Bold Prediction: Seattle Sounders vs. New York Red Bulls

Your MLS Cup Champion Seattle Sounders finally open at home, hosting the New York Red Bulls today in Sodo.

The Sounders want to celebrate last year’s Cup win in style: a large crowd, glorious tifo and finally bagging three big points. Being at 4 after 3 is way different than 2 or, god forbid, 1 after 3. Though we learned last year that early results don’t indicate late success, it still feels weird that the Sounders have yet to “click” this season. And today’s game won’t be cake.

New York are good. Jesse Marsch coaches a smart, aggressive team that always finds goals. He has averaged 1.7 ppg in his two years at the helm in New York, and also has a Supporter’s Shield, and 2 #1 finishes in the East on his resume. Unfortunately, he also has two playoff flameouts. Though Marsch is a solid coach, he hasn’t helped the Red Bulls shed their paper tiger reputation.

The Red Bulls are, arguably, fighting the same label Seattle did for years after their elevation to the top flight: as an ambitious, big money team that wins, but never when it matters. Seattle finally shed their label with last year’s championship; New York still only has bitter memories. Unlike Seattle, who moved from Sigi to Schmetzer to get off the schneid, the Red Bulls seem cursed.

Even before Marsch, Mike Petke coached NYRB to a Supporter’s Shield and an Eastern Conference Final, but after his seasons also ended with playoff whimpers, he was unceremoniously fired. We may want to see Seattle humming at full throttle again, but we know regular season success doesn’t mean squat. At least we’ve been to the mountain top.

Bold Prediction: New York’s decorated strikers exploit raw CB Tony Alfaro for some goals, but, with Bruin starting up top, the creative interchange between Nico, Deuce and J-Mo is on. Hydra is reborn, as Seattle smashes New York 3-2 in a thriller.

Seattle Sounders: Free J-Mo!

The Seattle Sounders sit at a lone point going into their home opener Sunday against the New York Red Bulls.

The causal fan can see that the Sounders have much to tidy up: keeping possession, cleaning up their marking, involving Nico more, getting Roman to focus. But what Seattle most needs to revamp is their attack.

Seattle has always sported a stingy defense, and it won them the Cup last year. But returning Deuce to an already talented attacking front requires the Sounders to play like the Hydra of yore.

It is hard to adequately judge Seattle’s attack because they’ve spotted their opponent a two-goal lead twice in two weeks. Both Houston and Montreal were then comfortable sitting back, countering and stewarding a lead to a win. These game states open up possession and shots for a chasing Seattle, allowing sound stats such as:

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 1.40.12 AMDespite these numbers, our attack is cold. For a quick second, during that J-Mo and Deuce interchange that lead to a called-off goal for an erroneous handball call, I was reminded of Oba-Deuce in their 2014 heyday. But outside of that: cold. Nico has seemed a shell of himself, Deuce is still working off the rust and J-Mo… well, I got an idea for him.

A modest proposal: Will Bruin starts up top.

When Brian Schmetzer took over as head coach late last season, he standardized the 4-2-3-1 as Seattle’s formation. And he started Nelson Valdez as his target forward. Valdez had been infamously dry all season, but Schmetzer rewarded his work rate and hustle with constant selection.

Valdez didn’t put up stats (until, of course, those glorious two playoff goals), but he know his role, performed it, grunt work and all, and that allowed the rest of the formation to click. Valdez moving up top was the catalyst for J-Mo to blossom as an lethal attacker.

Morris is deceptively fast. He can embarrass defenders when he dribbles right at, and often past, them. He is ferocious and technical with the ball at his feet and a full head of steam. Look at his productive 2016 stats: 12 goals and 4 assists on 71 shots. Know that he more than padded his account after the coaching change. He notched the majority of his number under Schmetzer: 7 and 4 on 37. He thrived on the wings in the band of three behind Valdez.

But this season Schmetzer has been playing J-Mo in Valdez’s old #9 spot. And frankly, that’s the problem with the Sounders’ offense. The ball gets in the advanced third and… dies. Think of the sequence that led to Montreal’s second goal. Nico was stranded on the right needing an outlet on the wing, but the Sounders had no width. He was soon dispossessed and Piatti ran, and Roman backpedal and… goal.

Seattle needs better hold up play. Seattle needs Morris attacking with speed.

Now granted, Bruin may not be one of the best 11 players on the roster. But him playing the Valdez role allows Morris to go from a threat to a terror. Who’d you rather have on the pitch: a fallow J-Mo with a Shipp or Flacco or a rockstar J-Mo with Bruin? Easy peasy. Bruin makes the 11 better.

It doesn’t hurt that Bruin can both adequately play the target forward role, but he can also put the ball in the net. Bruin just has that knack, as he’s made a career of being stone cold comfortable in the 6-yard box. The ball looks for him and he finishes.

A coach’s job is to mostly to put people in a position to succeed. Schmetzer could better harness the talent on his roster with Bruin up top and Morris out wide.

No Fluke: Seattle Sounders Rock the Crown

The Seattle Sounders get a take 2 to start their MLS Cup Championship defense tomorrow in frigid Montreal.

I am glad the away locker room was quiet and frustrated in Houston last week (I hoped to get a midweek post up but, much like our boys in Rave Green, I am starting the season slow). The Sounders lost a very winnable match and seem eager to get off the schneid and start rocking the crown with swagger.

Too much smack has been talked about the Sounders this past offseason. I am seriously done of reading about their “Fluke Win.” Honestly, Portland didn’t put up with this crap. Neither did Colorado or RSL on their miracle Cup runs.

The idea that absolute minnows can win MLS Cup, the stereotype being lobbed at Seattle, is a shaky premise. Maybe it was true, once upon a time, but MLS in 2017 is not the same animal as MLS in 2007. Let’s break this down a second. For the sake of argument, let’s start the “modern era” with 2009 (we’re all Sounders fans here).

The strongest argument for the minnow-to-champs theory is that an outta-nowhere RSL, then Colorado, won in ‘09 and ‘10. And that arguably, arguably!, that feat was just repeated by Portland and Seattle.

Back when RSL and Colorado won it all, Western sides could still go through the East’s bracket, and vice-versa. This dramatically unbalanced the already chaotic playoffs (see my previous post about Western dominance in the MLS Cup Championships).

However. For the most part, one of the best teams has won MSL Cup every year. A dominant L.A. owned the seasons between 10 and 15, with an equally strong SKC knocking off RSL in the only outlier. That RSL squad that came out of nowhere in 2009? They were a young team ascending that entrenched itself among the elite.

So only the Rapids truly came outta nowhere and returned to nowhere after their Cup win (though Dallas, the squad they beat, also came out of nowhere; to be fair, Dallas has a strong culture and academy and just needed a proven coach in Oscar Pareja to harness that potential). So with RSL identified as not a fluke champion, only Portland and Seattle remain under scrutiny.

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Expect more of this

Was Portland’s Cup a fluke win? Well…. as much as I want to say yes, the Timbers have been competitive since Caleb Porter brought Soccer For Dummies to Pee Town. Though in only 2013 were they an elite team, back when Porterball was new and the rest of the league hadn’t read the Sparknotes.’15 was their Cup year and ‘14 and ‘16 were their “just under the thin red line” years.

A quick aside: For those new to the site, I am a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Back in the ol’ heyday of Andy Reid, the Eagles were a team that positioned themselves as a perennially title contender. The Birds were regular NFC champs who went deep in the playoffs year after year, but could never cash in any of that success (ask Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s. All you can rally control is your positioning for the playoffs, after that it’s a crapshoot).

Portland has positioned themselves as merely a pesk in the West. You are who your record says you are, (to quote the Big Tuna) and Portland is regularly the 6th/7th-best team in the conference, always just within spitting distance of the playoffs. That is, to be fair, a formula that works in league like MLS. Portland seems content to buy a wildcard lottery ticket every season. As long as Porter has the Timbers close to the mix every season, all they need is a double-posted PK to become a serious threat.

The Sounders, on the other hand, are like those 2000s Eagles: a team built to perennially contend. Seattle regularly finishes close to the top of the West and wins silverware. Regardless of past seasons’ failures, Seattle was always considered a major contender in the West and for the Cup.

In reality, the odds just finally regressed to the mean. Last season was a “fluke win” as much as ’14, ’11 and ’12 were “fluke losses.” In those seasons the Sounders were legit contenders who unluckily stumbled in the playoffs. I see absolutely no reason why ’17 will be any different.

The Sounders will play well. The Sounders will finish near the top of the West. The Sounders will make noise in the playoffs. Will they win it all again. Who knows. It’s always a crapshoot.

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BOLD PREDICTION: Tomorrow in Montreal, inside a dome, the Sounders will draw 2-2. Last week’s showed the defense weaknesses yet at 100%, but the Sounders can and will score. Nico and Deuce continue to work together and we’re all in for a fun ride.

2017 Seattle Sounders: Let’s Get this Party Started

Happy New Year, Seattle Sounders fans! How’s it feel to support, unquestionably, the best team in MLS?

After a short layoff, and a lightning offseason, the Champs (I looove writing that) start their title defense tonight in Houston. And frankly: the sooner the better.

Though the Sounders finally claimed MLS Cup they’ve always sought, many are not considering Seattle as the best club in MLS. The trolls are out in force and writing Seattle off as flash-in-the-pan, paper champs. As Taylor Swift so aptly put it, “Haters gonna hate. Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate.”

The Sounders have always been hated, and when the ECS sings, “No one likes us, we don’t care,” they actually mean it. This hate of the Champs is everywhere from the paid talking heads to the neckbeards at message boards from SB Nation to MLS.com to ESPN FC. Though Seattle has been a perennial contender every year of their existence, their down-year-turned-championship-season is allegedly fuel for the “MLS is a terrible parity league” argument.

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The Dawn of a New Season

Last year may have been shaky, but don’t call it a comeback. The Sounders have been here for years. When we were winning Open Cups and demanding respect like a big boy, we were laughed at. When we won the Double in ‘14 and came thisclose to MLS Cup, we were shut down as whiners.

But oh how the tune changes when Seattle is the Johnny-Come-Lately who wins it all. It is like Seattle *invented* the wildcard to winner MLS parity model. Oh, the irony.

So, yeah. I am hungry to see Dempsey join the champs. I am hungry to see a full season of Nico and Deuce. I am hungry to see Jorstian Mordan continue to develop as two of the best young players in the league. I am hungry to see Stefan Frei finally get the respect he deserves as a top keeper in the league.

I am hungry. The first championship doesn’t change anything. Sounders ‘til I Die.

And, oh yeah:

BOLD PREDICTION: Like most, I am little in the dark here. Who knows who’s gonan win this matchup? In Houston, where we’ve never won, not even with Nico late last year, and a new lineup (hello Harry Shipp and Will Bruin, goodbye Ivanschitz and Nelson) against a first year coach who’s supposed to finally unleash Cubo Torres… I’ll be wild and say: Sounders win 2-1. ‘Cause that’s Sounders do, we beat the odds.

The City Can’t Hold Us: Seattle Sounders Rally

Today the city of Seattle celebrated the MLS Cup Champion Seattle Sounders. The ECS led a Sounders parade from Westlake to Seattle Center.

In the shadow of the Space Needle, reportedly 40,000 acolytes of the Rave Green cheered at the rally. It was a dream fulfilled.

Merry Christmas, Sounders fan.

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Seattle Celebrates the MLS Champion Sounders

The Seattle Sounders are rallying downtown to Seattle Center tomorrow. Seattle is a city of champions!

The parade starts at Westlake at 11am and the rally in Seattle Center at 12:30pm! Be there to cheer on the boys in Rave Green!!

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SEATTLE SOUNDERS MLS CUP CHAMPIONS!!!

Your Seattle Sounders are the 2016 MLS Cup Champions. I cannot believe I just typed that. Can’t believe it.

That was a game only a mother could love. After 120 minute of mostly hideous soccer, Seattle advanced on penalties. That’s right. Seattle got really lucky and frankly, it’s about damn time. As Richard Farley wrote:

[The Sounders] were good enough to lose out on another perverse tiebreaker two years ago, ending in the conference finals on the wrong end of away goals. They were on the wrong end in 2012, too, when a would-be fourth-straight Open Cup went to Sporting after penalty kicks. On Saturday, one of soccer’s insanities finally broke in Seattle’s favor.

PKs last year against Dallas. The Red Card Wedding. The Johannson hand ball in ‘12. That USOC Final. Remember all the times the ball just didn’t bounce our way? It finally did. Luck is on our side and we’ll take it, championship #1, and run.

Bold Prediction: MLS CUP Champion Seattle Sounders

The Seattle Sounders will beat Toronto FC today in the MLS Cup Final.

BOLD PREDICTION: My only real fear for this afternoon’s game is being overconfident. As has been discussed, Toronto has no defense, the Eastern Conference historically stinks, and the Sounders have the grit to see them through. All of this adds up, regardless of the Jozy/Giovinco/Bradley three-headed monster and home field advantage, to a resounding Sounders win.

Will Seattle keep the Reds, and their juggernaut offense, off the scoreboard… probably not. But will the Reds put 7 past us like they did against NYCFC and Montreal, hell no. Toronto was dependent on set-piece goals to dispatch the Impact, and there is no way they get multiple headers past the twin towers of Marshall and Torres. Plus Nico Lodeiro, Jordan Morris and Joevin Jones have the speed to exploit the suspect Toronto backline and Ozzie, injury or not, can bog Giovinco down.

Lastly, looking at the matchup from earlier this year, the rudderless mid-Summer Sounders went to BMO and got a result 1-1. Have the Reds greatly improved since that game. Meh. The Sounders of course, are on a meteoric rise. Sounders in a sloppy one 3-2. Champs, baby!

Seattle Sounders: Play Hurt, Do Your Job, Win

The Seattle Sounders have the sparkle of fortune about them as they prepare to square off against Toronto FC in Saturday’s MLS Cup. As the national spotlight shines, ever so briefly, on MLS and the Sounders, the professional sportswriters are busy crafting narratives. Seattle as a team of destiny is one narrative with a lot of gravity, but as stories go, it is mostly fiction.

The key thing taking the shine off Seattle as “destined” is that key players are nursing knocks ahead of the final. Chief among these is Ozzie Alonso. For a player nicknamed “Honey Badger” and (briefly and notoriously) “Energizer Bunny,” Ozzie has had some kryptonite moments. The 2014 MLS Playoffs, the last time we entered the playoffs as destiny’s darling, the most glaring. After beating L.A. in a home-and-home, winning the Supporters’ Shield and bragging rights, Ozzie got hurt and couldn’t save us from an embarrassing early exit at the hands of the same L.A. squad. Ozzie is still listed as Questionable, but will undoubtedly play. He may not be 100%, but playing hurt is nothing new to this Seattle squad.

The Rave Green have been black and blue all season. Much has been made of how Seattle lucked into the final. National pundits are barking about how things magically clicked for us: a missed offsides vs SKC + Mauro Diaz and Tim Howard injuries = easiest path to MLS Cup ever, right? Wrong. Seattle has battled through adversity to be here at the precipice of heady, uncharted glory. And Schmetzer deserves heaps of credit for navigating these troubled waters.

A quick survey of the ill-fortune Schmetz has had to endure: first, Aaron Kovar was a regular starter and contributor over the first 2/3s of the season, but has barely been available for selection since August. Just a few games into the post-Sigi era, and right after a brace against Portland, superstar Clint Dempsey suffers possibly career-threatening heart issues. Then Captain Brad Evans gets hurt. Then Ivanschitz, who was really coming on and doing yeoman’s work out on the flank, goes down. Then Friberg joins the walking wounded and the carousel of lineups continued (Hell, Oneil Fisher had to replace Ozzie in our last game!). Though the lineup has been in flux, the formation has been a rock.

Schmetzer has solidified the 4-2-3-1 as THE Sounders identity. Luckily, with all the injuries, depth has been stellar for Seattle all season. One of the reasons the depth has been solid has been the 4-2-3-1 formation. The Sounders have been remade in President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey’s image: they are no longer a player-dependent team, but a system-dependent team. The loss of Dempsey would’ve crippled any other Sounders squad in recent memory. Now every player knows their job, and, when called upon, they don’t have to pretend to be someone else, they just have to do that job.

Take Brad Evans’s injury, for example. With the return to fitness of Roman Torres in early September, we could afford one of B-Rad’s customary trips to the trainers. It is easy to forget now, what with Torres stepping in and dominating, that Evan was the unquestioned started at CB for much of the season. He started 21 of our first 26 games, and mostly went the full 90. Then, boom, he gets injured and hasn’t started since. This could be crippling to another team (hello, Dallas). Brad’s gotten minutes in only 6 of Seattle’s 13 subsequent matches (including the playoffs), but hasn’t played more than 20 minutes, or centerback. He now comes on in the midfield and is yet another weapon at Schmetzer’s disposal.

There are many narratives surrounding Seattle as they prepare for their date with destiny: Nico saved the season, Seattle has nothing but dumb luck, the maturation of Jordan Morris, to name a few. But the one true story Seattle has told consistently since Schmetzer took over: next man up, play hurt, do your job, win.

There Is No D in TFC: Seattle Sounders on the Attack

The hype continues as the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC prepare for MLS Cup on Saturday.

Your humble blogger is all riled up for the chance to see the Boys in Rave Green bring home the Cup. I’ve dissed the East, I’ve tossed shade at MLS policy and now I’m gonna dissect our opponent, TFC.

When you think Toronto, you think Giovinco, Altidore and Bradley. Then you think, Oh crap. We’re in trouble. Giovinco isn’t just a brand name, the wee man has 78 points (G +A) in just 67 total MLS games. That’s right, Giovinco averages over a point a game. Altidore is no slouch either in his second stint in the league, with 37 in 54. This dominance was obvious to anyone who watched TFC’s offense in the Eastern Conference clinching victory last Wednesday. The Reds were en fuego: Altidore and Giovinco slicing and dicing, Bradley running box-to-box and the Reds scoring 5 goals and 7 on aggregate. Bonkers! Surely Seattle is quaking in their green boots at the prospect of facing that offensive juggernaut.

But Toronto needs a frightening attack because their backline has always been laughable. Defense is quite the unicorn in the 6ix. Coaches have come and gone, but before Greg Vanney this season, the Reds have always been generous. Since MLS adopted the 34 game schedule in 2011, TFC averages just over 53 GA a season, or 1.56 a game. This year, TFC only conceded 39 goals (for their first season with a sub-40 GA since ’11), really helped that average. In quick contrast, the Sounders are at 40 GA a season, 1.18 a game in that span.

This past offseason, after a 3-nil drubbing by Montreal in TFC’s first taste of the playoffs, the Reds spent a lot of time and money addressing this glaring weakness. Drew Moor, Steven Beitashour, Will Johnson (ohhhhhh I hates Will Johnson) and Clint Irwin were all brought in to be the yin to the Gio/Altidore/Bradley triumvirate’s yang.

So is this the new-look, defensive-minded Toronto Vanney had in mind? Not really. Toronto’s backline made Montreal’s attack look competent. TFC hemorrhaged 5 goals to the Impact in that series. Montreal, by no stretch of the imagination a potent attacking team (they scored 49, conceded 53), lit Toronto up! Part of that 7-5 score line can be chalked up to context: the Eastern Conference just plays fastbreak soccer. The East teams all score and ship goals with equal aplomb and the best matches feature arcade-like scores, just like the Toronto-Montreal treat. But yeah, Toronto ships goals.

Vanney knows his 3-5-2 alignment employs a very porous 3-man backline. Eriq Zavaleta is Toronto’s starting right back. One more time: Eriq Zavaleta is Toronto’s starting left back. A former forward who couldn’t get minutes for a CB-hungry team in Seattle (remember when we were trotting out Ianni and Hurtado and a defunct Djimi) is starting on the backline of the Eastern Conference champs. Vanney’s alignment lives and dies with the whole “the best defense is a good offense” cliché. If Seattle can pressure the fullbacks to retreat and make Toronto play a 5-3-2, it’s gonna be another long Toronto offseason hunting for defenders and excuses.

 

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