Month – July 2014

Clint Dempsey Won’t Talk About the Supporters’ Shield

Seattle Sounders star Clint Dempsey squinted his eyes and gave a firm reply. In the media scrum following Seattle’s second-straight victory over Portland, I asked Deuce if anyone in the locker room was talking Supporters’ Shield. He said, “You don’t earn trophies by talking about them.”

That’s too bad because I’ve done enough talking about silverware to earn Seattle the treble. Us media types and bloggers have all the fun. We can postulate and question and spin. All I want to think about is our chances of winning the Shield. Though we are just over the midway point of the season, I can’t help but look towards Week 34’s table.

The Sounders have such a commanding lead on the Supporters’ Shield race that it’s tough to imagine them losing their grip. Seattle currently sits at 38 points through 18 games played. They’ve been earning an astronomical 2.11 points per game. If they held this pace they’d finish the year with about 74 (73.76) points. That would be the new record, shoot-out era or not.

DC United and Sporting KC are the teams closest behind. Sporting sits at 32 points at 19 games played (1.68 ppg) and DC is at 31 in 18 (1.72 ppg). They both figure to finish with around 58/59 points. Mighty respectable point totals, as New York won the Shield last year with 59.

Others teams still in the running are LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC. LA (1.69 ppg) and TFC (1.56 ppg) both have games in hand, so could start to climb. But Sounders fans learned last year that games in hand are useless unless you get results. The darkhorse in the race is Real Salt Lake. They are tied with TFC at 1.56 ppg, but have played a full 18 games. RSL thus has less time to turn their season into a higher gear and catch up. The Shield will go to one of these six teams.

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It’s Seattle’s race to lose, but I don’t want get all cocky after last year’s debacle. Sometimes climbing to the top of the mountain just gives you a loooong way to fall. There is comfort in numbers and science, so I started crunching numbers to see how realistic Seattle’s chances of running away with the league are. I chose some familiar Western Conference foes as comparables to discover how poorly the Sounders would have to play to lose the pole position. I left all the other Shield aspirants at their current ppg.

If Seattle played as abysmally as San Jose (1 ppg) we’d finish with 54 points, tied with RSL and potentially #1 in the West. However we’d probably be out of the running for the Shield (but not totally).

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If Seattle played as poorly as Chivas (1.28 ppg) we’d be at 58.48 giving us a legit shot at winning the Shield. That is crazy.

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If Seattle played as utterly atrociously as Portland (1.11 ppg), we’d finish at 55.76 giving us a puncher’s chance for the Shield.

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I am not gonna jinx anything, so you can take these numbers as you will (but if pressed I’d say, We’re totally winning the Shield baby! We’ll have it clinched by Labor Day! Boo ya! Sounders for life!!”)

Seattle is sizzling but Portland is a flaccid, tepid french fry. They really are playing like trash. I don’t expect them to turn it around and make the playoffs. But can they? If Portland all of sudden went on a Seattle-esque run (2.11 ppg), they’d finish with around 53 points and be near the very top of the West. So an incredible Portland turnaround is possible. Sounders fans remember our late season surge in 2010. But let’s be realistic. Currently, Dallas is in the 5th and last playoff spot in the West. Dallas earns 1.37 ppg and are on pace to finish with 46 points. Portland would need to average 1.66 ppg to get more than 46 points. That means they’d have to start playing as well as SKC to just make the playoffs. Wow. Portland would need to play as well as the team currently in second on the whole table just to have a slight chance of sniffing the postseason.

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Life is so good.

Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin Getting a Lot of Attention

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With Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin, Major League Soccer and the Seattle Sounders continue to bask in the World Cups’ afterglow. Multiple media outlets: ESPN, Huffington Post, and more discussed Sunday’s night Cascadia rivalry. Richard Farley at The Guardian had an especially insightful article. Farley discussed the sheer mass of interest that accompanies Portland-Seattle, and the rising quality of the Seattle franchise:

Of the 11 MLS crowds that have passed 60,000 people, the Seattle Sounders have hosted six. Sunday brought the latest as a derby with Portland, positioned as a post-World Cup showcase, drew 64,207 to CenturyLink Field.

Between that rivalry, the atmosphere, and the returns of Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin, MLS gave ESPN its best chance to convert some of the network’s prodigious World Cup audience.

Both stars were in the Sounders lineup for the teams’ second meeting in five days. If any of the players felt any lingering effects from Wednesday’s 120 minutes in the US Open Cup, they were not apparent early on as a combative battle in midfield led to multiple collisions between Osvaldo Alonso and Will Johnson. The friction produced a stalemate at halftime, with Portland having registered the only shot on goal.

Though Caleb Porter seemed satisfied with his team’s performance, Portland have slowly slipped toward the bottom of the West. Coming into the game, the Timbers sat eighth. Though a point in Seattle would be satisfactory, wins are becoming more imperative for the Timbers, whose West-worst defense was facing one of the league’s best attacks.

In Sunday’s second half, that poor defending returned, with Portland’s midfield offering little resistance to a Seattle team that finished the match with 10 shots on goal. With Marco Pappa playing in from the wing, Seattle were able to balance Portland’s numerical edge in the middle, swinging the game in their favor.

I didn’t know the specific data regarding Seattle hosting more than half of the largest crowds in MSL history. Though it makes sense it is still very impressive. I also like how the writer takes the time to point out Portland’s dwindling playoff chances. It looks more and more like last year was a fluke, not a new beginning. I don’t want to count my chickens, but… Portland might just be returning to the cellar where they belong.

Backstage Access to a Cascadia Classic

Seattle-Portland. On the field, the Timbers wear Rose City Red and the Sounders their traditional Rave Green. The supporters mass in the stands, 64,000 of them, exhorting their teams to victory. The lineup for Portland is announced to a cascade of boos, Seattle’s to roaring echoes of each player’s name. Fireworks accompany the national anthem and the boom-boom clap rocks Sodo.

Typical fare for any Cascadia matchup, but different when experienced in a temperature controlled, corporate press box with a free buffet patronized by Sean Okoli. The Sounders were serving salads, baby carrots in thyme butter and sloppy joes. Okoli was scooping bacon bits from the salad bar onto his joe and I couldn’t help but comment how robust a meal it looked. Okoli smiled. Doing my best to keep my shaking hand from spilling my meal, I left the buffet and casually walked by Djimi Traore who looked like a dapper banker.

Andy Rose. Tristan Bowen. Drew Carey and Joe Roth taking the elevator. Sunday was my first game as a member of the media. It was a surreal experience for a lifelong sports fan and diehard Sounders supporter. I am a bootleg blogger, plugging away on my own, so I never thought I’d go from knocking out posts on my laptop to rocking a press pass with locker room and on-field access. I am grateful to Brian Stern, editor of Sounders Nation to which I contribute, who was out of town and generously provided me with his credential.

I got all dolled up and even shaved my silly ‘stache to turn from hirsute super fan King of Cascadia to mild mannered reporter Brent Schaeffer. My sister has been a journalist for over six years, chasing interviews and having stories picked up by the AP, but I never knew what it was like to be on deadline. During the game, I shot it with an Aussie named Joe Gorman who writes for the Guardian. After the Sounders had put the Timbers out of their misery, Joe asked “you gotta file now?” Yeah right! I felt like a kid playing dress-up. Hell, I walked around not talking to anyone my first ten minutes in the box and then bumped into Chris Henderson leaving the men’s room. I was more fixated on sinking my three-point paper towel shot from twelve feet away at the door that I didn’t notice him. I awkwardly clanged my watch against his and shuffled out. I was the least official person there and wasn’t on any strict deadline or real business, but I got a post up for Sounders Nation by 1am. At least for one night, I was not a fan but officially a member of the press.

Fans are part of the sporting spectacle. They respond, they yell, they boo, especially at a soccer game with tifos and chants and songs galore. I love all that. I get all decked out in my rave green and scream invectives at the refs, opponents, anyone. Attending a Sounders game really exercises my mammal brain, love of brother and hate of other. But as a reporter, I was removed from this dynamic. Cheering is discouraged in the press box and the glass deadens the roar of the game. I dressed objectively in slacks and a grey buttoned shirt. I had a singular experience, but it wasn’t the same. I felt like Uatu the Watcher, objective, removed and merely observing. I was following the prime directive to not interfere. Sometimes a door would open and the noise and heat would flow into the controlled environment. It didn’t really feel like Sounders-Timbers.

At the final whistle, I knew my wife was celebrating herself silly down in the stadium under the fireworks. I was hastily packing up my bag to do the real work, coach Sigi Schmid was about to give his postgame press conference. I followed the throng of media through concrete hallways to the interview room. We took our seats and Don Ruiz from the Tacoma News Tribune was talking the new Times beat reporter through the ropes. I listened in. Sigi came in and barreled through the questions a mere five feet from me. Nervous as hell, I didn’t ask a single question. I was meta-nerding out, as so many real reporters were there: Ruiz, Jeremiah Oshan, Jackie Montgomery, Matt Gaschk, among others.

It became sensory overload as we moved to the locker room. I was walking by a tall, corporate looking suit. Then I heard the suit talk and almost did an old Jack Lemmon double take, “That’s Ross Fletcher!” Later in the locker room I stood near Ozzie Alonso, who was clearly not talking to people, to hold my iPhone up to Chad Marshall but inside I’m like “dog, you’re a foot from Ozzie. You’re technically all up in his personal space and totally ignoring him. Surreal.” Then DeAndre Yedlin walked by. There probably isn’t a hotter American soccer player right now. The dude is all over ESPN and he just walks by. Damn.

I finally worked up my nerve and interviewed Marco Pappa and Stefan Frei. I looked like I belonged. If I kept cool and played the part they’d talk to me, and they did. It was intoxicating. In the media scrum in the hallway, I spoke with Clint Dempsey. I made eye contact, asked a question, and he answered. It wasn’t the Sounders-Timbers I knew, the elation and the passion, but rather a part of the game most fans never see. We had all just seen Deuce on TV, playing in Brazil and chatting with Letterman. Now he was talking to me. I wasn’t a fan or random stranger, but a journalist with an official place in the ecology of sport.

Leaving directly from the bowels of the stadium, still a-tizzy from all the commotion, I crossed the humid parking lot to meet up with my wife. She was waiting at the Chinese place we go to after games. I looked back to see Century Link alight and brilliant in the dusk. A couple was walking away from me holding hands in the wrong color green, and the busker at the stairs to the overpass was covering the Counting Crows. I hitched my bag on my shoulder and walked back to what I knew.

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Sounders vs. Timbers: Cascadia is American Soccer

IMG_0651The American soccer world turned its eyes from Maracana to Cascadia Sunday. The MLS fixture setters hit a masterstroke scheduling their flagship rivalry on the coattails of the World Cup final. The league and sport are growing exponentially and MLS has finally found an identity. Since its inception in 1996, MLS has struggled to find its bedrock support. The league originally courted the Latin population and soccer moms but recently has been seeing the bearded thirty-something on the side.

MLS makes strange bedfellows. Ever since the emergence of urban stadia and the embrace of supporter culture, the original desired demographic, suburban soccer moms and their broods, has grown more and more marginalized. Maybe this is hard to fathom in Sandy, Utah or Bridgeview, Illinois, but Cascadia is at the vanguard of this transition. All three cities, Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland, have downtown temples of soccer where hordes of tattoo’ed, pint-swilling fans throng to their club. It makes for an almost comical juxtaposition: rowdies stumbling from pubs to join pig-tailed suburban cherubs at the game. Sunday amongst the dives and greasy spoons of Sodo, with all the cameras of ESPN fixated on the returned American heroes Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin, the league finished waffling and finally embraced the hooligan.

Soccer lives in the Northwest. Supporter culture, for lack of a better term, grows strong amongst craft beers, coffee and artisanal cheeses. The organic growth of the Seattle-Portland rivalry is just another example of the region’s fecundity. Seattle-Portland has become the taproot of the league. The supporters truly hate each other’s clubs. It is more than the Cascadia Cup, more than Western Conference supremacy; it is about hurting the other team.

I don’t ever want to just beat the Timbers.

The rivalry was recently at a shaky equilibrium. Portland got Seattle good last year knocking us out of the playoffs. They can savor that for a looong time. But vengeance is a dish best served cold and the Sounders are slowly and methodically avenging that loss.

Things looked grime back on April 5th. Portland was on the verge of their first win of the season, holding a 4-2 advantage over Seattle into the 85th minute. The Timbers were about to settle into their winning ways and do so with another, their third straight, win over Seattle. Then Clint Dempsey happened. Us Sounders fans enjoyed some schadenfreude as we used that dramatic draw to ignite a hellacious run, winning 10 of our next 13 games. We looked down the standings to see our rivals wallowing amongst the cellar dwellers. The Timbers didn’t win for another month and only have four victories on the season. As the Sounders continued cementing their place atop the league table, Portland continued to unravel.

Then Cascadia week happened. We knocked Portland out of the US Open Cup, almost guaranteeing they won’t win any silverware this season. Then we followed that up with Sunday night’s 2-nil drubbing. Now some Oregonians are rumbling about firing Caleb Porter. He isn’t even 12 months removed from being a visionary and a savior. I know I talked up how good it is to have a quality opponent with strong personalities in this rivalry, but hell! If Portland fires Porter specifically for his failures against Seattle… that would almost be too sweet.

I don’t ever want to just beat the Timbers. I want to grind them into the earth like a spent cigarette butt, I want them to miss the playoffs and I want Seattle to deliver the killing blow. I want Portland to finish at the bottom of the table for a generation. I want anyone who wears the wrong color green to rue the day they fell in love with Portland.

Seattle-Portland is passion. You can’t market research that or replicate it (sorry New York-D.C.), and that is why MLS has embraced us. Soccer is played with the heart and Cascadia is American soccer.

Seattle 2, Portland 0: All is Right in the World

My newest post is up at Sounders Nation. It is a match recap of last night’s dominant performance over the hated Portland Timbers. Plus I covered the game as a member of the media. Wow. I was on sensory overload with the rivalry and nerding out up in the press box and the bowels of Century Link Field.

P.S. I asked Clint Dempsey a question!!

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Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders Gameday

Same teams, same week, same rivalry. Different cup. I’ll be covering the game for Sounders Nation, and I am excited to be up in the press box. But I am more excited for the chance to remind a national audience that, “We beat Portland.”

C’mon Seattttlllle!

FIGHT! AND WIN!!

Writing History: A New Chapter in the Epic of Cascadia

History is being made in the storied Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers rivalry. Face it America, Sounders-Timbers is THE rivalry in American soccer. The supporters hate each other and both teams have outlandish personality. Seattle bedecks the feud with Captain America Clint Dempsey and wizened coach Sigi Schmid. Portland trots out the insufferable twins: Will Johnson and Caleb Porter.

We are currently in the dog days of the Cascadia war. Wednesday night was round one of the marquee matchup and it felt so good as Seattle punched Portland in the mouth. Sigi said it himself; knocking the Timbers out of the 2014 Open Cup was revenge for them knocking us out of the 2013 MLS Cup playoffs. Eliminating a rival from a cup competition is always sweet, but to me MLS takes precedence. I’d gladly have traded Wednesday’s night dramatic victory for the memory of beating the crowing Timbers in the first year of the Caleb Porter regime.

Porter is such a tool. When he wins he brags like a hopped-up frat boy and when he loses it’s always someone else’s fault. Last night it was the ref’s fault. It really chaffs my nuts that Porter arrived in Portland lauded as a visionary coach and then followed through by delivering the Western Conference crown, a playoff series victory and the sweet fortune of delivering the deathblow to your hated rival.

It is no secret I loath Caleb Porter. Before you go thinking I need anger management or something, consider the health of our rivalry now that we have such powerful personalities on either side. I loved how inept John Spencer was. He was a comical Scot who we could always count on to beat But the rivalry was so lopsided then and Spenny was too much the butt of jokes. He didn’t engender real passion from Soundersland. Porter? He’s a schmuck and so easy to hate. That is good for Cascadia.

It is a privilege to part of this rivalry. And the story needs to be peopled with memorable characters and talented players. Sigi, before the arrival of Clint Dempsey, was the face of the Sounders and now Portland has an equally noteworthy coach. I hate to admit it but when Portland is competitive, the rivalry grows. Seattle’s stars are Dempsey and Obafemi Martins and allegedly the Timbers’ star is Darlington Nagbe.

When Nagbe equalized at the death (scoring his first goal of the season among all competitions, btw), it escalated my blood pressure but cemented the game’s status. Wednesday became a milestone. But… is Nagbe that special? He has one goal in 21 games. And yet he’s supposedly this precocious talent who’s just about to bloom. Wake me up when he does. Maybe I’m gonna jinx it and Nagbe will finally become the player Portland desperately, desperately imagines him to be. But ff we compare Nagbe to a former up-and-coming Cascadian talent, Fredy Montero, the Liberian pales to the Colombian:

In 56 games over his first two seasons, Montero scored 22 goals for the Rave Green.
In 112 games over his entire 3.5 seasons in MLS, Nagbe has 17 goals for the wrong color green.

Fredy was pouring goals in as a young Sounder in 2009 and 2010 before he transitioned from prospect to star. 2010 was Fredy’s age 23 season, as 2014 is for Nagbe. So… when do we stop labeling Nagbe as precocious and rather just a “pretty okay player”?

For one night, at least, Nagbe played big in a big game. That too is good for the rivalry. He Portlanded us. If it was a regular league game, draw city would’ve earned the draw. But thanks Darlington. You allowed us Cascadians to write a new chapter in our fabulous story. You allowed the game to go toextra time. You allowed Diego Chara to act the fool all of us in the Sound know he is and foul Marco Pappa. Then former Timber Kenny Cooper and transcendent new Sounder Pappa got to pile it on and light the biggest bonfire the north has ever seen. That is, at least until Sunday.

Seattle Beat Portland!

Your Seattle Sounders beat the insufferable Portland Timbers 3-1 in extra time last night near the banks of the Green River.

You already know this because I am posting late. I apologize for not giving you a prompt and thorough Raving perspective on the action. It’s been a busy week at the homestead. Luckily, we’ll see the rivalry renewed on Sunday. Let’s do it again.

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Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers: The Thrilla in Tukwila

Tonight the Seattle Sounders face the hated Portland Timbers down in Tukwila in the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup.

This week is going to be intense. Two Portland games in one week and both count. Faced with such circumstances, I often find myself as a fan making these bargains with the devil:

I can’t imagine losing either game, so hopefully at worst we just draw both.
We can’t tie the Open Cup game.
Okay… We win the Open Cup, but tie the league game.
Are you saying that the Open Cup means more than the Cascadia Cup and the MLS table?
Maybe?
Ok. We win the Open Cup game on penalties and barely scrap by Sunday night as well.
Cool. Two wins I like it.
Don’t you think we’re being greedy?

My dual personalities aside, both games are going to be wild. The Timbers finally want to get their season rolling and the Sounders want to continue their march to glory. Coach Sigi Schmid has shown a complete willingness to start veterans in midweek Open Cup games, but this game might be different considering we face Portland again on short rest. “It’s obviously a little bit different because you’re playing two games back-to back,” Schmid said yesterday. “We’re going to put the best team that makes sense with a little bit of an eye towards Saturday [Sunday].” I think Sigi may be blowing smoke on a red herring here. Both Seattle and Portland want a punched ticket to the CONCACAF Champions League and the associated allocation money. Winning the USOC is a surefire to achieve that. And besides, no team wants to lose to their rival under any circumstance, preseason friendly or the playoffs (ugh. don’t mention the playoffs). I expect full-strength squads from both sides.

But Seattle won’t have Clint Dempsey tonight, who’d rather chat up ‘ol Dave Letterman than play at Starfire. I’m kidding here. I do not begrudge Dempsey a slow, confetti-filled return to the lineup. First of all, it is great publicity for the league. Only us diehards are clued in to the match of epic proportions brewing down by the Green River. Dempsey on the Late Show will get many more Americans thinking about soccer (and the Seattle Sounders!). Also the man got the crap kicked out of him in Brazil, so take your time and come back strong Clint.

Seattle will field a much stronger lineup than they sent to BC, as we will have Ozzie Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda back manning the middle. But I doubt DeAndre Yedlin plays. If he does Starfire will go bananas. Unfortunately my wife and I won’t be there for this historic spectacle. After watching the last two Open Cup games live, the rout of PSA Elite and the dramatic slugfest with San Jose, we had to bow out on this one. I teach Wednesday nights and so had to be a “responsible adult” and go to work and not a soccer game. Man, I wanted to yell mean things at Will Johnson. I wanted to give Diego Chara the stink eye so hard he crapped his pants. And of course I want to hear Starfire explode when we fell the Timbers.

DeAndre Yedlin Leaving the Seattle Sounders and MLS in a Lurch

Seattle’s son DeAndre Yedlin appears to be leaving the hometown Seattle Sounders for AS Roma. Ambition. This is about ambition and the complicated intersection of corporate, personal and athletic ambition. MLS wants to grow as a league and needs personalities to market for better television deals. On the heels of his World Cup success, DeAndre Yedlin seems the perfect media-friendly and marketable megawatt star. However Yedlin is a supernova of soccer talent and, like any trained competitor, seeks the next challenge. Europe offers the traditional “next step” for talented American soccer players and Yedlin would join Donovan, Howard, Dempsey and Bradley as THE overseas American. Lastly, Soccer in the United States seems to finally be ascending to its rightful place in the forefront of the national consciousness and needs homegrown stars to anchor this growth.

I can’t hope to explore all of this in one post, so I am going to chew on this topic bit by bit. Today I present my personal angle to the DeAndre Yedlin to AS Roma news. Do I think this transfer is a good thing? No. I do not like it one bit. Yedlin leaving for Europe reinforces the idea that MLS is a mid-major, a farm league for the “better” leagues overseas.

Let me clarify that I honestly wish DeAndre Yedlin the best of luck. I am not responding to him as a person, but rather the idea of him as a player. If he can increase his earning while chasing a dream, more power to him. I wish everyone such fortune. I wish him the best of success and hope he becomes the starting rightback on a name brand European side competing deep into Champions League. That’d be great for him, but not so for MLS.

MLS is becoming relevant. The league was most popular for a brief time following the media explosion that accompanied the Beckham signing. That was an unsustainable windfall of attention dependent on one global icon and a long period of declining interested followed. Lately the league is gaining real popularity. MLS has developed a strong foundation of grassroots interest evidenced by new tv deals and rapid expansion. National team stars like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley are returning, choosing to ply their trade at home. These two prodigal sons returning seemed to be a tipping point, the first evidence of MLS becoming a legitimate league. Now a young, bright, local star is choosing to ditch the league and it smarts. I have heard it argued that MLS has finally beaten the “retirement league” rap, that the league will no longer be defined by the likes of Henry and Beckham pasturing here. That narrative died when Dempsey and Bradley came back. They rocked the paradigm, but Yedlin complicates it. We shouldn’t be bickering about retirement home vs. nursery, we need to flip the script. How can MLS gain legitimacy if it still appears to be a feeder league for Europe?

MLS is intended to be a destination league. Not to sound jingoistic, but America has the money to do what she wants. We have the infrastructure, economy and population to grow a quality league. MLS just needs interest. Interest from the fans in bigger and bigger television deals and interest from prospective players, the kids choosing basketball or football right now. But Yedlin leaving proves that soccer belongs in Europe. A local kid playing soccer may’ve looked at Yedlin and thought, “One day I can play of the Sounders.” Does he now ask, “How soon can I use Seattle to jump overseas?”

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