Month – April 2014

Raving Rerun: Soccernomics Part 1

I apologize for the rerun, but I am out of action for the next couple of days. I’ll be running the serial posts on Soccernomics today and tomorrow. I hope to have a fresh post for Friday  before the game against the Philadelphia Union. Enjoy “Soccernomics Part 1: An Overpriced Commodity.”

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Welcome Raving Readers to our first serial post!

I forgot where I read it, but one of the many postgame articles from Saturday’s loss referenced Soccernomics. The article cited the book’s simple correlation between team payroll and results, as evidenced by Toronto’s success. For those who haven’t read Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefani Szymanski, it is worth your time. It is not the Moneyball of soccer. However it’s an informative book, dry and not gripping, but full of interesting perspectives on the intersection of soccer and economics (as the title successfully portmanteaus).

Kuper and Szymanski discuss how the better teams spend the most money, and that most clubs lose money. However they are mostly analyzing European leagues. MLS is a very different animal, and I’ll discuss the values of a salary cap in tomorrow’s post. Today, I want to talk about an overpriced commodity, the American soccer player.

MLS is in a transition. Saturday’s game was proof. The hype around the Seattle-Toronto game was rampant with all the international quality talent on the field: Bradley, Dempsey, Defoe, Oba, Julio Cesar, even Evans. I don’t know if it’s a tipping point, but it is indicative of a trend in MLS. Other than just the acquisition of world-class players (Henry, Keane, Defoe), which has been happening since the Beckham acquisition, teams are now paying a premium for USMNT players. Bradley’s salary skyrocketed coming to MLS. Dempsey got a raise, Eddie finally got his wish and got paid, and even Omar Gonzalez got a DP contract.

Are these players worth their salary on the pitch? Sure, but teams are paying for exposure, especially in a World Cup year. Among the owners’ suites, you have a lotta dudes in suits salivating as the US soccer market again blooms. With the World Cup cycle, owners want a big name American attached to their club. When the causal fan tunes in this summer, he/she will see that Dempsey plays in Seattle and think, cool, I’ll check that out. Teams are betting on growing fan interest and thereby investing in Dempsey, Bradley et al., pure and simple.

How do the economics of the World Cup and a growing States-side soccer market affect the game? Soccer’s growth here has been slow. Beckham and Henry moving to MLS was the first spurt in MLS’s evolution. International superstars retiring in MLS caught fans’ attention. Dempsey coming home was another major press release. Dempsey is north of 30 and, arguably, his return is consistent with Beckham’s and Henry’s.  But Dempsey is an American, and that changes the equation, as he got paid more than any native son in MLS history. Bradley coming back, at only 26, was another evolution. Did Beckham and Henry treating the league as a retirement home hurt the game? Will Dempsey and Bradley plying their trade here hurt the game? I can’t say. I’m being analytical here, just looking at angles.

As I explored earlier, soccer is growing exponentially in this country. A downside to this growth is fan access to the game, as ticket prices are rising. One of the many charms of MLS is fan access, both to teams/players but also at the gates. Tickets to Sounders game are affordable, and people how up. Games aren’t prohibitively priced like the NFL. Some owners are trying to cash in on their product prematurely.

Merritt Paulson and Dave Kazan, of Portland and San Jose respectively, are betting fans will pay more their product. These greedy owners are trying to price out the plebes and ruffians who make soccer soccer. The ECS is taking a stand and boycotting this year’s game in San Jose. I fully commend them on standing up now for what will surely be a problem later. It’s a pity, but as the league grows and gets more competitive, prices will rise. An interesting feedback loop exists. Interest grows because the product is accessible. As interest grows, prices rise and the product becomes less accessible. Does interest wan?

Hopefully the league can secure a better TV contract, this could keep ticket prices stable. TV is a visual medium. The league knows this, all their commercials have images of boisterous supporters from the Cauldron, Timbers Army, and, of course, the ECS.  Your product isn’t just sports Mr. Paulson and Kazan, it is entertainment. You need to sell an image of excitement, so you need asses in seats. Not khaki corporate asses, but jumping, singing supporter asses.

Stefan Frei: Seattle Sounders Blue-Collar Hero

One of the unsung sub-narratives of the Seattle Sounders’ recent run to the top of the M.L.S. table is the emergence of goalkeeper Stefan Frei. With all the attention on the high-octane attack, we may have failed to notice him.

Stefan Frei had been pretty inconspicuous during the winter. With a flurry of marquee additions, Frei’s name didn’t attract too much attention. Frei, coming off many injuries and having barely played in two years, seemed only one of those long shot “good, if healthy” signings. Many teams seek to build on the cheap, and circumvent the scarcity problem of professional sports, with these low risk/high reward signings.

But Seattle was taking a major gamble signing Frei. His addition coincided with the retention of Sounders legend Marcus Hahnemann. Hahnemann, though on the precipice of retirement, had recently been involved in a goalkeeper controversy with Michael Gspurning and, seemingly, had little reason to return to the club if not as the starter. And if Frei hadn’t proved 100% fit, Seattle would’ve had to run with Hahnemann for the balance of the season. Can you imagine Seattle, with millions invested in Oba and Dempsey, coming off their most disappointing season, moving forward with a declining 41 year-old keeper? Seattle was taking a gamble that Frei would be both healthy and effective.

Not only a risk, but Frei’s addition alluded to a considerable shift in Seattle’s team building philosophy. Seattle had always built around quality keepers, first Kasey Keller then Michael Gspurning, much the same way the Green Bay Packers build around quarterbacks and the Los Angeles Lakers around centers. Kasey Keller, though in his twilight, was clearly the greatest American goalkeeper at the time of his signing. The Sounders followed his retirement by anointing Gspruning, pedigreed, physically imposing and expensive, the successor. Fans bought this transition, and that is why Frei’s signing was so atypical. It was a huge admission by Seattle’s brass that goal keeper was no longer a bedrock position.

Flash forward past all that signing sturm und drang, and Frei has been superlative. I like having a blue-collar goalie, an unsung plugger. Frei does his job well and doesn’t attract too much drama. The man keeps making the timely and crucial late game save. Yes he’s allowed goals but the offense we run, and the early season miscues, are more to blame. Frei has singlehandedly protected results, here and here. His confidence at the back is a major contribution to the 2014 Sounders’ professionalism and poise.

I loved Gspurning, his easy manner and lederhosen, but he didn’t engender confidence. He was streaky. You were either breathless or cringing when he was between the pipes. The man didn’t endow the team with cool and calm. And goalkeeper is first and foremost a mental position, a position of confidence. Coach Sigi Schmid has spoken of this, and the quality he most values in goalkeepers, “The one big thing that I look for is presence. What kind of presence does a goalkeeper have? Does he look like a goalkeeper? Does he smell like a goalkeeper? Does he act like a goalkeeper? That for me is very important. The German word for it is ausstrahlung, and it’s a thing I talked to Stefan about. I said that’s what I’m looking for. It’s really presence. How you command. How you control the situation. What do you look like? Do you look like you’re in charge? Do you look like you’re in control? I think that’s really, really important.”

Frei has a presence. He commands and calms, and is the very backbone of a prolific and potentially record-breaking Seattle team.

Seattle Sounders: A Terrible Beauty is Born

Saturday was gorgeous, as the Seattle Sounders romped over the Colorado Rapids. Beating the Rapids was very satisfying, especially because so recently the Seattle franchise teetered at the cusp of decline.

Flashback: October 5, 2013. Things Fall Apart.

After dismantling league-leading Real Salt Lake, the Seattle Sounders had climbed atop the MLS Supporter’s Shield race. Having drawn against both the Eastern Conference-leading New York Red Bulls and defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy, Seattle flew to Commerce City to dispatch the upstart Rapids and reclaim their Shield. Instead, Rapids rookie Deshorn Brown scored in the fourteen seconds, an embarrassment the Sounders never recovered from as Colorado destroyed Seattle 5-1. Even the Colorado supporters piled on, chanting, “Portland’s better” from the stands.

It seemed one of those bellwether moments, when one franchise usurps another. The Rapids were a young and improving squad, with an embarrassment of talent in their system and a sharp coach driving the rise. Their young guns had just embarrassed Seattle’s expensive veterans.

April 26, 2014: A Terrible Beauty is Born.

What a difference a year makes. Saturday’s game was a bounty of beautiful soccer from the Seattle Sounders. This time, Sounders fans could sit back, relax and watch their boys dismantle the opposition, knowing their franchise was squarely set towards bigger and better things.

I expected a win not a rout. I expected two teams with solidifying identities and quality, playing the beautiful game, another fine advertisement for the league. I was excited to see our juggernaut offense match up against a surprisingly robust Rapids defense.

Colorado is playing gritty soccer. Maybe I gave former coach Oscar Pareja too much credit, assuming the franchise would lose steam and stumble into mediocrity, especially after waiting so long to name former USMNT veteran Pablo Mastroeni coach. But Mastroeni had his defense was near the top of the league behind only stalwarts Sporting Kansas City and the Galaxy (however I suspect L.A. can’t keep their pace with all the injuries they’ve suffered on the backline). Going into Saturday’s game, Colorado was ceding only .833 goals a game, while Seattle were scoring an even pair. Something had to give.

It was the Colorado defense that gave. We dressed Colorado down. Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins continued their gross statistical plundering, and even Chad Marshall got involved in the attack. I was glad to see Lamar Neagle, who I keep doubting, again show up at the right place, at the right time and kick start the goal machine. He may not be the thrust or burn, but this is two weeks straight where Neagle’s been the pilot light.

Two other players deserving of the Rave are Ozzie Alonso, who was just on fire, and Dylan Remick. His doggedness in the box created this goal. Remick has potentially cracked my ideal eleven, as he adds speed and persistence in the final third without sacrificing much defensively. However, the Sounders still couldn’t keep a clean sheet. We seem to be able to expect one defensive brain fart a game. At least we still have something to nitpick about.

Maybe I am a terrible jinx, but look at the league table! (click to enlarge)

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I know it is early, and if this were the NFL, the Sounders would only be sitting at 3-1. I don’t care. I feel we are the best team on the continent. Bring on Cruz Azul, Santos, anyone! The run to the cup starts now!

Colorado Rapids at Seattle Sounders Gameday

We got this one guys.  I am so confident in Seattle’s chances for all three points today. Yes, the Rapids are playing well, but so are we. The Rave Green are ready to show their fans a championship-caliber team.

Bold prediction: Just like last year’s playoff game, Sounders 2-nil.

**UPDATE**

I was so afraid my confidence would jinx the team. HA! Sounders romp to atone at home, 4-1!

Seattle Sounders Unveil Ideal Eleven

My new post is up at Sounders Nation. I discuss how Saturday, for the first time all season, coach Sigi Schmid has his pick of the roster. Fans can expect the unveiling of the 2014 Seattle Sounders’s Ideal Eleven.

MLS Expansion and the Frontier Theory

Major League Soccer has been quite busy expanding: NYCFC and Orlando City FC will both join the league next year, MLS Atlanta will join in 2017, and David Beckham’s Miami franchise merely awaits a midwife. However, I am a regional chauvinist and all this East Coast love has me a bit bitter. I’m from Alaska and you become acutely aware of regionalism and the impact of distance when “normal” is broadcast from elsewhere, and travel tends prohibitive.

The game needs to grow, and for that MLS needs big markets. I completely understand NYCFC and Atlanta as business decisions, but not as soccer decisions. Unless the league believes the best way to grow the game is through intense regional rivalries, a la Cascadia. When Seattle proved such a rip-roaring success, MLS didn’t hesitate to enfranchise Portland and Vancouver. Add NYCFC to NYRB and you immediately have friction and, potentially, interest in America’s largest metropolitan market. Create, from whole cloth, a hub of soccer in Atlanta/Miami/Orlando, and hope for a Southern Cascadia. Potential rivalries seem the only catalyst for faith in stable expansion in the Southeast.

With all this expansion hullabaloo, why isn’t the West getting more love? The Western Conference is the engine of MLS’s recent success. Look at the league table, watch an RSL-LAG match. The strongest ownership groups, producing the best business models and soccer product operate in the West. While many Eastern franchises have owners who can’t fill a suburban stadium with spectators or attractive soccer.

The West embraces soccer more. It could be the lesser longevity of their professional teams, as pro baseball and football have been played back East for over a century. The Cincinnati Reds, for example, have been playing baseball since 1869, while the oldest Western MLB team is the L.A. Dodgers, who only moved in 1958 (and, of course, they belonged to someone else first, as any Brooklynite will remind you). Out West, the Sounders are absolutely Seattle’s, and older than both the Mariners and the Seahawks. Legacies such as these create a deep affiliation between a city and a team despite soccer’s persistent second-class status. And other Western cities, like Salt Lake and Portland, cherish their MLS teams as only their second professional team.

The West Coast is far less hidebound, embracing progress and multiculturalism. Multilingualism is a given out West where you rarely here, “this is America, speak English.” It is a new paradigm for soccer, that “foreign” sport, to capture the American fancy. Maybe the West is still in the flux of the melting pot, and is more ready to embrace an international identity.

It feels odd that the Western Conference, full of teams that commit to quality and are carrying the league, are rewarded by being further marginalized. The addition of NYCFC, Orlando City and Atlanta puts the league back at an even number of teams (for the first time since Montreal joined in 2012). However thirteen teams will play in the East and still just nine in the geographic West (if we consider Dallas a western city). Thus the league will have to relocate some eastern teams west, like SKC. Culturally we are used to Kansas City being “Western” (the Chiefs), but I hate when anything east of the Rockies is in a western conference. Who else will join SKC to make the West an even eleven teams? Houston, Chicago? Distance matters, and will always hinder professional teams in the Western United States. If a team like Kansas City or Houston joins the West that means MORE travel for each and every Western Conference team, and less for the Eastern Conference teams. It shrinks the geographic distance of the Eastern Conference and greatly expands that of the West. Of course, the population center of the US leans to the lesser side of the compass, but you cannot deny the advantage of shorter travel times.

Travel takes its toll. The Seahawks were a great team going into the 2012 NFL Playoffs, picked by prognosticator extraordinaire Nate Silver to win it all. But in back-to-back weeks, Seattle had to fly to D.C. and Atlanta, where they started slow and faltered. This isn’t mumbo jumbo, this is sports science. Clint Dempsey addressed this issue after his hat trick against Portland came on only two days rest after a USMNT friendly against Mexico in Phoenix. When asked if he thought he’d start against Portland despite the travel, Dempsey replied, “It’s always a tough call. Because when you do travel a lot, it was only three hours, but if it was on the East Coast, it would have been a difficult game to try and start. Because if you look at some of the players’ histories, especially Seattle’s, when they do long flights and come into games, they happen to pick up injuries.”

When it comes to expansion, MLS seems to think only size matters. Don Garber was proud to point out that Atlanta (ranked #9) is the largest remaining American market without an MLS franchise. But Phoenix is the 12th largest market and growing more rapidly than Atlanta. If we are only focused on market size, Arizona makes sense. Southern California is immensely populated and could carry a third team in San Diego. And the Bay Area could carry second team, as I am sure there are people in the Bay dying for a team that isn’t the Earthquakes.

Seattle Sounders: Roster Building and the Puzzle of Scarcity

Scarcity is the chief rule of economics, the limiting factor from which all decisions descend. All sports leagues deal with a scarcity of resources: the player pool, roster spots, salaries, etc., but MLS has an especially acute scarcity problem.

As discussed before, the talent pool for soccer players is by far the largest in all international sport. Most countries produce soccer players. Couple this abundance with MLS’s limited salary cap (which for the 2014 season sits just above $3 million), and you have quite the knot. One perennial aspect of this issue, for example, is how can MLS best convince enough good players to jump to an upstart league that can’t pay much? This was, and is being, solved by league-wide changes to roster building: the DP rule, allocation money, etc. For the individual teams, the scarcity problem is different. What is the best way to build an MLS roster?

The fine art of roster building is quite the popular topic in Seattle. Last year, the Sounders went on an MLS-Cup-or-bust run. They squared off their roster, jam-packed the top eleven with talent and went all in. We all know how that worked out. Previous to last year, Seattle had arguably been the gold standard in effective depth. They built quality rosters, not just 1 through 11, but 1 through 22/23. Their three straight US Open Cup Championships (and that star-crossed championship loss) are proof of the efficacy of that approach. However, a team’s approach can vary.

A club’s priorities must be spread between three competitions: the MLS Cup, Supporters Shield, CONCACAF Champions League, and the US Open Cup. MLS has a fairly straightforward incentivation system. A team that wins one of the domestic titles: MLS Cup, Supporters Shield, or US Open Cup gets to compete in the Group Stages of the CONCACAF Champions league. Competing in CCL earns your club more resources (less scarcity) through allocation monies. You must succeed within MLS (or the Open Cup) to have a crack at CCL and its tangible reward of allocation money, and the intangible reward of potentially competing in the FIFA Club World Cup. While Seattle clearly sought to compete across all competitions, other clubs dismiss the Open Cup or CCL. It is a simple consideration of opportunity cost. If you build for MLS Cup, as the thinking goes, you are sacrificing depth and thus a fair chance at an Open Cup run. Scarcity limits your agency.

Are the Sounders building the right way?

 

Are the Sounders building the right way this year? We have a shocking surfeit of depth. Jalil Anibab was a stud in Chicago. Last year he started every minute of every game for a playoff-caliber team, but has barely seen the field for Seattle. Marco Pappa is a two-time former Best XI Selection, but he’s in and out of our lineup, as is Kenny Cooper, one of the most prolific scorers in league history. We can look at all of our depth and be satisfied we have such proven quantities warming the bench. Or we can ask why we started young, unproven Michael Azira in back-to-back games already. We can ask if we have the right kind of depth. To do this we need to best consider how to maximize effective output from each position.

Below is the Seattle Sounders’ current roster (I’ve removed injured and on-loan players). I have roughly grouped the players into the following positional categories: Goalies, Center Backs, Zach Scott, Full Backs, Defensive Mids, Brad Evans, Attacking Mids, Forwards (yes, Scott and Evans get special flexibility considerations).

I’ve also color-coded the players. Green equals I love seeing this player take the field. Yellow equals Well, I guess we gotta run with him today. Red is Oh crap. We’re starting him? This ranking was done with my humble and flawed perspective, if you don’t agree with my rankings, let me know (click the image to enlarge).

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 11.35.59 AM

The first thing you notice is how stacked our team is. The defensive-side of the roster is chock-full of quality players, from having two quality keepers all the way to six quality CB and FB options for the backline. And despite Evans and Rose’s recent injuries, our defensive midfield is stacked. We could afford to trim the roster at that position.

The offensive-minded portion of the squad is more suspect. We are carrying more yellow-type players on this part of the roster, and this is the heart of our scarcity problem. We are allocating many roster sports to marginal players. Granted, you only ever want Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey up top, so you can afford to worry less about quality forward depth, right? On the one hand, we know Deuce will be gone for the World Cup and Oba wasn’t an iron man last year. On the other hand, we have Cooper and Neagle, quality MLS starters, who can always start up top for a game or three. So why carry Barrett and Weaver and Bowen?

Thus I am making a modest proposal. What if the Sounders traded Marco Pappa and Andy Rose for a player like Real Salt Lake’s Ned Grabavoy? Trade two halves for one whole, and the whole team gets better. Marco Pappa is very creative, but a defensive liability. Andy Rose is a very competent holding midfielder, but his ceiling isn’t too high. Grabavoy is an incredible two-way midfielder and would immediately start on this, or any, team. It’s addition by subtraction. We’d have another roster spot, perhaps to add a player after the World Cup, and you’d still have flexibility all over the roster.

Gonzalo Pineda and Lamar Neagle: A Yin and Yang of Consistency

Gonzalo Pineda has made himself indispensable to the 2014 Seattle Sounders. Way back in the offseason, Sounders fans were getting all excited about Seattle’s roster changes and acquisitions. Many players piqued our interest: Pappa, Marshall, Cooper, even Parsemain. Though few paid much attention at the time, the signing of Pineda may prove the best.

The easy narrative, especially after facing their former captain in Los Angeles, is that Pineda is the new Mauro Rosales. Both men were pedigreed players who slipped through the cracks and into Seattle’s lap. Both were trialists who made a surprisingly immediate contribution to the starting eleven. I have no idea if Pineda’s star will rise as fast and far as Rosales’s did, but Pineda has been a rock in the midfield.

In Seattle’s second game, against Toronto FC, Pineda debuted late as a substitute for an ineffective Marco Pappa. Pineda quickly proved a quality MLS starter as a holding midfielder. He has a keen eye for the game and executes key passes while consistently contributing to the defensive shape of the midfield. He is not the fastest man on the pitch, at 31 and coming off a major injury, but he compensates well for this deficiency. He has an uncanny knack for drawing fouls, as his soccer IQ is very high. He positions himself within the framework of the opponents attack, and forces himself to be accounted for. Lastly, his service on corners and freekicks is stupendous. Even Clint Dempsey, upon sizing up the equalizing penalty against Portland, had to confer with Gonzalo Pineda.

Pineda’s consistent quality has forced himself into the starting eleven. I believe he starts, almost unconditionally, over Neagle, Cooper and Rose. And I’m excited to see Pineda work more with Brad Evans, hopefully in the 4-4-2. After the late surge against Portland, and the gritty performances against Dallas and Chivas, this is the shape I am leaning towards. Brian Schmetzer reminds us that players are more important than alignments, and with that in mind, here is my Ideal Eleven:

Frei, Leo, Traore, Marshall, Yedlin, Pappa, Ozzie, Pineda, Evans, Oba, Deuce.

He hasn’t played in a while, but Evans has so much quality and position flexibility that he’ll always have a place in the eleven. However, I had to sacrifice Lamar Neagle’s spot and I am not 100% comfortable with that.

Neagle has proven, too often to count, that he is a starter in this league. But he is a streaky, streaky player. Against Montreal and Portland, he was brilliant. Against Dallas, he was atrocious. His temper nearly got the team cooked, as he really should’ve seen a second yellow down in Frisco. His chief focus needs to be poise. He loses his cool and is prone to the sloppy tackle. Neagle needs to cool down that hothead. I can’t easily wrap my mind around his mind. He earned a massive raise in the offseason, so at least he’s not resting and counting his money. But what has been the catalyst for his wildly inconsistent play? It may be the fact that he gets moved around the lineup, that he is a man without a position. But… so is the aforementioned Evans. And Evans jockeyed his Swiss-Army-street-cred into a possible invite to Brazil. It shouldn’t be too much to hope that Neagle can be a more flexible Eddie Johnson-esque player, striker/attacking winger?

Seattle asks a lot of both Gonzalo Pineda and Lamar Neagle. Neagle’s quality and flexibility, whether in the eleven or eighteen, is key to the Sounders’s attack. And Pineda, proving the definition of consistency, has cemented himself in the starting lineup.

Seattle Sounders at Chivas USA Recap: Chippiness at a Fever Pitch

At the end of a long road trip, and emotional at-the-death results, the Seattle Sounders faced a final opponent in Chivas USA. Again Seattle fell behind early, but the boys in Rave Green are making a habit of winning late. It wasn’t the best game of soccer, but it was heartening, again, to see the Sounders will a victory.

The game started shaky with Ozzie Alonso giving up a penalty kick in the third minute. I’m interested to see what Simon Borg has to say about that play in his weekly MLS “Instant Replay.” I don’t agree with the call. Leandro Barrera went out of his way to trip on Ozzie’s outstretched legs, but soccer is a game that embraces the postmodern truth of human perception. The ref saw a penalty and awarded it. Goals change games, and the Sounders were down and the first half would’ve been a massive disappointment if not for one brainless Dan Kennedy gaffe. The Chivas keeper totally misplayed a Gonzalo Pineda free kick and Lamar Neagle got a gift of an equalizer.

The Sounders came out flat again after halftime. Chivas outplayed Seattle for the first twenty minutes until the red card. Seattle still didn’t own the game even with the man advantage. It took one moment of soccer brilliance (and salary millions) of Clint Dempsey and Oba to make the difference between one and three points. Seattle can afford that edge; they have the quality and character in 2014.

A win is a win, but we must admit the red card changed the game. Marco Delgado came in hard on Pineda and saw instant red. Did Delagdo deserve red for that isolated play? No. Even as a Sounder homer it seemed overly harsh. But on the total balance of fouls, did Chivas (at 26 fouls) deserve to have a man sent off? Yes. Any team that draws up a game plan of thuggery should not be tolerated. As a result, the match against Chivas wasn’t exactly the beautiful game. I was disappointed in the way we played, but I can’t blame Seattle. Most weeks it seems our opponent wants to play kick and tackle, not soccer. Game 1, Sporting Kansas City sets a new record for fouls against Seattle with twenty-five. Game 2, Toronto FC ties that record. Saturday, Game 7, Chivas USA sets a new record with 26. I rationalized away the first two foul-heavy games. SKC fouling a lot was no surprise, as they play rough and both teams had first game jitters. TFC probably wanted to set a new tone, yadda yadda.  But Chivas?! The Goats are not a traditionally chippy team. Is every team going to just hack-a-Sounder? I fear a disturbing trend is afoot.

Obafemi Martins was especially victimized on Saturday, as he suffered seven fouls alone. In a postgame interview he said he wouldn’t criticize the refs, as they are also just doing their job. The refs’ job should be to steward the beautiful game, not mediate a brawl. You hear complaints about the physicality of MLS, but the problem is getting worse. In five years of league play, the Sounders faced 24 fouls, once. In seven games this season, they’ve been north of that figure three times. If MLS continues to be a league that allows this, how will it grow? What international star will want to play here? Do we want our best prospects developing in a league where injuries are rampant, and thuggish play is tolerated, rampant and rewarded?

Chippiness works in MLS. Think of recent successful teams: 2012 Shield winners San Jose Earthquakes and 2013 MLS Cup winners SKC both utilize and thrive with overly physical play. On the other hand, you have Real Salt Lake and the Los Angeles Galaxy who win and do so with quality. Two roads are diverging in the wood for MLS. The league needs to think long and hard on this, as the road they take will set a legacy.

Sound Bites:

It was great to see Mauro again. That man sure can do things on the ball. That free kick at goal had dangerous movement. The Sounders did a fine job taking his influence out of the game, but you cannot deny his sublime quality. That man is 100% Hustle and Flair.

I was nervous seeing 253 in the right midfield. The man is so Swiss Army (a la Brad Evans), but has always been on the left (and usually less effective at mid). I was nervous of his positioning, especially after his poor showing at Dallas, but he came through and was at the right place at the right time.

Gonzalo Pineda is a consummate professional. Pardon me while I nerd out, but he gave me some Twitter love:

Lastly, check this page out.

Seattle Sounders at Chivas USA Gameday

Tonight’s game between your beloved Seattle Sounders and Chivas USA is full of narratives: former Seattle captain Mauro Rosales facing his old team, the potential return of current Captain Brad Evans, and the chance for Seattle to finish their road trip with 7 points!!

Bold prediction: The offense soars, but defensive miscues continue. 3-1 Sounders.

Come on Seattle! Fight and win!

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