Month – August 2014

Sounders-Rapids Gameday

The Seattle Sounders face the Colorado Rapids today. I am expecting a full strength lineup, as the week off should have healed the little nicks and scratches and coach Sigi Schmid wants to keep the players in rhythm.

Bold Prediction: I was overly cautious, and even negative, with my prediction for the Portland game. I won’t make that mistake again. Colorado is a tiring fire, while the Sounders are heating back up again. Seattle 3-1 in an easy one.

Seattle Sounders vs. Colorado Rapids Game Preview

The Seattle Sounders play the declining Colorado Rapids this weekend in a game that looks ripe for the taking. The Sounders, seemingly on a skid for the last month, have gotten healthy and dangerous again. They poured in four goals at Portland and six against Chicago and thus resemble the offensive powerhouse we saw earlier in the season. Meanwhile the Rapids have hit a tough skid.

Darlings of the early season, Colorado has now fallen out of playoff position. With injuries mounting, it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll be able to punch their way back to relevance. Which is a bummer. The Rapids were a refreshing team last year. They had up-and-coming young players and a strong coach in Oscar Pareja who had them playing entertaining soccer.

This season has been quite the sea change for Colorado. New coach Pablo Mastroeni focused more on defense than the attack, and for a while things were working out. I wrote earlier of the Rapids:

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.

Finally the Rapids have “stumbled into mediocrity” like so many of us expected. They have lost five straight and only won once in their last nine. They sure look to be playing out the string. Which is great for Seattle. The Sounders have a tough road to hoe if they want to win the Supporters’ Shield in the competitive Western Conference. If the Rapids roll over for the Sounders, so much the better to keep our treble dreams alive.

Clint Dempsey Needs a Breather

Clint Dempsey, star of the Seattle Sounders, is many things, but he’s not a robot. The man needs a breather. Luckily, the Sounders get a lull in the action this week. Seattle, for the first time in along time, has a full week to prepare for Saturday’s game against the Colorado Rapids.

Doctors always say it, naps and rest are very good things. Thus much has been made of Dempsey’s being tired, he even said so much himself. If the Sounders have any hope of building on their unprecedented success this season, they need to rest Dempsey. The best time to do so would be next Wednesday’s game at Chivas. Letting him play hooky from Los Angeles would let him not only avoid travel but give the man 12 days off before we play RSL. Nearly two weeks is long enough time to give Deuce a full break, a vacation not just from games, but from training and reporting to Starfire. Let him take multiple days to go home and see his family. Deuce doesn’t just need physical rest for his body, but mental rest as well.

One of the problems with MLS roster building is that often the best players ply their trade overseas in leagues that don’t match our calendar. When signing one of these players, you are getting an overripe product. Obafemi Martins came in last year like a man possessed before tuckering out by the end of the year, and likewise Dempsey arrived to much fanfare, but was (like Tim Cahill and other mid-season transfers) a shell of his best self.

Now Dempsey is looking at entering his ninth straight month of footballing. He was with Fulham in January, the Sounders in March, the USMNT in June and now on the brink of September is still at it. Sure, most of us punch the clock, day in and day out, and are none the worse for wear. But professional athletes have a different sort of job. They don’t show up for X hours to manage X tasks, and leave their worries at the office. Atheletes are building a project, working towards a singular goal, one season at a time. When that project is over (usually in a failing effort– hell only one time enjoys their offseason every year), these men need time to “regen” as coach Sigi Schmid would say.

Deuce has been seriously invested with not only the 2014 Seattle Sounders, but the 2013 Fulham FC, and the 2014 USMNT. He’s been like a contractor juggling jobs and it is hard to serve more than one master. But you and me? We want him most invested with the Sounders this autumn. We want that treble and we can’t do that with a flagging Deuce.

Clint Dempsey is How Important? or Language Determines Reality

Devin Pleuler, a self-described “data scientist”, wrote a recent article on MLSsoccer.com measuring the importance of a player based on the esoteric stat “centrality.” Now first and foremost, I love esoteric stats. One of my favorite philosophers, up there with Schopenhauer and Spinoza, is Ludwig Wittgenstein. My boy Ludwig dropped knowledge on the intersection between life, language and reality. One of my favorite Wittgenstein quotes is, “Language is a part of our organism and no less complicated than it.” As a poet with an idiosyncratic relationship to oral communication, I’ll co-opt any big brains who makes talking funny sound smartypants.

Language is a living thing, growing and changing. I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face, or unemployed as a composition adjunct, that contemporary grammar and syntax rules are fleeting at best, that OMG will soon be a word, and certain apostrophes soon superfluous. Language does not live in the dictionary (or MS Word’s spellcheck algorithms), it only exists between people. We are communicating regardless of whether we are using words found in Webster’s or syntax applauded by Strunk and White; in fact, the usage of new words and syntax actually represents a more faithful approximation to the reality we currently inhabit, not Shakespeare’s or Wilde’s or Updike’s. We live in a world of McGriddle’s and smartphones, of twerking and LMFAO.

The statistical revolution in American sports started by Bill James and continued by Aaron Schatz, among others, is just another new language. In computer science and sports, advanced metrics are getting us closer to something we collectively share called reality. Pleuler, in his article, applies some of these stats to better understand the value of soccer players in MLS:

The more a player sees of the ball, the more important they usually are. This is common sense.

A coach obviously prefers having their stronger players handle the ball more often than their weaker players. But this is not a cut-and-dry rule. Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley are two of the best players in MLS, but due to differences in positioning they see the ball at significantly different rates.

Dempsey, in matches he has started, has attempted 9.5 percent of Seattle’s overall passes. In contrast, Bradley has attempted a league-leading 16.3 percent of Toronto’s overall attempted passes. This percentile measurement is called “Usage Rate,” and Bradley has been a leader in this category at every stop along his career path.

However, usage rate isn’t perfectly illustrative. It treats every pass between every player exactly the same. One metric that is gaining traction in the soccer analytics community is “Centrality” and its many derivatives. The flavor we will use is “Eigenvector Centrality,” which is a “measure of the influence of a node in a network.” Using the passing networks commonly featured in this series, we can use centrality to calculate just how influential a player’s passes are to their team’s overall ball circulation on a game-by-game basis.

For example, below is the Seattle Sounders network from their 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake this past weekend. Each player’s position is representative of their average touch location through the match. More importantly, the thickness of the lines between players are representative of the volume of passes exchanged between them.

Pleuler takes his time slowly building the pillars of his case and gets you, the reader, invested before bullrushing to his conclusion. This is my problem with the piece.

If you’re gonna have stats-driven analysis, you best earn all those stats. If we are gonna talk using new words, I better be drinking your Kool-Aid, or catching your drift, or down with OPP, see? Numbers don’t work just ‘cause they’re numbers and have some magic pre-imbued in them. Check out the rest of the article at MLSsoccer.com, and tell me if you’re equally confused as to where the hell “expected centrality” comes from?

The Madness of King Caleb Porter

Poor Caleb Porter. The Portland Timbers coach is slowly going mad, one delusional postgame interview at a time. The Seattle Sounders destroyed the Timbers Sunday to the tune of 4-2 despite Portland having everything to play for. With a win, Portland would’ve moved into a playoff position for the first time all year, avenged two straight losses to their hated rivals and earned three precious points in their star-crossed season. But they came out flatter than Kansas (even a pyromaniac Dorothy on the tifo couldn’t help them), and the Sounders were an offensive cyclone.

To any Sounders fan, Porter’s growing loss of perspective has been becoming more clear with each Cascadia clash. After Sunday, a national audience is now privy to the madness of King Caleb. After the rout, Porter said:

“It’s hard to believe that at halftime we were down 2-0 with the way we played,” Porter said. “I thought we came out well. … It seemed like every chance they got today was in the back of the net, and somehow we couldn’t find the frame, so it was a bit of a strange game.”

Hard to believe?! Were we watching the same game? I admit I am no soccer genius, but God gave me eyes in my head and a (semi) rational mind. The Sounders were all up in your base Porter, killing your dudez. Even worse was the report from the ESPN sideline reporter (how crazy was it that sideline reporters were employed during this game?!) at halftime that Porter allegedly said the Timbers had “dominated” the first half. It is one thing, though ambitious and brazen, to try and bend the narrative and claim the game was closer than 2-0 would suggest, but to claim dominance?! Porter has really donned the mad cap this time.

Don’t believe the score line, the game wasn’t as close as it suggests. Seattle was in complete control of the game, allowing Portland to possess to their heart’s content before pouncing on the slightest slip and countering with reckless abandon. The Sounders’ offensive juggernaut had been sputtering in recent matches, but still employs Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, and Marco Pappa. These three have toyed with better teams than Porter’s Timbers all season. And there’s the rub.

Porter coaches with serious hubris. I understand the notion of sticking to your guns and playing to your strengths (and other synonymous sports clichés meaning “don’t worry about the opponent, but yourself”), but stranding an embattled back four to the countering strength of Dempsey, Martins, Pappa and even Brad Evans? I get you want to possess and attack, but… That’s like sticking your finger in a light socket. Don’t be shocked when you get burnt. Evans was the least frightening of our attacking quartet, at least on paper, but he was continuously igniting the counter. He found joy on the right time and time again as Porter’s boys, especially the insufferable Maxi Urruti, forgot their defensive responsibilities. And sure, those mental errors, and the seeming absence of the usually solid Diego Chara and Will Johnson, aren’t exactly Porter’s fault. But a coach must take responsibility for his team’s performance. Professional sports is a cold, cold meritocracy, and only W’s matter.

Thus even the Stumptown Footy faithful are getting a little irked at Porter’s postgame sugar coating:

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 5.24.11 PM

In any other sport, Porter would be laughed out of the job. He repeatedly, after losses, even ones that aren’t close, not only rationalizes away the poor performance but claims the Timbers should’ve won. It was curious at first, but now it is bordering on mad. If Porter was doing this in Cleveland or Buffalo, or football or baseball, the local and national media would skewer him. This alone, sadly, captures the irrelevance of soccer, and MLS, in the American consciousness (and Portland’s decidedly minor-league standing as a sports city), no pundits are calling him out for his postgame shenanigans.

Oh Caleb Porter, thank you for being so entertaining. You are a fabulous addition to this great rivalry. But please, maybe consider toning down the delusions of grandeur, at least enough to convince Merritt Paulson and Gavin Wilkinson about your sanity and competence. As long as you stay employed, you keep Portland a doormat.

THE SEATTLE SOUNDERS ARE KINGS OF CASCADIA!!

Sorry I am late with my post today. I celebrated yesterday’s win over the Timbers by attending the Reign’s playoff game (another smashing success) with my family. Post soon forthcoming.

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The Seattle Sounders are Kings of Cascadia after dispatching the Portland Timbers 4-2 yesterday in Portland.*

*I only mean “kings of Cascadia” figuratively, as in “Seattle is a better team than that other Cascadian team, Portland.” I do not mean that the Sounders, to a man, have now inserted themselves into some patriarchal, monarchical line or achieved primogeniture for our bioregion. I also don’t even care to reference Vancouver, but Seattle did, in fact, move into first-place of the Cascadia Cup rankings with 8 points (though the ‘Caps have two games in hand).

Remember when Portland was thisclose to achieving unquestioned dominance over us? They ran us roughshod in the playoffs last year, and we’re sitting pretty with a 2-goal advantage at home back in April? Well that 4-4 draw feels like many lifetimes, or alternate realities, ago. I am so glad we live in a timestream where Caleb Porter is delusional not a visionary, Portland’s 2013 season was a fluke and the Sounders are the once and future kings.

The national pundits are claiming that Seattle won a “statement game.” I could care less. We beat Portland and we played our way in doing so. The idea that we’re serving notice to the rest of the West or the league just sells ads. The Sounders are in it to win it: the US Open Cup, the Supporters’ Shield, the MLS Cup. We just need to play our game our way and never mind the bullocks.

Sunday was Seattle Sounders soccer. Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey were in lockstep, linking up repeatedly to the tune of four goals. Brad Evans played like a man possessed. He did a perfect DeAndre Yedlin impersonation when he burned passed overhyped Portland CB Liam Ridgewell to feed Martins for Seattle’s first goal. Evans got the assist but he was just the last connection in a 14-pass sequence  that involved the whole team. We attacked as a team and defended as a team. Zach Scott played his heart out, Chad Marshall played through a petty elbow from Norberot Papparatto and we all endured the bratty antics of Maxi Urruti.

Take a week off boys, you earned it. Life is good in the Emerald City.

Seattle Sounders at Portland Timbers Gameday

Voodoo Doughnuts taste like crap. The overly sugary, kooky confections are a microcosm of Portland: all hype, no quality. Top Pot Doughnuts, however, are just well made donuts. Nothing fancy, flashy or hipster, just artisanal confections done the way doughnuts should be. Seattle may not posture like Portland, but it actually delivers.

I’ve been a Philadelphia Eagles fan since before I could wipe my own butt. In sports, hate and rivalry come easy to me. I hate the Dallas Cowboys. I really the New York Giants. But there is no team I loathe more than the Portland f*cking Timbers. From their pretentious “authenticity”, to their hipster fans, douchebag owner and wannbe city, the Timbers are easily the most insufferable team in MLS. Seattle, on the other hand, has class, boatloads of it. The Sounders can ice this year’s series and win one for all things good in the world.

I know you’re tired, I know you’re injured, but c’mon Seattle, fight and win.

Bold Prediction: Ugh. I wish I could be more positive, but I see Portland scoring first and us equalizing in a seesaw match. The Sounders-Timbers rivalry ends with a perfect bookend: another epic draw in draw city: 2-2.

The Final Countdown: Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers Round 4

The Seattle Sounders face their old and hated foes the Portland Timbers on Sunday.

It’s Portland. The last Portland match of the year. I’ll be honest, I could give a rip about the Cascadia Cup right now. Vancouver’s pretty much got that wrapped up and do you actually hold much ire in your heart for our neighbors to the north? Nope, me neither. But Portland? I hate Portland. We drew one, we won one, let’s end this thing and end them.

The Timbers have had a nice little run, getting four results out of their last five games to claw out of the cellar and into the playoff picture. Currently Portland sits just out of contention with 31 points behind Vancouver (33 pts) and L.A. (37). So a win by the boys in the wrong color green puts Portland back in the dance. For now. The ‘Caps and Gals both have games in hand on PDX, but don’t tell that to any Timbers fans. Folks in Stumptown are taking Sunday’s game very, very seriously. I guess you have to when you’re barely clinging to the playoffs and your coach has been revealed to be less than a visionary.

Time and space are conspiring against the Cascadia Rivalry. Seattle and Portland will both be less than 100% as both played midweek games. The Sounders played more recently, Wednesday’s draw against San Jose, but didn’t travel. The Timbers, however, flew all the way to the Caribbean to beat Alpha United, a Guyanese team, in their first ever CONCACAF Champions league match 4-1 on Tuesday. Portland travelled many of their bets players, so there will be tired legs on both teams. Regardless of whether the twenty-two men who take the pitch in Portland are all marquee names or not, the game should live up to the billing.

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On Twitter following Wednesday’s draw, I got into a small conversation regarding the Sounders’ form and forwarded the idea that this team still needs to jell. Let me explain.

The Sounders are more than just their best players. Yes we are two-thirds through the season, so the idea that we are still jelling may seem silly. But you rarely, if ever, get to start your ideal eleven for a sustained playoff run (Shalrie Joseph anyone?). You field who’s available at kickoff and hope it works. Though sometimes it doesn’t, like on Wednesday when too often players were occupying the same space on the field. When Kenny Cooper is playing as a midfielder and Andy Rose is making his third start of the season, you can expect some miscommunication. Sigi even addressed this at the half when he flipped Marco Pappa to the right so his pinching in could be overlapped by DeAndre Yedlin and still provide width in the attack. There is still time to be in experiment mode.

I am grateful the Sounders are working the kinks out with two months to play and sitting in first place. If we were still figuring out lineup combinations with a week to play and on the other side of the playoffs (hello Portland), I’d be pissing myself. But that isn’t the case. What if Rose needs to go in the playoffs because Pineda got hot-headed and saw red? What if Cooper needs to start in the middle or Barrett up top? Do I want to see Oba and Dempsey up top for the full ninety being fed by Pineda and Pappa and Evans from the midfield? Hell yeah! But that may not be a guarantee come autumn. This team has depth but it needs to fine-tune all its different roster permutations.

Seattle has never played a “system” like Porter in Portland or RSL. Sigi lets his players dictate form. So when the personnel changes, so does the attack. With all the games, injuries and suspensions lately, we are just seeing the many faces of the Sounders.

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If you asked the average Sounders fan how the season was going right now, they’d respond with doom and gloom. But somehow we’re still in first place. Somehow we still have the best points-per-game. Somehow we’re still one game from making US Open Cup history. And we’re 48 hours from owning the Seattle-Portland rivalry in 2014. Last year sucked, Portland was our daddy. Let’s make that an aberration, a blip in history. Keep it simple Seattle, beat Portland.

Seattle Sounders Lose 1-1 to San Jose Earthquakes

The Seattle Sounders lost to the San Jose Earthquakes 1-1 last night in their fourth and final matchup of the season. Okay, it only felt like a loss. In reality, Seattle drew and earned a point, which puts them back atop MLS’s Western Conference. But for a tired team in desperate need of momentum and confidence, last night’s result was anything but.

The Sounders continue sputtering and stuttering. Only the turf at the CLink looked refreshed (though some football lines were apparent). Seattle started the game slow and settled for a tie against a team that was begging to be beat. Coach Sigi Schmid started an Open Cup-esque lineup that featured only four players who tallied significant minutes Saturday in Salt Lake (DeAndre Yedlin, Chad Marshall, Ozzie Alonso and Kenny Cooper). Jalil Anibaba started at left back, Kenny Cooper as a wide midfielder (a position which I think well suits him), Andy Rose in central midfield and Chad Barrett up top with Obafemi Martins. The biggest lineup surprise was the absence of Clint Dempsey who only came in for the final 19 minutes. Deuce hadn’t played the previous Wednesday against Chicago and thus had less tread on his tires, but Sigi decided he needed the rest nevertheless. Sigi is not to blame. Considering another quick turn around before Sunday’s big derby with Portland, resting regulars was a solid decision and this lineup should’ve won.

The Sounders are tired. I am fixture weary, as the Sounders’ schedule has been so packed lately that most of my posts have been either match previews or match recaps (with very little room for my regular pontifications on culture, economics, etc.). If this blogger is tired of this slog of games you know the players are too. Seattle’s fatigue was most evident in the final third. San Jose started a woefully depleted lineup and all we could manage was one goal on a team that hemorrhaged five last week to FC Dallas. Though Seattle poured in 24 shots, Earthquakes keeper Jon Busch was barely tested, as only 7 were on frame. I repeat, less than a third of Seattle’ shots actually went towards goal. We kept forcing desperate shots instead of creating quality looks. We iced our one good look, when Obafemi Martins fed Chad Barrett in the 45th minute. But it is a problem when a forward is the only one providing quality service to the forwards. Sigi discussed this in his postgame press conference, citing a lack of quality passes from the midfield, “There’s not enough of those balls coming from our midfielders.” This team needs to get their groove back.

Seattle just isn’t winning the games they used to. Draws have been rare (even more so at home) for a team that always found a way to put the ball in the back of the net. Potentially the team has been too dependent on their attacking stars. Wade Webber, on the postgame radio show, said Seattle’s  “been relying more on individual brilliance than teamwork.” And I hate to admit it, but he’s right. DeAndre Yedlin played a helluva game, as he and a playmaking Obafemi Martins were the best players on the pitch. But two quality players do not a team make.

Seattle must do better on short rest in Portland. It’s disgusting to think about, but the Timbers must be salivating.

San Jose Earthquakes at Seattle Sounders Gameday

The Seattle Sounders face the San Jose Earthquakes tonight in a game that, let’s be frank, they should win. Champions win the games they’re supposed to. You can’t regularly drop points to the cellar dwellers and expect to be relevant come autumn. The superfluous Heritage Cup is at stake, but more important is Seattle’s champion bona fides.

I hate to admit it but the Seattle Sounders are a paper tiger. They have the brand and the following and some pretty accomplishments, but they’ve never dominated when it mattered. They’ve never won MLS Cup. Year after year they make the playoffs and year after year they crumble. Last season Seattle suffered the worst late-season flop in professional sports since the Philadelphia Phillies of 1964. Tonight the Sounders can reverse this trend by proving they belong in the championship conversation.

Frankly, I want a hat trick from Clint Dempsey. He has been bone dry since returning from USMNT duty. Deuce has started five games, going the full ninety (or 89+) in each, and only has one goal and an assist. His best game in this stretch may have been at San Jose when he had 7 shots (3 on goal) and was just unlucky to get skunked. Deuce has always been a streaky scorer, and now is the time for him to shake this jag. Remind everyone why you make the big bucks #2, and put this team on your back.

What should we expect from tonight’s game? First, San Jose has completed their transformation from boot-and-chase to something that actually resembles soccer. Former Bash Brother Alan Gordon was traded to the L.A. Galaxy last week and new DP Matias Perez Garcia scored in his debut and was just ruled out 4-6 weeks with a torn meniscus (updated 5:20 PDT). Other than that, the Quakes remain in similar shape to the last time we played them. Like two weeks ago, former USMNT center back Clarence Goodson is still injured, although until last week’s 5-0 thrashing at the hands of FC Dallas the Earthquakes’ backline had performed well in his absence.

San Jose is playing for nothing but pride at this point in the season. They’ll be even more pissed in the wake of last week’s pasting. Great. All the Sounders need is a pissed-off Earthquakes team laying the lumber on some tired Rave Green legs.

Bold Prediction: Luckily Yannick Djalo, who scored the lone goal in the last meeting between these two teams, remains questionable to play with an injury. Though Seattle wasn’t able to unlock this team in San Jose, they’ll do so early and often in SoDo. Seattle 3-1: Deuce disappoints with only a brace.

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