Both sides collected points on Saturday despite juggling their lineups and resting several players ahead of Tuesday's final at CenturyLink Field
Both coaches faced the arduous task of fielding a competitive lineup in an important league match while also keeping the first-choice side fresh ahead of Tuesday's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final at CenturyLink Field. The condensed time frame between the matches and the significant travel demands – Seattle continued a 9,000-mile journey at New England, while Chicago faced a trek to Houston – further complicated the already demanding issues.
Sounders FC probably encountered the more perplexing task because of its expansive itinerary during the past week and its 2-2 draw at Comunicaciones (Guatemala) on Tuesday in CONCACAF Champions League play. Schmid opted to use most of his first-choice players to seal passage into the knockout stage during the trip to Central America and therefore needed to weigh his selection options carefully.
“It was hard because we had to look at different players who we needed to rest and who needed to be out there to see if we had the balance right,” Schmid said after Saturday's 2-1 win at New England.
Injuries to James Riley (concussion) and Mauro Rosales (knee) further limited Schmid's choices and prompted a few unorthodox selections in the starting XI. Roger Levesque played in a makeshift role at right back, while the little-used David Estrada featured on the right side of midfield.
The success of those gambles – and the gumption to name likely Open Cup final starters Alvaro Fernandez, Kasey Keller, Fredy Montero and Tyson Wahl in the lineup as well – paved the way for a Montero-fueled victory to increase the buffer over third-placed Real Salt Lake to six points with three games to play.
“With James Riley being injured, right back was a little bit of a concern for us, but I thought Roger Levesque did a good job out there for us,” Schmid said. “The midfield became a concern for us with Rosales being out – and we didn't want to play (Brad) Evans – and I thought that David Estrada came in and played well for us. It was good that those two guys had good games.”
Klopas opted for a fairly similar approach as the streaking Fire – fresh off a 3-0 victory at RSL on Wednesday and surging through a stretch of five wins in six attempts – attempted to keep its remote playoff chances flickering for another weekend.
Several regulars started the 1-1 draw in Houston on the sidelines, but Klopas included three of his four regular starters in defense and named Logan Pause in his midfield. Patrick Nyarko and Marco Pappa settled for spots on the pine and Sebastian Grazzini (hamstring) remained unavailable through injury, but Dominic Oduro retained his usual place up front against his former club.
Oduro's contribution on the afternoon showed the benefits and the perils of relying on a key player ahead of a more important game in short order. The suddenly prolific striker notched his 12th goal of the campaign to equalize two minutes before halftime and ultimately secure a point and a playoff lifeline for his side, but he limped off six minutes into the second half with a minor ankle complaint.
“I had a bit of a sprained ankle earlier so it was just kind of like a little bruise,” Oduro told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “It wasn’t that bad, but we have the Open Cup final and [Klopas] wanted to take me off just to make sure I can play Tuesday.”
Fortunately for both managers, their measured wagers likely came off without any ramifications for their Open Cup squads. Oduro – and the likes of Montero (withdrawn after 68 minutes with two goals to his name) and late substitute Osvaldo Alonso for Sounders FC – will almost certainly feature on Tuesday despite playing a part at the weekend.
It isn't ideal to have integral figures playing in a competitive match just two days before a cup final, but few alternatives exist within the current setup. In these instances, the situation requires a careful assessment of risk and a considerable dollop of planning to meander through the tricky assignment unscathed.
“It's always a little bit of a chess match when we're trying to set the lineup (in these circumstances),” Schmid said. “I think the lineup for Tuesday will be a little easier.”
Five Points – Week 29
1. Schmid raves about Fagundez after his first MLS start: Diego Fagundez has appeared just four times for New England this season, but his first MLS start reinforced the promising future ahead of the 16-year-old homegrown player. Fagundez capped off an influential first-half performance by scoring from a header to give the Revs a short-lived lead and displayed an array of skills – including his combination play and his vision on the ball – not usually found in such inexperienced players.
“I thought he did well,” Schmid said. “Obviously, we completely lost him on the mark on the corner kick and he did a good job of finishing it. He's got good skills and good field awareness. He's going to be a good player.”
Schmid also praised the Revs' cautious approach to shepherding the teenager along during his first season with the team.
“It's important with young players not to go overboard too quickly because that puts a lot of pressure on them,” Schmid said. “I think (Revolution coach Steve Nicol has) done a good job of bringing him along and letting him grow. He's going to be a fine player.”
2. Márquez struggles to find his level: New York coach Hans Backe showed his faith in Rafa Márquez by recalling him to play in central midfield for Saturday's 1-1 draw at Toronto FC. Márquez repaid that show of support with a cheap giveaway in the attacking third and a leisurely saunter back into his own half in the buildup to Danny Koevermans' opener. Thierry Henry saved the profligate Red Bulls' blushes with a late equalizer, but the evidence continues to mount that New York's best shot at making the postseason involves relegating the Mexican international to the pine.
3. Gaven sparks Columbus to critical victory over reeling D.C. United: Crew coach Robert Warzycha had to omit Chad Marshall (left ankle) for Sunday's crucial match against D.C. United, but his ability to name Eddie Gaven (bone bruise) in the starting XI for the first time since Aug. 5 made all the difference in Columbus' 2-1 victory.
Gaven provided the winner by stooping to head home Sebastian Miranda's cross (after a compelling and somewhat rare forward run from the right back) with a half-hour to play to give the Crew its first win in seven attempts. Columbus noticeably perked up in the attacking third against a makeshift United back four (Perry Kitchen and Daniel Woolard started in central defense with Dejan Jakovic still sidelined with a hamstring issue and Brandon McDonald suspended) and Gaven ultimately exerted his influence in a game Columbus simply had to have to stop the rot.
4. Lackluster Whitecaps open B.C. Place with a whimper: The lost season continues in Vancouver as Kenny Cooper's fine first-half volley gave Portland a much-needed 1-0 victory in the first match held at the revamped downtown venue.
The primary storyline – aside from Portland's second road win of the season – revolved around yet another suspect performance from the projected wooden spoon winners. Interim boss Tom Soehn hasn't always procured the required showing from a side with one eye on Martin Rennie's arrival during the close season, but this particular occasion mandated more than a mediocre effort.
“Define heart?” Vancouver defender Jay Demerit told The Province after a reporter asked him whether Whitecaps possessed enough bottle for the fight. “I think it’s just the level of effort and commitment. It’s a simple formula. When you put that in for 90 minutes, a lot of times results go your way. A lot of times results haven’t gone our way, so that says it all.”
5. Ángel's intervention keeps Sporting Kansas City atop the East: A late header by Juan Pablo Ángel (his seventh goal in as many games) salvaged a 1-1 for Chivas USA and stopped Philadelphia from climbing to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Neither team really deserved more than a point from the dour affair, but the Union will lament its inability to mark Ángel at the back stick and hold onto the full complement of points in a match where the Red-and-White rarely threatened.
Ángel's goal placed the Union on level terms with Columbus (44 pts.) in second place in the East with Sporting (45 pts.) in top spot with one more game already played.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.