Seattle Sounders Thoroughly Whupped by Toronto FC

Rumor has it, the Seattle Sounders were in Toronto on Saturday to play for the MLS Cup Championship. I tuned in but didn’t see any Sounders that I recognized*.

I can’t remember the last time the Sounders were so emphatically played off the pitch. There was not one single moment in that match were I felt the Sounders deserved to share the pitch with TFC. That was gross.

*Actually, Stefan Frei looked like Stefan Frei. And Leerdam looked like a rockstar. But that’s it, just two of 11 players played like they wanted to win. I know, I know, “wanted to win” is neo-Platonic bullcrap, but it sure looked like that.

MLS CUP 2017: Seattle Sounders Apotheosis as a SuperClub

Happy MLS Cup Day Seattle Sounders fans!!

Your humble Seattle Sounders play world-beating Toronto FC today for MLS Cup. No big deal. I still can’t believe the Sounders are looking at a potential repeat. I repeat, your Seattle Sounders are on the precipice of becoming only the fourth team in MLS history to repeat as MLS Cup champions.

With only nine years in the league, consistent playoff wins, 4 US Open Cups, 1 Supporter Shield, and 1 MLS Cup, this simple appearance cements Seattle as an Alexi Lalas-approved SuperClub™.

However. How often do we discuss the 21st Century dominance of the Houston Dynamo? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Houston began play in 2006, converted from a failing San Jose franchise, and immediately won MLS Cup. Then they repeated. Then they made it to two more back-to-back MLS Cups and two more Western Conference Finals. From 2006 to 2013, 8 years, Houston had 4 MLS Cup appearances, 2 wins, and 2 more Western Conference Final appearances. That is, frankly, dominance. And yet… when the Dynamo reclaimed their perch and advanced to the Conference Finals, no one was scared or whispering about the rebirth of a bully. Their record had fast faded.

Seattle does not want that. Seattle wants, has always wanted, will always want, to be THE gold-standard of American soccer. They took their first step last year and can make a mighty leap today. Seattle must beat Toronto.

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Sure, Toronto is off to a historically great season in 2017. Sure, Toronto was the last team to beat us at home. Sure, we didn’t muster a single shot on goal in last year’s final. And back in early May, in TFC’s 1-0 win in Sodo, the Reds won on an Altidore PK. Toronto was down some key players, specifically Giovinco, while we trotted out Schmetzer’s stolid 4-2-3-1, the same formation we’ll use today. We fielded many of the same players, Nico, Roldan, Deuce, Svensson, Bruin, Joevin, Roman, Frei, that we’ll trust our fortunes with today. So… wowzer, Seattle shouldn’t have even took the flight to Lake Ontario.

However. Kelvin Leerdam wasn’t wearing Green in May. He is the player who will turn the game in Seattle’s favor today. I ardently believe that fullbacks define modern soccer. Mears and Jones saw Seattle through last year, as will Leerdam and Jones/Nouhou today. Leerdam has pace, intellect, instinct and 1v1 chops. Last year, Toronto pinned our fullbacks back with their effective duo of Morrow and Beitashour, and that will simply not happen today because of Leerdam.

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Frankly I give a lot of credit to the president of soccer for this. Garth Lagerwey arrived in Seattle to much fanfare, his name was all over the place. Lagerwey took much praise, and blame, for the #Sigiout situation and some missed signings. We debated whether the Ivanschitz and Valdez signings had his fingerprints on them. Lately, Mr. President has done a solid job of staying out of the spotlight, save for the missed Derlis signing, while rebuilding this team for a championship repeat.

Replace Mears as RB? Check. Leerdam.

Replace Friberg and get some depth at DM? Check. Svensson.

Replace Valdez at #9? Check. Bruin.

Replace Flacco and augment the attack? Check. Rodriguez.

Sign a likable Muppet-man to the team for quality depth? Check. Shipp.

Some of the best decisions are the ones you don’t make. Lagerwey kept his cool about Deuce’s career-threatening injury, and didn’t overpay a mercenary to fill a potentially non-existent hole. And even the hardline he took on the Derlis signing, not being cowed by Dynamo Kiev, was a huge signal to world football clubs that Seattle, over in little old MLS, will not be bullied.

But what I love best from Lagerwey is how Seattle has collected a slew of modern fullbacks in Leerdam, Jones and Nouhou. Sure Joevin is pulling a poor-man’s Yedlin and jumping across the pond, but that’s the cost of developing international-quality players at the modern game’s key position.

Lagerwey is the catalyst for Seattle pivoting from perennial playoff contender to once and future champions.

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BOLD PREDICTION: Mrs. Raving Green is stressing this game, but I am oddly confident.

Maybe not so oddly. Toronto is in a funk and had to battle through the East’s 6 and 5-seed to make the Final. Seattle is feeling it right now. Seattle is on a tear and destroyed the West’s 3 and 4-seed.

Last year I wrote, The Seattle Sounders have the sparkle of fortune about them as they prepare to square off against Toronto FC in Saturday’s MLS Cup. 2017, however, TFC has been destiny’s darling, and that simply isn’t enough. All the pressure is on the Reds. Seattle is in better form. Seattle 2-1 in extra time. Deuce equalizes to send the game past 90, and favorite son, J-Mo ices the game. SOUNDERS! ‘Tis the Season of joy!

The 2017 Seattle Sounders Quiet Excellence

The Seattle Sounders host the Houston Dynamo Thursday for a shot to #DefendOurCup at MLS Cup 2017. Frankly, it is more than a shot. The Sounders lead the series 2-nil, with two precious away goals. This is our series to win.

Thankfully the Sounders’ winning has been a lot more consistent than my blogging. Babies, yo. It baffles me that my last ten posts date all the way back to December 10th, 2016 and my Bold Prediction for the 2016 MLS Cup. In those ten posts in almost a year, only two were long-ish form. My commitment to excellence (blog-cellence?) has wavered, but the Sounders’ hasn’t.

The 2017 season, though somewhat underwhelming for the duration, can already be considered one of Seattle’s best seasons in MLS history.

In 2017, Seattle:

  • Earned 53 points, their fourth-highest total ever
  • Finished 2nd place in the West, their third-best conference finish
  • Clinched only their 4th berth in the Western Conference Championship
  • Nearly Booked (don’t jinx it!!) their second trip to MLS Cup

Last year: the drama surrounding the #Sigiout decision, the insane collapse mid-summer, the Nico signing, Clint’s health scare, the raucous and boisterous push to make the playoffs, then the Cup Final. 2016 was a wild, wild ride.

This year: the Sounders were tediously excellent. Sure, they earned all those points and results, but they never felt like a great team, a championship-caliber team. Seattle signed solid players (Svensson, Leerdam, Rodriguez) but whiffed on making a splash with Derlis Gonzalez. Much like their unheralded, lunchpail-type coach, Brian Schmetzer, Seattle just quietly plugged away at the yeoman’s work of being a winning soccer team.

2017 wasn’t precocious 2011, beautiful 2014, or gritty 2016; it was just winning soccer. In the 18 games since Jun 21st, the Sounders only dropped 18 points for a record of 9-2-7 and a whopping 1.88 points-per-game. The Sounders enjoyed four solid months of sustained excellence, but frankly, underwhelmed.

Buuuut these last two games… Vancouver leg 2 and Houston leg 1, saw the all-caps SOUNDERS back in action. Even with injuries and constant lineup shuffling, Schmetzer had the boys singing with 4 goals scored, 0 conceded, and a joyous, jogo-bonito flair.

I’m getting excited again. The boys are rounding into form, getting healthier right in time to knock on the doors of history. Seriously, even without J-Mo and Ozzie we can punch our ticket to Toronto MLS Cup, again, where we have a real chance at repeating. This has only happened four times in MLS history. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

There is still game to be won Thursday night, and Mrs. Raving Green and I will be singing and supporting in Sodo. We didn’t attend a single playoff game last year (see: baby, new), breaking our streak since 2010, and it suuucked. It was especially bittersweet because I had my heart broke in person in the rain in 2012 and 2014. Like Dempsey, I want to be a part of a championship. Good thing I can trust Schmetzer and these Sounders to show up and do the work. Make it so, boys.

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.

no fluke

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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