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.