Month – July 2014

The Seattle Sounders Need to Sign a Center Back

The MLS Summer transfer window closes August 6th meaning the Seattle Sounders have a week to sign a center back.

Seattle needs more than on reliable center back. I don’t know if we can solely blame Chad Marshall’s absence for the horrific performance of the backline Monday, but it’s a start. Maybe we blame the fact that the team expected to have him, practice and schemed this way and then was mentally unprepared to not have him. Maybe? But that isn’t any different from just blaming his absence. If anything, the late Chad Marshall scratch shows we need more quality depth.

Zach Scott has been, dare I say, a revelation at center back this season. I was a little worried when he started filling in for Djimi Traore, but was quickly relieved. However he does seem to work better with Marshall. In our last three home games before the Galaxy, Scott teamed up with Marshall to allow zero home goals (while the rampaging attack poured in seven!). Marshall spatial awareness and 1v1 prowess and allows Scott to do his thing (play hard-nosed, slightly reckless but aerially and physically dominant defense).  Yet playing without Marshall, Scott’s weaknesses were exposed.

Jalil Anibaba is no slouch. I ain’t anti-Anibaba, but him and Scott are not a complementary backline. They both like to chase their man and thus cede positioning way too easily. Him and Scott are fine pieces individually, but not when played together. Considering the way Seattle wants to play, fast-paced soccer that’s committed to a beautifully fluid attack, we need an absolutely dependable backline. And since we push our fullbacks so often into attacking space, the center backs especially must be resolute.

I think of the NFL. If a defense wants to blitz the hell out of you, and commit all their linebackers and even the safeties in the rush, it needs cornerbacks that can be left on an island. The corners will be exposed and must be beasts in man-to-man coverage or they will be beat. Think of the Seahawks and the Legion of Boom. Richard Sherman can shut down half the secondary allowing everyone else to bring the heat.

With Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Marco Pappa, the Sounders love to bring the heat. But we often leave our center backs exposed. If we don’t have Marshall’s steady presence back there it gets ugly. This team’s strength is its attack, and we need to invest in a center back to continue to play to our strengths.

Are you listening Sounders FC? Chris Henderson, Adrian Hanauer, do it now. Sign a quality centerback. He doesn’t need to be a world-beater, hell, he doesn’t need to be a DP. We just need another young, quality center back.

A Distraction from the Seattle Sounders and Their Soiled Sheets

I apologize Raving Readers, I am at an impasse. I have no bile left to rant and rave regarding the loss against L.A. And it’s too soon to put on my cold-blooded mortician’s hat and dissect the Sounders sheet sh*tting. Going into the L.A. game, I was anxious but all stoked for a coronation. Then we got pasted.

At least against New England we had the 3 games in 8 days and the impeding World Cup as ready excuses. What is Monday’s excuse? No Chad Marshall? Can he have made THAT big a difference? And what was wrong with Ozzie and Gonzo? Is Dan Gargan THAT good? Bah!

So here’s a pleasant distraction from all things Sounders. It’s an awesome logo redesign of all 32 NFL teams as if they were European football clubs. The designer didn’t do one logo per team, but rather each NFL team has a British, Spanish, German and Italian iteration. They are awesome. I am a Philadelphia Eagles, and was a little disappointed by our choices. But the Seahawks have pretty dope crests, especially their German one. Enjoy.

DeAndre Yedlin Both Has and Hasn’t left the Seattle Sounders

“When does a quantum system stop existing as a superposition of states and become one or the other?”

-Edwin Schrodinger

DeAndre Yedlin is the Schrodinger’s cat of MLS. He has simultaneously both signed and not signed a contract with AS Roma.

Oh the joys of modern journalism. Tweets, blogs and sloppy reportage have linked Yedlin to Genoa, Inter and Lyon in the last month but the Roma rumor has the most clout. Italian journalists are calling the deal done, but Yedlin’s agent vehemently denies this, saying MLS/Seattle would announce any finalized contract.

My thoughts on Yedlin, both as the person and symbol of the game in the States, are known. However you want his situation to resolve… it needs to resolve. There are so many “is he” and “isn’t he” reports floating about that this is getting fishy.

Postmodernism tells us there are plural realities and no objective truth. So maybe the Italians were merely fishing for traffic with trumped up transfer rumors. That may certainly be the case. Or maybe talks have stalled between Yedlin and Roma and someone leaked the news of the current deal to reset negotiations. Or the deal is done but MLS/Sounders FC (how I refer to the corporate side of all things Rave Green) want to control the narrative, i.e. cheesy league commercials (maybe in Monday night’s nationally televised Seattle-L.A. matchup) or more Joe Roth showmanship. There is quite the tangled web of potential realities.

Maybe Yedlin has signed with Roma. I, for one, am hoping this deal isn’t done and merely awaiting the “Hollywood treatment.” This is my least favorite potential reality, as the denials and smokescreens are eerily reminiscent of last summer’s Dempseywatch. The great Dempsey reveal was so awkward and ill-conceived that it was downright comical. Is Joe Roth going to give Deandre the same dazzle. I can see Roth sauntering out in sweatpants to midfield to chatter some cheese with Yedlin about “trying out some of the other teams.” But for this to be, Yedlin would have to have tickets to Rome booked. Any scenario of the sign-but-stay-and-develop doesn’t gel with this. Announcing a transfer and then not actually transferring him seems anticlimactic. Joe Roth doesn’t do anticlimactic. Except when everyone already knows the climax.

Thank god for Twitter. Despite Sounders FC’s best intentions, we all knew Dempsey was/should-be/could-it-be? a done deal before the game against FC Dallas. Joe and co.  sure tried hard to keep control of that narrative. I wouldn’t put it past them to try agin this summer. But they can’t really think they can keep a lid on this, right? Especially not until the end of the season? Considering current media practices, the naivety of that would be titanic. So maybe the Italian journalists did lie.

Maybe Yedlin hasn’t signed with Roma. I can see this happening. Yedlin may have wanted to test the waters while his post-World Cup hotness was still hot (like a college athlete testing to seeing where he may get drafted) but then decided to stay in Seattle for the rest of this magically successful season and possibly the foreseeable future. Yedlin is reinvesting in his Seattle roots. He endorses local sports drink Golazo, threw out the first pitch at a Mariners game and was famously a parade marshal at Seafair. Maybe this is all just a local boy milking fame, but maybe he is starting to build his endorsements portfolio with local Seattle business. The kid can have a long and lucrative career right here at home.

Despite having my fun with postmodernism and quantum theory, I hope something gets announced soon. “The Yedlin to?” rumors can only become more of a distraction as the Sounders buckle down for eight games in in the next five weeks, look to lock up their fourth US Open Cup and reclaim sole ownership of the top of the table.

Caleb Porter Wants to Coach the Seattle Sounders

One of my favorite whipping boys, Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter, may not be as dumb as he looks (though I find that hard to believe).

The MLS All-Stars will play a half-stocked Bayern Munich side on August 6th as the crown jewel of MLS’s midseason festivities. The All-Star game will be held in Seattle’s armpit, aka Portland, and thus the feisty little Timbers and their plucky gutter-punky Army will be heavily featured (MLS’s marketing of green smoke and waving flags from Hospitals-Not-Windows-Anymore Park is getting really old). Portland’s beleaguered coach Porter got the privilege, as coach of the host city’s team, to round out the All-Star roster after the fans’ and MLS Commissioner Don Garber’s selections.

MLS’s All-Star roster is frankenstitched together. A fan vote determines the starting 11, then the All-Star coach choses 10 reserve players while the commish rounds out the 23-man roster with two picks of his own. These two picks are often political or business-related. Last season, Garber knew the league had a hot commodity in DeAndre Yedlin and sent him to the All-Star game as a deserving acknowledgement of the rookie’s fine season, but also to further groom a budding superstar.

The Sounders’ roster is stacked with stars. Seattle is dominant this season and, across all sports, better teams always send more players to all-star games. So it is no surprise that three Sounders, Clint Dempsey, DeAndre Yedlin and Obafemi Martins, were selected by the fans to be in the starting eleven while no Timbers were. The real humor of the roster is that Porter then chose two more Sounders, Chad Marshall and Ozzie Alonso, as All-Stars and only one of his players, Will Johnson. Porter could have chosen as many of his players as he liked. He clearly doesn’t like his team very much. Other than his spirit animal, Johnson, Porter avoided men wearing the wrong color green.

As a Sounders fan this is simply delicious. It’s pretty damn telling that Porter chose Ozzie Alonso over Diego Chara. Clearly Porter has a soft spot in his heart for ball hawking defensive midfielders. He clearly wanted a pitbull in the midfield and acknowledged, through his selection, that Ozzie is better than his own Chara. To me Alonso’s superiority is obvious, but I hear many Portland fans dispute this fact. Clearly their coach agrees with me.

Porter picking Marshall is no real surprise. Of course Porter would salivate at the chance to coach an elite center back. The position is Porter’s kryptonite. Last year Porter soldiered through with the makeshift Great Wall of the Gambia, but he has never had a solid center back that could stay healthy on his squad since he was named head coach. Porter has gone through so many CBs: Horst, Futty, Kah, Silvestre, Jean-Baptiste, Papparato, O’Rourke, McKenzie that he’s starting to look desperate. Portland just used a DP slot on the EPL’s Liam Ridgewell hoping to turn his luck. Porter may want a player of Marshall’s quality on his squad, but how many Sounders will a Portland crowd root for?

The game will be played in Portland in front of mostly Timbers fans. Things would have gotten awkward for the RCTID crowd if Will Johnson, who some are fastly falling out of love with, was the only All-Star representing the home team. Thus Commissioner Garber came to the rescue and named Diego Valieri, who of all Timbers is most deserving, with one of his political picks. Pretty embarrassing that the commish needed to name another Timber to Porter’s roster.

With his selections Porter has clearly acknowledged his team isn’t very good and the Sounders are better. What ever happened to brass balls, huh?

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2014 MLS All-Star Roster:

Goalkeepers (2): Nick Rimando* (Real Salt Lake), Bill Hamid (D.C. United)

Defenders (6): Matt Besler* (Sporting Kansas City), Aurélien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez* (Galaxy), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders FC), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), DeAndre Yedlin* (Seattle Sounders FC)

Midfielders (8): Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders FC), Kyle Beckerman* (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley* (Toronto FC), Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), Clint Dempsey* (Seattle Sounders FC), Will Johnson (Portland Timbers), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers), Graham Zusi* (Sporting Kansas City)

Forwards (7): Jermain Defoe (Toronto FC), Landon Donovan* (Galaxy), Thierry Henry* (New York Red Bulls), Robbie Keane (Galaxy), Obafemi Martins* (Seattle Sounders FC), Erick Torres (Chivas USA), Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)

* = Fan XI

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Thanks for following Raving Readers. I am taking the weekend off but will be back Monday with a Galaxy pregame post. Whatever makes you happy: the Capitol Hill Block Parties, Torchlight Parades, enjoy the weekend. Allegedly the sun is coming back!!

 

Imitation, Competition and Flattery: Seattle Sounders vs. Los Angeles Galaxy

Monday your Seattle Sounders play the L.A. Galaxy in a curious rivalry game. The Galaxy are who the Sounders want to be. L.A. and Seattle share cultural cachet, fat coffers and big-name signings, but they differ in the records book. The Galaxy are one of the most decorated teams in MLS history with four MLS Cup championships and four Supporters’ Shields.

Los Angeles sets the trends. When they courted and signed David Beckham in 2007, MLS bent the rules, and eventually the “Beckham Rule” became standardized as the Designated Player. In 2008, the Galaxy signed the league’s first homegrown player, currently with Seattle, Tristan Bowen before that practice became commonplace. Recently, L.A. created their own directly affiliated USL Pro team, L.A. Galaxy II, essentially a minor league team allowing free movement between the two clubs. Though the name is more than unfortunate, LA Galaxy II represents the next evolutionary step for the premier, or seeking to be premier, MLS clubs. If you want to remain or become a big dog, the two NYs, Seattle, Toronto, etc., you’ll have a USL Pro affiliated team soon because imitation is the finest form of competition.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find it hard to hate the Galaxy. They lack the insufferable air of the Lakers or Cowboys (to name comparable league giants). Sure they are flashy and successful, but I love how they play the game. Robbie Keane trends a little smug, but he is so damn good as to command respect for him and his “cunning Irish mind.” (Many thanks to Sounders legend and wordsmith Alan Hinton for that gem, from the postgame of the 2012 Western Conference finals when Keane did-or-did-not intentionally kick the ball into Adam Johansson’s hand earning a key penalty. Cunning indeed.) Landon Donovan is, of course, superlative. He is totemic to U.S. soccer, almost like Thomas Jefferson in a kit. He isn’t haggard and star-crossed like Lincoln, or infallible like Washington; he is nerdy, polarizing and powerful. Hell, my opinion of Landycakes is no secret. Lastly, the development of Gyasi Zardes is impressive, and shows how L.A. doesn’t just rely on their wallet for roster improvement, but also commits to player development. Zardes, though raw at only 22, continues to prove himself an up-and-coming talent and is getting nurtured, not ignored, on a talented team that wants to win now.

The Sounders need to win Monday. Due to wonky MLS scheduling, our first matchup with L.A. comes halfway through the season, and it’s the last before back-to-back fixtures at the tail end of the schedule. It’s a big game as the Galaxy have games in hand and a solid points-per-game average (1.59), and are one of the few teams within striking distance of Seattle’s claiming the Supporters’ Shield before Labor Day. Monday’s six-point match is pivotal, the results of which could render those last two games superfluous or nail-biting. A loss on Monday could foreshadow an overly dramatic third act to the Sounders’ season.

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Fabio Pereira was waived yesterday. Having seen him only in action at Starfire against PSA Elite, I have little context to judge this decision from a player development standpoint. However, his release opens up not only a roster spot, but an international slot. This begs the question: who we are eyeballing as the transfer window draws to a close? What player would we bring in, risking team chemistry, to push us from championship contender to champion apparent? And what position does the front office feel is our weakest? Centerback, depth at center-mid, or…?

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Lastly, Llarian tweeted at me the semantic correction to my corporate tifo post. If you don’t follow Llarian on Twitter, do so and you’ll get jokes and insight from an Alliance Council member and ECS leader. A correction is in order. Tifo is definitively supporter-created and made to support a team. Thus the EA Sports banner from last Saturday’s friendly, though dressed in all the context of tifo: a large image displayed in the stands and unfurled by multiple fans right before kickoff, was inherently not tifo. So true, though the disingenuity of the tifo-esque advertisement was still galling.

There is a Spectre Haunting American Soccer

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This is what corporate tifos look like.

Last Saturday’s draw between the Seattle Sounders and Tottenham Hotspur didn’t mean anything. Goals were scored, penalties awarded, flamethrowers threw, but it was just a big meaningless exhibition. Hell, the ECS didn’t even make a tifo. But EA Sports did. The video game giant produced and displayed a corporate tifo that was, in effect, a big commercial for the upcoming release of FIFA ‘15.

Soccer is slowly being Americanized. I guess it make senses, as we embrace all the ritual of the beautiful game: singing, scarves and tifos, a little ‘Murica was going to rub in. The global tradition of soccer already subjects fans to brand names on jerseys and along the end boards. Now in the States we have gigantic commercials in the stands. Every Sounders jersey says XBOX, so the game is already both an athletic display and a marketing opportunity. But I can accept the branding on jerseys as a trade for no commercials. I love how soccer puts the game first. Hell, they could slap “TastyKakes” on the Philadelphia Eagles or “Starbucks” on the Seahawks if they cut the all TV timeouts from NFL broadcasts. This seems a fair trade for brand names on jerseys, but we get nothing for ads in stands.

As ads go, it was stellar. If you want your ad seen by 55,000 members of a key demographic (and by even more on ESPN), this is pretty effective. Unfortunately our high attendance figures and cultural clout must be attracting the moneymen. But using unassuming fans up in the Hawk’s nest for a display of marketing also plays into the “Seattle fans as corporate whores” trope. Seattle is the vanguard of soccer’s assimilation into the pop culture of a major American city, and the rise of the tifo-as-commercial is an inevitable consequence.

I guess we should get used to the seeping of consumerism and corporate culture into soccer. At least it was an ad for a soccer video game and not McDonalds. I get that video games are the key to getting the kiddies into soccer. I heard Keith Olbermann’s rant. He wanted soccer to get the red, white and blue makeover, but I am sure he wasn’t expecting this. Video games may be the gateway drug for the rise of our domestic league, but at what cost?

I realize I am a hypocrite as I dream of shoveling money into the registers at the Sounders’ pro shop for third jerseys and other cool swag, but corporate tifos? So disingenuous. We’re here for soccer. We’re here for sport, spectacle and supporter culture. Supporter culture is grass roots. It isn’t piped in music or cheers led by a jumbotron. People make soccer and there should be no co-opting this for some company’s bottom line.

It seems I’m answering my own question from my last post. When more money enters the league we get corporate tifos.

Three Ways of Looking at a Pitch Black Golazo

Didn’t get a rave up today folks, sorry and thanks for your patience. Here’s a quick treat to tide you over: Three Ways of Looking at a Pitch Black Golazo. In a postmodern treatment, I am presenting Ozzie’s wonder volley in three mediums of reality: the internet, cable TV and live photography.

via the internet:

link to gif

via SportsCenter:

Lastly, my view from the stands as his brothers-in-arms celebrate him:

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DeAndre Yedlin and the Great American Paper Chase

DeAndre Yedlin is selling Xboxes, Golazo and American soccer. This must be fattening his wallet, but the real payday will come if Yedlin signs that oft-rumored big, juicy European contract. Aside from prestige or developmental reasons, should Yedlin sign overseas just to follow the money?

Currently Yedlin makes $92,000, up from $52k as a rookie. That’s a mighty healthy raise but not market value for an international soccer star of his caliber, especially after the World Cup he had. Yedlin makes more than most of us, but it is small beans in the world of professional athletes.

I’m always impressed to see how little some MLS players make. Dylan Remick makes exactly what I do as an adjunct community college instructor: $36,000 a year. He’s on TV, playing a professional sport and getting paid a wage I often complain about. That’s mindblowing. We are conditioned to see pro athletes make bills. Remick making $36k seems as surreal as a janitor taking home six figures. And yet why are janitors paid less and athletes more? Of course money is only a metaphor: the janitor is not less useful than the fullback. But this shows one of the narratives we take for granted in this country, that professional athletes should make more than most normal professions.

What if all professional sports leagues lowered their salaries across the board and found a standardized and modest pay scale? We would reject that because it is part of our culture to complain about overpaid athletic divas. Eddie Johnson played the part of an American athlete perfectly. In Mark Bowden’s book Bringing the Heat about the 1992 Philadelphia Eagles, he discovers the MEAT principle being discussed amongst the Eagles. MEAT stands for “Maximize Earnings at All Times.” Eddie Johnson was adrift after fruitless stints in Europe and Mexico, his career in tatters. Seattle made him a humble offer ($150,000+, not chump change) and he soon outperformed that contract. He made a stink and potentially ruined a locker room, but Eddie was just looking to MEAT.

Yedlin seems a great guy and is saying all the right things, for now. When it comes to paydays, MLS’s byzantine salary rules are muddying his situation. Currently Yedlin is on a Homegrown Player contract, this allows him to make more than the league minimum and his salary doesn’t count against the cap. But to command the money he could in Europe, MLS would need to break their own rules (which they love to do), or get him those mysterious “retention funds” or a DP contract. But “retention funds” are fishy and Seattle already has three deserving DPs. So shouldn’t Yedlin bolt overseas to MEAT?

MLS is a downright different league. The low salaries keep a hint of amateurism, and the sense that players are playing outta pure love, in MLS. But the salary elasticity is incredible. For example, Clint Dempsey banks $6.7 million and Remick only that $36k. No other American professional sports league has such a wide earnings gap.  Even the grand daddy of them all, the NFL, has salaries much closer. Percy Harvin, after inking his blockbuster contract to come to Seattle, will make a whooping $11 million (almost twice Dempsey’s salary) this year for the Seahawks, but the NFL league minimum is $420,000 (almost 12 times Remicks’s). MLS has created a cartel-like infrastructure, where the league owns all contracts and franchises etc., to ensure financial sustainability. But this elasticity is contributing to players looking overseas and that affects the league’s long-term goals of being a league of choice.

Disparate salaries are affecting league financial sustainability and also roster stability. Last year we lost Mauro Rosales because the cap was too tight. I am sure Seattle would’ve loved to find a way to keep Mauro, but just couldn’t under the current paradigm. Now Obafemi Martins has started to posture at press conferences for a new contract. He makes $1.6 million and was the big man on Seattle’s campus until Deuce came to town. Now he is vastly out-earned. This must affect the camaraderie in the locker room (see: Johnson, Eddie). However, it is expected that MLS will ratify a new CBA in the offseason. We expect a major increase in the salary cap. This should help smooth egos, but how will MLS and soccer in this country change as salaries begin to creep up and natural cynicism enters the sport?

Seattle Sounders Vs Tottenham Hotspur Gameday

The Seattle Sounders face EPL power Totthenham Hotspur today in a friendly at CenturyLink Field. Quick post today. I am not crazy about friendlies, the intensity isn’t the same, players could get hurt, so I don’t see it as worth it from a fan’s perspective.

These games are marketing aimed at the Eurosnob soccer fans who flock to see “real” soccer teams slumming it Stateside. That idea appalls me. If this game meant something and the Sounders could prove their mettle, and the quality of MLS, in a legitimate contest, I’d be the loudest fan in the stands. But that’s not the case… so Go Sounders! Don’t let anyone get hurt.

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