For the past few weeks, I've been talking about the relative meaningless of the league games the Sounders have been playing. That's because these games have been relatively meaningless. The San Jose game was a bit of an exception of which anyone inside the stadium was likely aware of pretty early on, but in terms of the the team's actual fortunes? Nothing that's happened in the league in nearly a month has really mattered at all. That's a good thing, really. The Sounders locked in their spot as the second best team in the league (on the balance of the season) quite some time ago. Thanks to a fantastic record in MLS play, October has mostly been a time for experimentation.
The final opportunity to experiment comes against Chivas USA. When the whistle blows to signify the end of this game, playoff preparation begins in earnest and Sigi Schmid will have seen all he can see of his team in order to make personnel decisions before the playoffs begin. But given this teams tendency to experience a dip in form when given time off, it's going to be a delicate balancing act between experimentation, keeping chemistry in full swing and resting/protecting key players from injury.
It's a tough balance to strike. But if Sigi Schmid has shown an ability to do anything this year, it's an awareness of his squad and how it should be managed. Mauro Rosales is likely to get a start given his push to get back to full fitness before the playoffs begin and Sammy Ochoa has shown enough in his brief time as a Sounder that perhaps he might merit a longer look up top. David Estrada was impressive against Monterrey; perhaps he's a threatening change-of-pace option out wide? At the same time, is it worth risking Alvaro Fernandez or Lamar Neagle's game fitness?
These are the questions Sigi Schmid has to answer. And given the way the Sounders responded to a "meaningless" loss in their final regular season game last year, the outcome against is far from an irrelevance. It's going to be interesting to see what Sigi does with this lineup; the Sounders have good reason to trust their depth but how much of it will see the pitch? Is it worth risking the health of Rosales if he's not reestablishing his chemistry with Montero? Will this game serve as a tiebreaker for any expansion draft protection decisions? It's tough to say. Probably best not be surprised by anything.