I hate it when I’m right. I was afraid we’d lose the game in a letdown. Today’s post is a miscellanea of observations from Saturday’s game. Tomorrow is all Marco Pappa.
Something foul is going down on the Xbox Pitch. Actually fifty somethings foul. Has anyone done a comprehensive catalogue of the total fouls across all MLS games through the first two weeks this season vs. the first two weeks of 2013 or 2012? The Sounders have already been fouled 50 times. 50 Times?! Last week SKC set a dubious record for fouls against Seattle with 25. A large amount, sure, but SKC is a chippy team and it was a start-and-stop First Kick game. Then Toronto ties the record with 25 more fouls a week later? WTF? TFC is not a traditionally chippy team. They shouldn’t be with all the quality and talent they’ve acquired. Maybe Ryan Nelsen said, Screw it. I want to keep my job. San Jose won the Shield being goons and SKC won the Cup as goons. This is what works in MLS. Or maybe the replacement refs are just whistle crazy. I need some chats and graphs here.
This isn’t blame the refs. Refs will always be a variable in sports. Sometimes they hurt your team and sometimes they help. It all comes out in the wash. Any fan who says otherwise and swears his team gets a rawer deal is delusional. I blame Saturday’s loss on the Sounders. In many games over the last couple of years, we dominate for the first fifteen minutes, but then we slow down and lose focus. If we happened to stab one in the back of the net, we usually weather the opponent’s push and hold on for a result. If we didn’t happen to capitalize in that first flurry and score, our ensuing sloppiness gets us scored on. The rest of the game plays out as a too fast and too furious rally to equalize, but, more often than not, we come up short.
The loss is a downer, sure, after last week’s late-game heroics, but MLS has a long and winding season. We started horrible last year. But by September we were leading the race for Supporters Shield. What is cause for concern is how we lost, the disappointing flashbacks to old habits. We lost in a shockingly similar fashion to the sloppy 2013 Sounders. We lost focus and cohesion for five minutes and started shipping goals. Too little too late has become a habit of this team.
Losing Brad Evans hurt. Generally it’s never good to use a sub that early or to lose your captain. But his injury made a specific difference in the result, as both TFC goals were when Evans was in the 11 but either comprised or off the pitch. Evans is one of those players who contributes more than stats. He is the straw that just stirs the Sounders drink. When Evans was full-strength, floating around the middle, shoulder to shoulder with Ozzie, we were killing it. Then he took a helluva knock in the fifteenth minute and TFC immediately capitalized. Evans and Sigi both say the injury is nothing serious, so hopefully he starts next week against the Impact.
The upside to Evans’s injury being the Seattle debut of Gonzalo Pineda. I was absolutely impressed by Pineda. In the first half he was stellar, he showed good vision (that lovely pass to Neagle), was great on the ball, and rarely a liability (unlike someone who’s name rhymes with Sharko Yappa). However he is not yet 100% fit. Pineda is coming back from a sports hernia (few injuries in sports sound so awkward and unpleasant as a sports hernia). His lack of fitness was apparent as his play waned in the second half. His signing was a stellar one by the scouting department. Pineda is a talented and experienced veteran of a quality league. I would love to see him on the pitch much more.
Jermain Defoe killed us. He whipped out his stethoscope and got all clinical. The man scored two goals on two shots in twenty minutes. More than a few tweets and soccer prognosticators deemed this a dismal display of the state of MLS: Defoe comes in with less than a week’s training, and makes it look too easy. Others took Defoe’s performance as further proof that Dempsey sucks. The logic being that Defoe has 2 goals in twenty minutes, whereas Dempsey has 2 goals in eleven games). That is crap. Both are stellar players. A big difference was that the Sounders gave Defoe room to work. He was fouled only once on Saturday, while Dempsey drew a whistle six times.
Dumping on Dempsey is an oddly popular trend. The interesting most angle from Saturday’s game is the public perception of Clint Dempsey vs. Michael Bradley. The national post-game narrative is that Bradley is a stud, a saint, and a baller, while Dempsey is cheap whiner and flopper. This is fascinating. And it is crap. One of the reasons I love sports is because it is a Rorschach of the culture and the people who make culture. Yes, I’ve seen the gifs. Dempsey’s hand swats right at Mark Bloom’s crotch. One (with a 206 area code) could argue that Bloom embellished. That Dempsey wasn’t aiming for the dude’s junk, but just swatting his hand away because people were in Dempsey’s grill all game. One (who spells color with a u) could argue that Dempsey purposefully nut-punched a poor defenseless chap who meant well. I don’t care to argue the validity of either perception. It is less what happened and more how and why we see it happening.
For example, Bradley committed numerous fouls on Dempsey. The ref would blow the whistle, Deuce would pull him himself off the turf, and Bradley’d stroll back into position. No gesticulation or argument with the ref. Bradley knew exactly what he was doing. The man is a consummate professional and fouling is part of the job description. Every defensive midfielder worth his salt knows when to foul: Ozzie, Beckerman, Chara, so don’t start singing songs of St. Bradley. Yes Dempsey got Chippy during the game, but Bradley was purposefully knocking him down. Repeatedly. It’s vintage tactics, from the Mighty Ducks to hack-a-Shaq, the hyper-talented player is neutralized if you goon the crap out of him. Dempsey is a red-blooded American man. He lost his temper at times in the match. Do we wish he had the zen-like calm of a yoga teacher? Hell no. I want Deuce fiery and driven. I want that chip on his shoulder to block out the sun. If America hates him because America hates the Sounder, so be it. Just don’t tell me Bradley eats tofu and walks on water.