Month – July 2014

The Seattle Sounders Play Ugly in Beautiful British Columbia

The Seattle Sounders fell one-nil to their Cascadia rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps. We are lucky as Sounders fans to support a team that can legitimately win lots of silverware this season: the US Open Cup, the Cascadia Cup, Supporters Shield and MLS Cup (and Hell, throw in that useless Heritage Cup as well). Losing doesn’t help any of those campaigns. Saturday was only our fourth loss this season and we’re gonna lose a couple, right? We don’t live a magical charmed existence where our favorite team never loses.

BUT… this loss hurt. It felt like we dropped more than just three points. We lost to a Western Conference foe. We lost to a Cascadia rival. According to my calculations, we dropped nine points: three in Cascadia, three in the Western Conference, and three in the Supporters’ Shield race). Maybe we’re all getting a little greedy here, but the team looked bad in defeat.

Seattle played ugly. It was the first game in a long time where the Sounders were clearly the thugs. We fouled the ‘Caps 21 times to their 12. 21-12, let that sink in. Though at times I felt we couldn’t fart near a blue shirt or referee Baldomero Toldeo would whip out the whistle, the Sounders were moonlighting as cheap shot artists up in BC. Even with a ref picking nits, doubling your opponent’s fouls is poor form.

Chad Barrett went the full ninety for the first time all season, but didn’t drape himself in glory. He didn’t catch up the critical eye of coach Sigi Schmid, but I was disappointed in Barrett’s play. Sure he was pesky, but he was rarely dangerous. Worse he kept losing his cool and giving up needless fouls. At least four times Toledo blew his whistle, Barrett walked away huffy ‘cause he knew he pulled a cheap shot. He was frustrated, sure, but stopping the play and ceding free kicks in no way to chase the game.

The most frustrating part of Saturday was that our usual studs were duds. Kenny Cooper, like Sigi said, was a non-factor. Sigi also criticized Lamar Neagle, who disappeared for large portions of the first half. Then Neagle came out after the break playing like the 253 we know and love. Unfortunately he took a hard knock and had to come out. I didn’t realize at the time how much that might’ve changed the game. We ended up not fielding any forwards, Cooper, Barrett, Neagle or Weaver, dangerous enough to win us the game.

Vancouver keeper David Ousted didn’t sweat all night. Our only two promising shots, Neagle’s scorcher right after the break and Marco Pappa looking for the top corner at the death, both missed the mark. Our attackers did a crap job of making Ousted earn his beer money. Seattle took just as many shots as Vancouver, 17. But only one of ours was on target as opposed to the ‘Caps who pumped seven at Stefan Frei. We forced Ousted to make only one save?! I know Cooper and Barrett aren’t Dempsey and Oba. And I know not having a legitimate threat like Oba allows teams to shut down Barrett and Neagle. But these guys, with or without a DP next to them, should still know to kick the ball at the net.

Another problem was our inability to win duels in the midfield. The ‘Caps smoked us 64%-55% in duels won. Normally I don’t put much credence in that stat, but taken within the context of missing both Ozzie Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda, the stat tells the story. Michael Azira did his best filling in, but Azira isn’t Ozzie. He started sloppy but, I was impressed, he did eventually find the game. I have not been a big Azira fan, but he acquitted himself admirably. Captain Brad Evans also was solid in the middle. But Evans in the middle put Jalil Anibaba at rightback. Anibaba was serviceable, he did nothing wrong, he just wasn’t very useful in the attack. He pushed forward but couldn’t execute a solid cross.

Deep breathe. Let’s focus on the positive and practice gratitude. Marco Pappa was all over the field. That man had hustle and flair. He is a quality footballer and I am proud he wears the Rave Green. Chad Marshall was a rock, as always. Tristan Bowen, finally getting minutes and looking like a demolition man, was a pleasant surprise. Lastly, Stefan Frei came up with HUGE saves. The Whitecaps made him work and he had a solid job at the office. Frei kept us in this game, and it’s a shame we didn’t steal a result to reward him.

****

Big week this week. Portland week. Two games and they’re both huge. Also you may have heard a little something about DeAndre Yedlin taking a Roman holiday… lots to talk about this week. Stay tuned Raving readers! Same Rave time, same Rave channel!

Seattle Sounders at Vancouver Whitecaps, Part Deux

The Seattle Sounders face the Vancouver Whitecaps today in a game that impacts much more than the MLS table. Put away your red, white and blue. Today we celebrate Cascadia, but despite the revelry, the Sounders have business to take care of. Seattle cannot, cannot, lose this game. Vancouver currently leads the Cascadia Cup standings with four points, followed by us with two and Portland with one lonely point. The Caps can take quite a commanding lead if they snatch all three points at home.

The Sounders need our support. MLS is back in full-swing and the Cascadia Cup rests for no man. But after giving my all to the Stars and Stripes throughout the World Cup, I am low on root juice. I need to confess, I wasn’t too invested in last week’s game at DC. It was only an Eastern Conferences foe and we had such a points cushion that if we had lost, c’est la vie. The win was a very pleasant surprise. But today a win would be absolutely incredible, and I’d be ecstatic with a draw.

I don’t want to say I expect a loss, but the unsettled midfield is frightening. Neither Osvaldo Alonso or Gonzalo Pineda are allowed to take the pitch due to yellow card accumulation. Alonso is absolutely the engine of the Seattle midfield, but Pineda has been vital as well. He does not grab your attention with crunching tackles or breathless passes, but he muscles around and threads key passes under the radar. Alonso and Pineda have been the Seattle central midfield in 2014, as they have only missed a combined 38 minutes this entire season.

Who the Sounders pencil into the midfield is a mystery, but whoever it is will be a drop in quality. Pineda and Alonso are Sigi’s first choice for a reason. Mr. Sounder Brad Evans would be the best replacement as he has boatloads (yacht loads?) of experience in the engine room. But with rising superstar DeAndre Yedlin just returning from Brazil, and Jalil Anibab covering the injured Djimi Traore at centerback, Evans remains our best option at rightback. This game would be perfect for Andy Rose. Rose has improved his play every year and was solid in his sparse time this season. Unfortunately he isn’t match fit as he’s currently recovering from knee surgery. Without clear options, Sigi will need to get mighty creative.

We have lauded our depth this year and today, in a crucial Cascadian Clash, it’ll be tested. Maybe we see David Estrada at rightback like we did in the Open Cup game against PSA Elite allowing Evans to play in midfield. I wouldn’t be surprised with a shocking roster move. Whoever we start, I’ll be nervous. We’re fielding a very, very different squad from usual and I just don’t know how quickly these eleven can gel and perform. Soccer is a game of improvisation and communication.

If I had to take a wild stab at the starting eleven (and let’s be honest, I get paid the big blogger bucks to do so), here’d be my best guess:

Frei

Gonzalez, Marshall, Scott, Anibaba

Pappa, Evans, Azira, Neagle.

Oba, Cooper

 

After all that hand wringing regarding the midfield, my toughest choice was at forward. I went with Kenny Cooper because he complements Obafemi Martins better. Chad Barrett has just been money lately, but… he is kind of a poor man’s Oba: a short, muscular forward who is both creative and pesky. Cooper looks like a target man but acts like a winger. He’ll operate wide of the box and draw attention before feeding the marauding Martins.

Bold Prediction: Is the lineup good enough to win? Yes. Vancouver has come out of the World Cup break ice cold after a solid start. That is one of the fears of the big break, would it kill momentum? The Sounders had the most to lose momentum-wise, but have used the Open Cup to stay sharp. Even a cross-country trip against the East-leading United didn’t slow them down. What’s a little lineup change? Sounders start shaky, but focus on defense and hold on for 1-1 draw.

Celebrating the US of A and the USMNT

Since the World Cup kicked off three weeks ago, I’ve been celebrating the good ‘ol U.S. of A a lot more than usual. Usually I reserve the Fourth for my red, white and blue regalia. I have one stars and stripes bandana, one pair of stars and stripes Kanye shades (or Macho Man Randy Savage shades for those who know!), and my “through the perilous fight” scarf I picked up at the US-Panama World Cup qualifier last summer.  I have been wearing all of these regularly as I cheered on our boys. It’ll feel funny to don the attire with no USMNT match to catch on the boob tube.

The US is all abuzz with the USMNT. Grantland writer Kirk Goldsberry wrote a piece on the US-Belgium match’s strong Nielsen ratings. Surprisingly (at least to this writer) Goldsberry notes that the game was far more popular on the East Coast:

Nobody had World Cup fever as much as New Yorkers. The USA-Belgium match drew a huge 15.0 rating there, by far the highest mark anywhere in the country. Here are the top five markets according to today’s data:

1. New York: 15.0

2. Hartford/New Haven: 13.2

3. Washington, D.C.: 12.8

4. Richmond/Petersburg: 12.3

5. Boston: 12.2

Those eastern cities outpaced all other locations, and in general it’s fair to say that watching the game was more popular on the East Coast than anywhere else. The match garnered over a 10.0 in 15 markets, and of those 15, 13 are in the eastern time zone, where the match started at 4 p.m., a reasonably acceptable time to stop working for the day.

I’m glad he points out the impact of time zones. As a West Coast chauvinist and soccer evangelist, I was embarrassed to see the disproportionate amount of support coming from east of the Rockies. Seattle was particularly unimpressive in their televised support of the Yanks, ranking below L.A., the Bay, and Vegas. I know, first hand, that no city loves soccer the way Seattle loves soccer. Thus my embarrassment. But, at least we outpaced that shriveled little lumber town down south.

 

Anywho, Happy Fourth Everyone. Go eat a hotdog and join a parade!

DeAndre Yedlin Still Looking Good in Stars and Stripes in 2018

The media is in a tizzy about the USMNT. This is a good thing.

If you are going mad with two straight day without topflight soccer, entertain yourself with these Game of Thrones-inspired soccer kits.

These are really well done. The mandarin collar on the Martell jerseys is a small touch, but it adds a lot. The Night’s Watch has gotta be the sickest kit. What position would John Snow play? Ravenous attacking mid? My second favorite might be the pink polka-dotted Bolton kit. You still gotta have your sausage to rock pink. My least favorite is probably House Targaryen. It is a fine looking jersey but reminds me too much of a certain team from the south’s red home kit.

Grant Wahl wrote one of those fast-flash-forward articles at Sports Illustarted where he explores the potential 2018 USMNT World Cup roster. The Stars and Stripes would get a little more Seattle with Kelyn Rowe and Jordan Morris joining DeAndre Yedlin and Clint Dempsey:

Goalkeepers (3): Cody Cropper, Brad Guzan, Bill Hamid

Defenders (8): Matt Besler, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Greg Garza, Omar Gonzalez, Fabian Johnson, Will Packwood, DeAndre Yedlin

Midfielders (7): Michael Bradley, Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud, Luis Gil, Julian Green, Joe Gyau, Kelyn Rowe

Forwards (5): Juan Agudelo, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Aron Jóhannsson, Jordan Morris

…although he will be 35 by then, captain Clint Dempsey could also be on the roster. His style is more conservative physically, which should allow him to continue playing for four more years at the international level. At the very least, the team could use his experience and leadership in what would be his fourth World Cup. If his form dips significantly, though, Klinsmann has shown he isn’t afraid to cut ties with an established star and there’s nothing stopping him from giving Dempsey the Landon Donovan treatment if others in the player pool narrow the gap.

…Another young player with an exciting future is highly touted U-21 forward Jordan Morris, currently playing at Stanford, but who was pictured in training with the senior national team during its pre-World Cup camp in Palo Alto, Calif., this spring.

Wahl brings up an interesting point about roster churn. Klinsmann, if retained as coach as expected, may hold onto more players much like Bruce Arena did between 2002 and 2006. It certainly seems this roster was built with one eye on the future, and some roster stability would be great for sustaining success.

USMNT and the World Cup Postmortem

It is always tough to wake up after a gut-wrenching loss. Losing at the World Cup is even worse because it’ll be at least four year before you get another crack at it. 2018 can’t come soon enough.

My newest piece is up at Sounders Nation. I wrote a World Cup postmortem that explores Klinsmann, why we failed and our improving roster. Let me know what you think of it.

The Dream Deferred

The USMNT fell to Belgium 2-1 in late drama.

All the believing in the world didn’t pull us past the Red Devils. Ian and Taylor were right, Tim Howard stood on his head, with one hand and underwater, to see us through. It wasn’t enough.  Here’s to 2018 when Yedlin and Green power us to a Red and White and Blue championship!

USMNT vs Belgium: The Stars and Stripes Are Rising

The USMNT faces Belgium today in the World Cup’s Sweet Sixteen. Germany’s wacky 2-1 finish over lowly Algeria proves that knockout games are never easy. But win or lose, American soccer is already ascendant. Before 1990, we rarely qualified for the World Cup, but now it is almost automatic. Getting out of the Group Stage used to be a goal, but now the USMNT has clinched consecutive Sweet Sixteens for the first time ever. Granted, we don’t want to settle for merely making the Knockout Round (right Mexico?), but progress is being made. We can fast-forward the rebuild with a win today over Belgium.

Belgium fields a sturdy squad. They cleaned our clocks last May and went undefeated in Group Play. Should we be scared? The Red Devils are chock-full of young guns, but a little like Portugal, they aren’t a solid team. They won the Group of Meh with three one-goal victories. Whereas, we gritted our teeth and advanced past some of the world’s best sides. Jurgen Klinsmann heads up a solid team right now, as the Stars and Stripes have a winning blend of young talent and veteran savvy. To make a long story short, we can win this game. Other than waffles, what do we owe Belgium? Stella Artois? The insistent misspelling of “cider”? Bastogne? We owe Belgium nothing! Let’s win this game boys!!

Bold Prediction: Clint Dempsey has given his penance stare before every game. Jozy Altidore is cleared to play. Omar Gonzalez looked superlative in solidifying the backline. DeAndre Yedlin has only just begun to show the world what he can do. The Yanks come marching in 2-1. I believe. I believe that. I believe that we. I believe that we will win!

****

If you are going nuts before kickoff with stress and anticipation, distract yourself with this article about Landon Donovan. Local Sounders writer Jeremiah Oshan penned this stellar piece for SB Nation in which Donovan admits to cheering against the USMNT having mixed emotions about the USMNT’s success. As you know, I wrote an article in full support of Donovan, denouncing Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to cut him from the squad. Oshan’s piece is a fabulous corollary to mine. But if my bold prediction holds true, I will need to be writing an apology to Klinsmann. I have never been so eager to eat crow.

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