Month – August 2014

A Tale of Two Seattles

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

-Charles Dickens

Much hand wringing is taking place in Seattle as the Sounders head into tomorrow’s match against the San Jose Earthquakes. Gone are the expectations of dominance that the earlier run of eleven results in twelve games engendered. Now Sounders fans don’t know what to expect from game to game: we stumble to Vancouver but beat Portland. We trash Chicago but lose to RSL.

Now is the time to get angsty. The schedule is unrelenting, as the Sounders will play their fourth game in eleven days on Wednesday. Such fixture congestion will certainly lead to injuries and this comes right as the Sounders were hoping to be kicking the injury bug. Djimi Traore, Leo Gonzalez, and Chad Marshall had been in and out the trainer’s room before and now we can add Brad Evans and Marco Pappa to the list of walking wounded.

The defense has gotten leaky and the offense has dried up. Be prepared, I am going to cite some small sample sizes (a statistical faux pas, but we’re painting a picture rather than building an objective case): in the last six league games the Sounders have given up 7 goals while only scoring 5. Simply put we’re scoring less than a goal a game, while giving up a little over that. Whereas in the previous five games, we scored a whopping 11 goals (over 2 per game) and only ceded 4 (less than 1 per). Certainly we could dig deep to find some causal relationships (no Chad Marshall equals more goals given up), but the short story is Seattle needs to get back in form. Goals mean results.

Points need to be earned. Currently RSL and Sporting Kansas City have earned more than the Sounders. Hell even Dallas is one win away from surpassing Seattle. And don’t cite games in hand. I don’t care about them. We had games in hand all of last season and it didn’t amount to a side of fries at the end. However, to complicate your angst is the fact that things are looking good in Sounderland.

Now is the time to relax and enjoy the season. Seattle beat Chicago in uproariously easy fashion in last week’s US Open Cup Semifinal. Seattle is now in their fifth USOC Final in six years with a very realistic chance of winning it all and punching their ticket to the CONCACAF Champions League. This means allocation money which means sustained investment in quality players, coaches and infrastructure.

Good things are still happening. The Sounders still lead the league in points-per-game, and would still do so even if they lose to San Jose. The Sounders’ next five games are against the West and wins will easily erase their recent stumbles. Three of those games are at home and one is at Chivas USA, so the Sounders can realistically expect to bank 10 points. Players are getting healthy. Andy Rose is fit again and looking great. His performance against Chicago, both on offense and defense, was simply spectacular. No matter the opponent, Chad Barrett continues to be a potent super sub and the solid Chad Marshall is back to match fitness.

To paraphrase Chuck Dickens, “The Sounders ain’t dead yet (or was that John Cleese?).”

Seattle Sounders Fall From First Place

After Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake, the Seattle Sounders’ easy flight to the MLS Cup has hit turbulence. What was once a ten-point Supporters’ Shield lead and acres of breathing room in the Western Conference have become second place in the West and third for the league.

The Sounders played well enough to win at Rio Tinto. They just didn’t. The Sounders made some stupid errors, but were dangerous late in the game and pounded the Salt Lake goal with shots. I am not digging for moral victories, but there is no shame in showing up and putting forth a fine fight. Especially considering the schedule congestion. Though it’s curious because we blamed the long layoff between meaningful games for the slaughter at the hands of Los Angeles. Now we’re blaming too little time-off for this recent loss to RSL.

The bigger loss from Saturday was that of Seattle’s aura of invincibility. Way back on July Thirteenth, after beating Portland 2-nil, I looked Clint Dempsey in the eyes and greedily asked if the locker room was talking about the Shield. He said then, “You don’t win championships by talking about them” and the last month has proven him right. Those in the Soundersphere, myself included, have been talking about silverware and the treble and it has gotten us nothing but four losses in our last six league games.

8/16 1-2 RSL
8/10 2-0 Houston
8/2   0-1  San Jose
7/26 0-3 LA
7/13 2-0 Portland
7/5   0-1 Vancouver

That said, I don’t think we should draw any macrocosmic conclusions from this recent run of form. The implication behind the “Seattle has lost 4 of 6” statistic falls somewhere between slightly misleading and a damn lie. These results stretch back to and include the World Cup, Marshall’s injury, the Levi’s Field circus, US Open Cup play, and the DeAndre Yedlin contract distraction. Yes, what was once unquestioned dominance in the league, and especially the Western Conference, has regressed to a relinquishing of the pole positions, but this is merely regression to the mean. It was fun to think we had some super team, immune to the parity of MLS, but that can never be the case. Our earlier performance was unsustainable.

The last month hasn’t been easy, as injuries and distractions have been a constant. But good teams dig deep and get ‘er done.  Just “putting forth a fine fight” won’t win silverware. The Sounders (and 45 thousand faithful) show up every game every season, but that hasn’t meant much towards winning the championships this team aspires to. It may be neo-platonic bullcrap but champions muster the will to win.

It’s the dog days of the season. Game after game after game after game, the Sounders punch the clock, answer the bell and take to the pitch. They host San Jose again on Wednesday, their fourth game in eleven days, and the three points at stake are all of a sudden precious. I don’t want to chicken little, but Wednesday against the San Jose Earthquakes has become a must-win for Seattle’s confidence, if not their aura of dominance.

Seattle Sounders At Real Salt Lake Match Preview

The Seattle Sounders face Real Salt Lake in a clash for dominance in MLS’s Western Conference. At stake is the number one spot on the table, which Seattle has held for the last five months. Seattle sits at 41 points and Salt Lake at 39, but with a win today, the Claret and Cobalt would be Kings of the West.

 

Fortune may not favor Seattle. The last time the Sounders played a big six-pointer with a premier Western foe, the L.A. Galaxy trounced them 3-0. Seattle is also playing their third game in seven days and has to travel to inhospitable Rio Tinto Stadium where they haven’t won since 2011. Seattle will not have the services of star striker Obafemi Martins, as they try to end RSL’s five game unbeaten streak.

RSL is looking strong coming into the back nine. They routed Eastern Conference powerhouse D.C. United 3-0 last weekend and have scored nine goals on their unbeaten run. However their star, and the tip of their potent diamond midfield, Javier Morales may be left out of the lineup with an injury.

Bold Prediction: I want to go with my heart and say, “Seattle takes them all!” But I get paid the big blogger bucks to provide insightful analysis (not unfettered homerism). RSL is a quality side, with or without Morales. Seattle has played a lot of soccer lately and faces another midgame week upcoming. I see another brain fart game in Sandy: RSL 3-2.

The History of the US Open Cup

Still basking in the Seattle Sounders’ annihilation of the Chicago Fire in Wednesday’s US Open Cup Semifinal, I came across this brilliant article by Graham Parker. Parker wrote it for Al Jazeera America last year before D.C. United beat Real Salt Lake in the USOC Final. The article details the history, appeal and adversity of America’s oldest soccer tournament.

Josh Hakala proposes an image most American sports fans could conceive seeing only in movies.

“Imagine a tournament,” he said, “where the New York Yankees are forced to play a minor league baseball team in a game that really matters — and they lose.”

His respect for the competition goes beyond the desire to win a trophy to a recognition that the continuity of the Open Cup in some ways stands for all the unsung players, coaches, fans and administrators who somehow kept the idea of soccer alive in America, even during the dark times. When he became a coach, many of his new coaching colleagues were old enough to have been players when soccer’s top-level prospects in the United States looked remote.

“My peers, so to speak, are part of that so-called lost generation who played on that indoor circuit, who took that bus to Albany, who took that bus down to Florida, sleeping on the bus, eating at Denny’s,” he recalled. “I hear that from the coaches I interact with day to day, and I respect that and realize how fortunate we are for all the steps, leagues and players that have helped us get where we are with MLS. I’m excited about our cup run, and as a coach, I put out my best team for it, and I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for this tournament.”

Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said he sees room for improvement in how the tournament is “formatted, treated and viewed” but is a fan of the cup.

“I think the idea of the U.S. Open Cup is a great one. I love that it’s all levels of the game, starting from the amateurs to the semipros,” he said at a press conference Monday. “I love that we have that trophy, and I think it’s a great one.”

The question of how to follow the tournament is a vexing one: The final will be broadcast on the cable channel Gol TV, but most earlier rounds can be found only by watching local online streams of wildly varying quality or following on Twitter.

Still, “even the worst streams are better than it was 10 years ago when I started the site. We’d literally be calling clubs up two days later to ask, ‘What was the score?’ because there was so little coverage,” Hakala said. “But it would be great if someone had the vision to see what’s unique about this tournament and could step up with a TV deal. In time, it really has the potential to capture the nation’s imagination like a March Madness or something like that. It’s an amazing tournament. It’s survived every attempt to kill it, and it’s still going after 100 years.”

Looking ahead to the next century of tradition, Salt Lake’s Kreis hopes to see the tournament take a more prominent position in American soccer.

“When you look at the FA Cup and the history that it has over in England — I think we should be doing everything to emulate that trophy and impart importance to the tournament,” he said. “But we need the leadership to do that. We need the people that put on the tournament from Round 1 to the final (to do it) because, honestly, it feels to me that it’s just now that we’re in the final, now it’s a real game.”

Check out the rest of the article, it is a fine read. Al Jazeera also has a nifty slide show about the history of the Open Cup that features the Sounders. Hopefully Seattle makes makes Open Cup history next month in Philadlephia.

DeAndre Yedlin Transfers and the Sounders Near Ascension

The Seattle Sounders rolled to an emphatic victory against the Chicago Fire last night in the semifinals of the US Open Cup. In winning, Seattle clinched their fifth berth in the USOC finals in 6 years. The Sounders will meet the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park in Chester, PA on September 16th for the Open Cup Championship.

I am starting to get cocky. Yes Seattle lost the “coin flip” and must travel for the final. I don’t want to get overly confident more than a month from the match, but this is a very winnable game. Philly in 2014 is not SKC in 2012. Yes sometimes the lesser team wins (see D.C. United vs. RSL, 2013), and yes travel means we won’t benefit from the Tukwila hoodoo, and yes, Ricardo Salazar may even referee the match (it’s a possibility), but the Sounders look like a strong bet to be hoisting the Lamar Hunt Cup in mid-September.

Seattle would be joining some lofty company if they win their fourth USOC title in sixyears. Bethlehem Steel and Maccabi Los Angeles are the only teams in the 100+ years of the tournament to win more than 4 titles (both have 5), and only the just beat Chicago Fire plus the Fall River Marksmen, Greek American AA, and the Philadelphia Ukrainians have won 4. But no team has been an Open Cup powerhouse like Seattle since the dawn of the competition when the aforementioned Bethlehem Steel made five finals appearances in five years, winning four titles. Maccabi Los Angeles’s accumulated their titles over a decade much like Chicago did. Seattle is quickly becoming a legend in this tournament, especially after so thoroughly dousing the Fire, the only other MLS team that can claim such Open Cup accolades.

***

All my prognosticating about lineups went mostly for naught and my bold prediction was overly conservative. We pissed on them! Seattle started a solid lineup and scored a boatload of goals. Seriously, look at how may players had a multiple point game:

Kenny Cooper: 2 goals, 2 assists

Obafemi Martins: 1 goal, 1 assist

Andy Rose: 2 goals

Marco Pappa: 2 assist

And Chad Barrett and DeAndre Yedlin also contributed to the scoring.

Bonanza.

***

We can continue to play line-up Nostradamus. Given minutes played, injuries sustained and cards accumulated, projecting the Sounders lineup is a little like Sudoku. Chad Marshall should start in the big six-pointer Saturday against RSL on normal rest, as should Clint Dempsey and a getting-fit Leo Gonzalez. Obafemi Martins cannot play due to his red card suspension.

Hopefully none of this comes back to bite the Sounders as they continue sussing their way through this very congested schedule, but Oba’s suspension begs the question, why only give him 17 minutes against the Fire? Sigi will need to pair someone up top with Dempsey. Both Cooper and Barrett got extensive minutes last night. The only other striker option is Lamar Neagle. I am nervous about Neagle’s availability. He got roughed up a bit by the Fire and I wonder if he can start or even contribute Saturday. On the other hand, Sigi never seems to question Pappa’s fitness. Is he as much an Energizer Bunny as Ozzie? He just keeps going and going and going.

Gonzalo Pineda should join Ozzie in the middle on normal rest, but Andy Rose looked absolutely solid last night. Solid. Hell I have been a big Pineda supporter all season, but if Rose keeps playing like he did against Chicago… I’d like to see his name permanently affixed to the starting lineup.

***

Congratulation to DeAndre Yedlin for getting the ink on the paper. Yedlin has officially signed a transfer to join Tottenham Hotspur for a reported $4 million fee. The North London club expects to have Yedlin for the 2015 EPL season meaning Yedlin is here for at least the rest of this year and possibly part of next (unless Spurs decides to loan him to a club closer to White Hart Lane). You were too good so soon Yedlin, I wish you the best of luck as you chase challenges and your dream overseas. But first, let’s get that treble!

Seattle Sounders vs. The Chicago Fire in USOC Semifinal

The Seattle Sounders face the Chicago Fire today in the semifinals of the US Open Cup. This game should be a doozy and many questions abound regarding this tilt: the hierarchy of silverware, the importance of the US Open Cup, and line-up potentialities.

Seattle is in the midst of three games in seven days. Tonight’s game comes smack in the middle of the tight stretch, and is a one-off elimination game. Coach Sigi Schmid must decide how important this Open Cup semifinal against Chicago is compared to the MLS regular season.

Silverware (and legacies and legends) is what the Sounders are after. MLS Cup is king, followed by the Supporters’ Shield and then the US Open Cup. All of these trophies guarantee a berth in CONCACAF Champions League. Success in the CCL is key to the growth of the Sounders into a world-class organization. Seattle had been slowly improving in CCL play and in 2013 beating Tigres UANL before acquitting themselves well in a loss to Santos Laguna. But the Sounders’ CCL momentum came to a grinding halt as Seattle failed to qualify in 2013. Seattle must qualify this season.

Taken within the context of maximizing your chances to win games that increase the likelihood of silverware and CCL entry, last week’s game against Houston was mighty irrelevant. Sure Seattle wanted to clip their two-game skid and Sigi did start a first-choice line-up. But the game was otherwise just another chance at points for a team in a strong position table-wise.

Saturday’s game at Salt Lake is a big one. RSL sits just behind Seattle in the West, and that contest will be a six-pointer. There is no mailing in that one, as Schmid must start a strong squad in Sandy, UT. This is the crunch that complicates tonight’s game.

Winning or losing against the Fire doesn’t mean crap for the MLS table or Cup. But this is Seattle’s surest way to clinching a CCL berth. The Sounders are only two wins away from doing so for the first time since the 2012 season. How can Seattle start a strong enough squad to contend tonight while resting key players from Sunday’s game for Saturday’s?

The presence (or lack thereof) of the teams’ star strikers could decide tonight’s game. Last month in Chicago’s USOC quarterfinal victory over the Atlanta Silverbacks, Mike Magee picked up a red. Thus he will be unavailable for selection by Fire coach Frank Yallop. Obafemi Martins has yet to play in any of Seattle’s Open Cup games so far but will gobble up minutes tonight. Coach Sigi Schmid said as much, as Martins was red carded against Houston and cannot play Saturday at Salt Lake.

The rest of the starting lineup for Seattle is unknown outside the coach’s office. Like Martins, DP striker Clint Dempsey has yet to play in an Open Cup game this season. Considering the tight turnaround and travel, we may see this trend continue. Chad Marshall, Djimi Traore and Lamar Neagle both made their first starts after injures last Sunday and should be rested. Taking all this into consideration here is my proposed lineup for tonight’s Thrilla in Tukwila:

Frei

Gonzalez

Scott

Marshall

Yedlin

Pappa

Ozzie

Rose

Evans

Martins

Cooper

I am sticking with Frei over Hahnemann. I know Sigi said it was Marcus’s tournament, but he doesn’t look 100% match fit in warm-ups and Frei has been solid. Marshall is returning form his freak injury, but has otherwise been an iron man. His leadership and aerial presence will be vital in the cozy confines of Starfire. Ozzie is a rock capable of stockpiling minutes, but Pineda ain’t getting any younger, that is why I am excited to see Andy Rose in his first extensive action since the Montreal game wayyy back in March. He is a solid ball-winner and better than Pineda in the air.

Lastly, I am pairing Kenny Copper with Martins up top. I thought about Neagle, as he has quite the chemistry with Martins, but Cooper has been an Open Cup scoring machine. Matching him with a talented, attention-grabbing striker like Martins could mean a bonanza for the tall Texan.

Bold Prediction: I nailed last week’s 2-0 win over Houston, so hopefully my hot hand stays ablaze. The Magee-less Fire are no match for any Sounders squad. Seattle 2-1.

How To Tame a Mad Dog: FIFA and Its Fangs

I apologize for not posting yesterday, as it was a busy weekend. I gave my tickets to a cousin and missed Sunday’s schneid-offing 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo because I was back home in Alaska, attending the wedding of my best friend. It was a big ol’ Alaskan throwdown with live music, a bonfire, lots of homebrew and fireworks!

I am back in Seattle now and I’ll be chiming in on the big Sounders news this week: DeAndre Yedlin, Wednesday’s US Open Cup Semifinal against the Chicago Fire, and the state of CenturyLink’s FieldTurf and how much these aesthetics matter as the Sounders grow to a truly global brand.

But first I want to direct you to a great article written by Jules Boykoff. Boykoff, a professor and soccer fan, recently published an essay in the Guardian. It is a great read, as Boykoff explores options to denature the parasitic fangs of FIFA:

At the opening match of this year’s World Cup, three Brazilian children walked to the center of the pitch and released three doves flapping frantically toward the São Paulo sky. Choreographed as a reminder that soccer can create peace and goodwill, the spectacle immediately backfired with inadvertent symbolism: apparently two of the birds never made it out of the stadium alive.

Anyone who’s watched the World Cup over the last month has been met with a visual cavalcade of advertisements from partners of Fifa, football’s beyond-corrupt governing body. But not unlike that avian display gone wrong, behind the shimmering scrim of spectacular billboards remain inconvenient truths. Here’s one: Fifa enjoys tax-exempt status at the World Cup, as do its corporate partners, and Brazil’s Internal Revenue Service has claimed – in a cautious estimate – that such exemptions rob the host country of nearly $250m.

Brazil just lost out on $22m in Saturday’s consolation match, and Fifa stands to amass more than $4.5bn in revenues from this World Cup alone. All for orchestrating an upbeat shakedown that stoked the hopes of another host, only to leave the public bearing the costs.

After sucking one too many countries dry, the para-state parasite that is Fifa should surrender its tax breaks in Brazil before it packs up and leaves. Indeed, this should be the last tax-exempt World Cup.

By design, Fifa’s financial landscape is a vast expanse of grey. It actually claims to make no demands for “a general tax exemption for sponsors and suppliers, or for any commercial activity in the host country.” It “only requires an easing of customs procedures” for importing materials necessary for the staging of the event. This is no different, Fifa contends, than any other major sporting event – like, say, the Super Bowl or the Olympics – but to deny tax exemption, potential host countries contend, is to torpedo a bid.

Fifa has long built a massive chasm between word and deed, and corporate giants – not struggling host nations – reap the benefits. Fifa partners like Budweiser have free rein in the exclusion zones that bubble-wrap stadiums where market competitors – let alone local vendors – are not allowed. Fifa even helped overturn a law banning beer in Brazilian soccer stadiums. How convenient.

We all love soccer. It is humanity’s game but its governing body, FIFA, is disgustingly corrupt and, frankly, evil. Like any powerful addiction, international soccer has its deleterious effects. Boykoff mentioned FIFA’s effect on Brazil’s entrenched legislature forbidding the sale of alcoholic beverages in any of the nation’s soccer stadiums. These laws were enacted for practical reasons after painful episodes of violence. Budweiser is a major sponsor of FIFA and thus Brazil had to suspend its self-determination law to host the World Cup. In short, FIFA strong-armed a sovereign nation’s constitution.

FIFA unfettered continues corrupting and wrecking the social organism of whatever country that seeks to do business with it. Soccer could be enjoyed without FIFA, we just need to stop relying on the pusher man.

Seattle Sounders vs Houston Dynamo Matchday

The Seattle Sounders host the Houston Dynamo Sunday in another seeming mismatch. After losing to lowly San Jose, some fear Seattle is in another tailspin, and these fears may be confirmed unless the Sounders assert themselves against one of the East’s cellar dwellers. On paper, this game shouldn’t be close (though we thought that last week), and oddly enough, the Sounders have fared poorly against the Eastern conference this season

The Dynamo are a curious team, a perennial power that inexplicably imploded. How much of a fight Houston will show is hard to predict. They were recently reeling, but just beat powerful DC United. Houston doesn’t score a lot of goals and surrenders a boatload (league-leading 40 goals allowed). Though the signing of USMNT star DaMarcus Beasley, older but still a quality, away from Liga MX side Puebla should bolster the backline. Houston is a proud, veteran team and I expect coach Dominic Kinnear to field an eager side.

Bold Prediction: Chad Marshall’s health and availability will be key. But I am not waiting for the rosters to be announced. I whiffed my last two predictions, but I’m still betting on my boys. Seattle gets off the schneid, 2-0.

 

DeAndre Yedlin Jumping Across the Pond

MLS All-Star and USMNT star DeAndre Yedlin is reported to be transferring to Tottenham Hotspur. I’m sad to see him go, but wish him the best, I am currently in Alaska at the wedding of my best friend, so don’t have time to unspool my thoughts. I’ll get to discussing this huge news later in the week.

MLS vs. the Bundesliga: Will Prodigal Americans Return?

The MLS All-Stars beat a preseason, and understocked, Bayern Munich team yesterday 2-1 in a meaningless game. MLS is clearly not within spitting distance of Germany’s Bundesliga, but how far apart are they? I am a relatively new soccer fan, and the only league I religiously follow is MLS. Often I need to defend myself to the Eurosnobs who say I’m keeping to the shallows of the sport. Some may say I am silly for not indulging in a better vintage of the sport I’ve come to love, and I think they’re pretentious for supporting a team in a city and country they’ve never lived in. Regardless of your ideological position on this divide, it is true that only following MLS keeps you from knowing every American paying their rent playing soccer.

The world’s soccer leagues are full of Americans. But I rarely know or recognize any Yank over in Europe. When Jurgen Klinsmann collected 23 men to represent the United States in Brazil, a third of the roster was a mystery to me. If they don’t ply their trade on native soil, they are off the map. I was suspicious of the players Klinsmann rostered for Brazil, wondering how much better John Anthony Brooks or Julian Green were than our boys? But both German-Americans proved their mettle.

And after the revelation that was Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones (German-Americans whose accents don’t remind me of John Wayne), I was intrigued by those who chose to forgo a career in the States for the Bundesliga. Luckily, the German league’s official website recently published an article highlighting some Americans playing in Deutschland to keep an eye on”

An incredible 21 million people across the USA watched Jürgen Klinsmann’s side lose 2-1 to Belgium after extra-time, with stars such as Tom Hanks, Justin Timberlake, and even President Barack Obama watching on with interest. Despite the defeat, fans across the country found pride in the heroic display of the USA team, which included a number of Bundesliga regulars.

Fabian Johnson, Timothy Chandler, John Anthony Brooks and Julian Green aren’t the only Americans currently plying their trade in Germany’s top flight, however. bundesliga.com presents six players who could yet make a name for themselves in the Bundesliga in years to come…

Caleb Stanko: Born in Michigan, Stanko joined SC Freiburg from Vardar Soccer Club in 2010. After a three-month trial at the MAGE SOLAR Stadion, the defensive midfielder joined the club’s youth setup and quickly became accustomed to life in Germany. “It’s great here,” he said. “People’s lives in Freiburg are all about soccer. I really like that.” Now 20, Stanko is eyeing a place in the first team after reaching a half-century of appearances for the second string last term.

If MLS becomes a destination league by their stated goal of 2022, how many American-born players will return to MLS? In the near future, MLS should significantly raise the salary cap, as has been discussed and is expected, and we should see a lot more native sons back home. The best domestic leagues employ their athletes. And I’d like to see more players who sound like they grew up eating hot dogs, not frankfurters, returning to MLS.

Devil's Club © 2015 Frontier Theme