from knee surgery.
Of this projected lineup, the positions that are still in some doubt are in central defense, right back and left wing. Petke will definitely start, but Juan Carlos Osorio could go with either Andrew Boyens or Carlos Mendes in the middle of the defense. Luke Sassano saw time there in last week's exhibition victory vs. Crystal Palace and shouldn't be discounted. If Sassano is plugged in there, you could see Mendes in a defensive midfield role.
The right back spot should be Hall's, but you wonder if Osorio is ready to let a rookie start in a match like this. If not, Osorio might consider Mendes, though I would wonder how Mendes would hold up on the flank against Seattle's speedsters.
Left wing is up in the air with Khano Smith suspended, but look for Kandji to get the call. Osorio has used a variety of players at the position but look for Kandji to push up with Richards so that this formation plays as much like a 4-3-3 as a 4-2-3-1.
A Sassano-Ubiparipovic tandem behind Rojas makes the most sense, and while Ubiparipovic is more of an attacking midfielder than defensive-minded midfielder, he is a good enough two-way player to work well behind Rojas.
Something else that should be noted about the above lineup is that it features nine players who were on the Red Bulls last season (it would be ten if Mendes replaced Hall).
Here is how the Sounders should line up:
Plenty of variations could emerge from Seattle's lineup. The locks are pretty much right up the spine of the team, with the question marks being the flanks. Sanna Nyassi and Sebastien Le Toux should start, but could flip flop sides throughout the match. James Riley and Zach Scott are expected to start, though Nathan Sturgis could beat out Scott.
The central defense looks pretty set with Marshall and Hurtado, though you wonder how close Tyson Wahl might be to cracking the lineup.
Here are some points to consider:
Whether it's Scott or Sturgis, Seattle's left back is in for a long night against Dane Richards. With his speed and shiftiness, Richards could have a field day with either one of these left backs, which makes you wonder if Sigi Schmid will considering switching Riley to the left back spot to match up against Richards.
Boyens and Petke could struggle to deal with Montero's mobility. Montero isn't super fast, but he's smart and always on the move and he could have a field day against the lateral-quickness challenged Boyens. Petke isn't super fast either, but he's a seasoned veteran who will have an easier time of dealing with Montero than Boyens will.
With Kandji and Richards working the flanks for New York, don't expect much aerial service for Angel, who will be looking to combine with playmaker Rojas as well as Ubiparipovic down the middle. If Kandji and Richards can stretch the defense, Angel could have plenty of room to take apart Seattle's defense.
The Jorge Rojas-Osvaldo Alonso match-up is a very important one. Rojas has enjoyed a strong pre-season and looks poised for a big year while Alonso will try to carry over his USL success to MLS. If Alonso can contain Rojas, then Angel will struggle for service, but if Rojas can shake loose, Angel could have a field day against the Tyrone Marshall-Jhon Kennedy Hurtado tandem.
Another interesting match-up to watch will be Nyassi vs. Hall. Hall has the athleticism to contain Nyassi, which is why I would wonder about matching up Carlos Mendes with Nyassi. Hall has shown good ability to get forward on the counterattack and would certainly test the Seattle flank more than Mendes would in that role. That said, Osorio might just play it safe with Mendes and Goldthwaite as stay-at-home fullbacks, which would allow Kandji and Richards to focus on attacking from higher positions.
The Le Toux-Goldthwaite match-up bears watching as well. Goldthwaite will have his hands full against the big and fast French winger. Goldthwaite has to avoid the silly mistakes that have plagued him in the past, or Le Toux has the ability to punish him for it.
That's all for now. Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on tonight's match in the comments section below and be sure to check back in tonight for my running commentary on the match.