Month – September 2014

Seattle Sounders and Defensive Lapses, “Just Tired?”

The Seattle Sounders must do something about their defense. If Seattle wants to fulfill their lofty ambitions, they must stop hemorrhaging goals. Yesterday I explored a popular excuse for these defensive struggles. Let’s call it the “we’re tired and overly-travelled” excuse. Yet there are other theories we could consider.

One is our style of play. The Sounders are determined to play the game their way: pretty, cheeky and fast. This has proven to be our Achilles heel, especially if we continue to bail on defense, communication and maintaining our shape. The way Seattle attacks, direct and down the spine, makes them vulnerable. Seattle presses everyone forward in the offensive and are damned and determined to dictate the tempo. We’re never content to sit back and react. Too often though, we create a bottleneck at the top of the opponent’s box, and if a ball squirts free, the opponent can counter while we’re struggling to regain our shape. In short, live by the attack, die by the attack.

Which is all well and good if you’re consistently winning barnburners 4-3. But that won’t fly in the playoffs. Teams need to buckle down, possess and defend. It’s the pushing and pushing that opens you up, to say… 3-0 defeats in the first leg of aggregate series. Like this. And this. Just saying. Another context we have to consider, though painful, is… maybe the Sounders have peaked.

Maybe 2014 is already as good as it’s gonna get. Sure we’ve been historically successful so far this season. Currently, we are 2 wins away from 20 on the year. No MLS team has achieved that pinnacle in the post shoot-out era. We’ve won the Open Cup and are in position to win the Treble, but… what if, despite these feathers in our caps, we’re just not that good anymore. It seems counter-intuitive, but we’re shipping goals and, unless we’re playing Chivas, not scoring so many. We’ve suffered injuries. Gonzalo Pineda hasn’t been the lineup since taking a knock at New York. Zach Scott may be seriously hurt (and let’s be honest, we love him, but did we assume, back before the season started, that we’d be counting on Scott to be our starting centerback?). Things just may not be breaking Seattle’s way. But I don’t want this to be true. I really hope we are just tired.

Luckily, the Sounders get a full week between games for the first time since August 25th. Back then, they’d just beat the Timbers and had a week to regen and prep for Colorado. With beating the Rapids 1-0, Seattle began their run of 7 games in 25 days. The Sounders were 5-2 in that span and won a trophy. Coincidentally Seattle’s next opponent is Colorado. Could we be starting another very successful run that ends with silverware?

 

Seattle Sounders Continue to Falter, Beat Chivas USA 4-2

The Seattle Sounders held onto a sloppy victory over lameduck, and just plain lame, Chivas USA.

Beating Chivas 4-2 at home is not a good result. I am glad we won the three points, but it is totally okay to feel disconcerted following Saturday’s game. I’d like to put the performance in the context of schedule congestion and fatigue. The Sounders were playing their fifth game in sixteen days, with around 6000 miles travelled. With injuries popping up from all that time on, you could frame the result as a good team finding a win to win. But I am not buying that.

Chivas USA is historically bad. The Goats’ attack is impotent. Chivas hasn’t scored in 9 of their last 11 games going back to July. JULY! Only your Seattle Sounders have given up their goals.You can’t frame it as just a result of Cubo Torres’s callup or suspension, or the news of the upcoming hiatus. Chivas has a persistent, endemic scoring problem.

Unless, of course, they are playing a team with a woeful, very bad defense, like the Sounders. A few teams that have kept clean sheets against Chivas: Portland (51 goals against), Colorado (54), Toronto (45). These are teams that ship goals as much or more than Seattle (46 goals against), and yet they somehow found a way to tighten the ship against woeful Chivas. Worse yet, we didn’t just leak a goal but two, on both occasions!?

Our last matchup with Chivas, earlier this month in Carson, I rationalized the goals away. The Sounders were up 4-nil at the half and were coasting. Players were taking it easy, it was a Wednesday game in a near empty stadium, and Chivas’s two goals were the epitome of garbage time. Hell, one was a penalty. Deservedly earned, but still not the result of some defense-breaking attack. But Saturday? Chivas earned their goals. The result was still in doubt and we were playing to win, not coasting. Chivas just countered cleanly and made us look like swiss cheese. Again.

I really want to believe that a normal rhythm, a routine with training and familiar beds and commutes, will get the Sounders back in shape. I want to believe because I am starting to worry.

Chivas USA at Seattle Sounders Gameday

Today your beloved Seattle Sounders (finally) take their home pitch to play Chivas USA in the final matchup that can be called “Sounders vs. Chivas”. Even with the closing of this lopsided series (Chivas has never won at CenturyLink), drama saturates this game.

Normally I wouldn’t get too excited for a late season matchup with the Goats and, frankly, Chivas has nothing to do with the tense narratives surrounding this contest. After dropping six points and setting all their fans on a low boil of anxiety, the Sounders need a win. No, they don’t need the win to qualify for the playoffs, or even avoid the first round play-in game, as their probability of finishing in the top three is over 95%. It’s not even about the Supporters’ Shield, but pride.

Seattle needs the win to shut people up. The national media, and opposing fans across the league, are looking for Seattle to fall apart again. You can feel the schadenfreude emanating from Los Angeles, Salt Lake, Portland and Kansas City. Let’s remind the league that we’re the boss.

Bold Prediction: So I pooped the bed on Wednesday, predicting a Seattle rout. I ain’t losing faith in my boys. Chivas’s backline is garbage and I see Seattle putting four behind Dan Kennedy (one of the few Chivas starters you can predict with absolute confidence). But the Goats have cunning Cubo Torres whose quality shows as he sneaks one in. Two goals for Dempsey, one for Martins and Marshall: Seattle 4-1.

Where Is My Mind: Are the Seattle Sounders Losing Focus?

What are the Seattle Sounders hiding? Following Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to FC Dallas, Seattle shut their locker room to the media. Only coach Sigi Schmid was made available to the press for interviews, though the team later released comments from captain Brad Evans.

First off, let me repeat, the team later released. The only postgame comments from a Sounder, other than the coach’s, were culled, controlled and disseminate by the team. This is seriously not okay. I am not a journalist, I only play one on the internet, but I have a lot of respect for the fourth estate. Thomas Jefferson said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” A free flow of information is vital to healthy organizations. I know I’m getting carried away, it’s not like the fate of the free world hung in the balance of the away locker room in Frisco, Texas, but… c’mon Sounders?! Sure you just lost two clunkers and thereby potentially jeopardized a historic season, but to shut the door to the media (literally) postgame, and then throw a sop to Cerberus with some Evans quotes is both worrisome and insulting. It may also be indicative of a deeper problem.

Something may be amiss in the state of Sounders. I was one of the Seattle fans calling for perspective and calm in the wake of these two defeats (despite the aggregate score of 7-2). The Sounders are fine, I said yesterday. Well… after revisiting Schmid’s postgame comments, I found some very worrisome sentences. Consider the following:

“I think we have to have a roster available to us that wants to step out and play and beat Chivas.”

“And our mentality has to be good, our attitude has to be right. Guys have to be here in the moment, they can’t be in other places…”

“Certainly [Dallas] were there, they were focused.”

Is it just me or does a theme exists regarding a lack of focus, a question of commitment and a flagging competitive spirit? I can’t imagine we’re having a situation like last year’s when Eddiejohnsongate blew up the locker room. But…it seems there is a problem with the team that doesn’t just refer to depth, talent, injury or fatigue. The Sounders could be having a chemistry problem. With five games left before the playoffs and the Supporters’ Shield on the line, the last thing we need is locker room strife. But maybe we shouldn’t be worried. These guys just spent ten days on the road together. Familiarity need not breed contempt, but maybe just annoyance or apathy.

Trouble is, I can’t imagine which players could be turning off or tuning out. Is Yedlin daydreaming ahead to his glory days on White Hart Lane? Is Obafemi “I just signed a new contract” Martins or Clint “I just won my first club championship” Dempsey tuning out? No way. So who or what is going on? Maybe as a result of last year’s debacle, I am parsing these quotes too deep. Trouble is, we’re reacting in a vacuum of information. The fact that the Sounders felt the need to put on a lid on something is, frankly, more worrisome than Sigi’s subtle comments.

Thing Get Complicated: Seattle Sounders Fall to FC Dallas

The Seattle Sounders slipped hard in falling to FC Dallas 3-1 last night. With Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz out, Seattle, despite fatigue, seemed to have the edge. Which is what makes the loss that much more unexpected. Here I was predicting the Sounders we know and love to come out and rout a reeling FC Dallas. No. Such. Luck.

The Sounders need to improve. Defensively, we saw sloppy defending, lazy marking and piss-poor clearances. On the attack, we saw errant passes and missed connections. Coach Sigi Schmid probably lit into his boys. It was reported that the locker room stayed shut to the media for a long time following the game. When finally open, no players stayed to chat. Good. I wanted them pissed after New York, but maybe they needed to hit a lower low. There is little margin for error left, as now we are deadlocked with Los Angeles for the Shield. One big difference from last night’s result is we can longer think of the Shield as ours to win. Now it is just out there, waiting to be won. C’mon Seattle, fight and win! The other major difference is the question at centerback.

The Supreme High Totem of All Things Sounder, Zach Scott, took a helluva fall and had to leave the game with an ankle injury. Scott is the toughest of the toughies, and so this injury might be serious. That scares me. Zach has been a rock at the back and Djimi Traore… not so much. I get nervous imaging Djimi or Jalil Aninbaba playing significant minutes in this dead heat with L.A. for the Shield.

But everything is still cool in the Soundersverse. I know I truck in hyperbole and can get a little manic, but I’m trying to see the big picture here. We just won a trophy. We are tied atop the table with a month to go. And soccer-wise, the Sounders are fine. Even tired and well travelled, they played solid. We had near 60% possession and the edge in shots-on-goal. I think we need to remember that even great teams lose on the road to quality opposition. Especially at the tail end of long road trips and serious fixture congestion. In the last 13 days, the Sounders played four games (three on the road): the first two were brilliant, the last two weren’t. On the balance, that ain’t bad.

I know we love our team, but sometimes maybe it’s a little too much. We can be like Tiger Mom to our Sounders, showing love through unrealistic expectations that just result in disappointment. Let’s not give our team a complex. Let’s love them for what they are: 2014 USOC Champions, Supporter’ Shield favorites, the Eternal Blue and Forever Green.

Seattle Sounders at FC Dallas Gameday Preview

Today the Seattle Sounders face FC Dallas is a matchup reeking with playoff, and silverware, implications. It feels like one of those moments where Scott Bakula lurks off camera. We’ll look back and say either, that was the game Seattle made a quantum leap and truly proved their championship mettle, or that was when we knew it was the good ol’ poop-the-bed Sounders. Tonight, a season of many of them, is a milestone game.

However, it only feels that way. The season is far from over, the Supporters’ Shield, far from Seattle. Tonight’s match is clearly not a must win, but…if Seattle wins this game, their last in hand, they’ll have clearly earned the most points on the season. No more pesky qualifiers or games played bullcrap. We’ll have played 29 games just like the other Shield hopefuls, and we’ll be in the driver’s seat. But if the Sounders lost tonight, we still control our destiny.

Much was made about L.A. having an easier remaining schedule than Seattle. But compare each team’s next three games:

schedules

L.A. also plays New York and Toronto, while we see Colorado and Chivas. And we both face Dallas. Hell, I’ll take our two over theirs. Granted no game is a gimme, especially in a league such as MLS, but Lameduck FC and CD Tailspin? They’ll cure what ails ya. Sure, L.A. has the edge with more home games and we’re facing Dallas at the tail end of a grueling stretch. But the Galaxy does not have a clear advantage.

Seattle may have a clear advantage when they take the pitch this evening. Yes, they are at the end of a long road trip. Yes, it will be hot in Frisco, but Dallas has been listless lately. They lost 3 of 4 and caught the injury bug. Los Angeles just beat FC Dallas this past weekend to meet us at the top of the table. Though they didn’t face a full strength FCD in doing so, and neither should we. The Hoops had rested Fabian Castillo and Matt Hedges against L.A. That decision really cheesed me off. Dallas had been playing a nice game-a-week schedule for the past 9 weeks, why did anyone need resting? Well, Castillo picked up a hamstring injury on the 13th playing Vancouver, but it wasn’t thought, at first, to be that bad. Now it is being reported that there is a serious chance Castillo will be out. That is great news, as he has continued developing into an all-around terror. Creative midfielder Mauro Diaz is also thought to be out with yet another injury. Diaz started the season red hot, but has missed half of FCD’s games with a collection of knicks.

Bold Prediction: It’ll be hot and both teams want it. Seattle wants to erase Saturday’s meltdown in Jersey. Dallas wants to regain their winning form. As always we’ll have to contend with Blaz Perez and his antics, but we are on the cusp of fulfilling the destiny we’ve anticipated (hell, expected) all season… the Treble. Like a horse winning the Triple Crown, you got take it one race at a time. Last week we won the Derby. Now we’re in the stretch run of the Preakness, but we’re neck and neck with L.A. Let’s surge to the finish. Sounders 3-0 in a blowout.

Seattle Sounders Past, Present and Future: Fredy Montero, Obafemi Martins and Onyekachi Apam

Forgetting the debacle at New York and turning our attention to some of the many positive reports out of Seattle Sounders land:

In case you haven’t seen this, Fredy Montero got a nice little write-up on the MLS site. I was always a Fredy fan (I have a soft spot in my heart for mercurial genius) and I am glad he is living his dream and playing in Europe. I wish him boatloads of success, though part of me is heartened that Sporting Lisbon fans now know what it’s like to suffer through one of Fredy’s cold spells. Man, was he streaky. However, he’s always welcome in Rave Green. I do look forward to the day when he comes back to play out his career back in his adopted hometown.

When the Sounders return home, after wrapping up their epic road trip, they’ll be joined by new teammate, Nigerian international, Onyekachi Apam. Seattle announced his signing last weekend. In a nutshell: Apam is a veteran centerback with a decorated club and international career. He was captain at OGC Nice in France’s Ligue 1 before transferring to Rennes, and played on Nigeria’s 2008 silver medal winning Olympic team. He is still young, only 27, and as recently as last year was courting interest from the E.P.L. But injuries have plagued his career and recently found him unemployed.

Let’s be honest, we need help at centerback. Djimi Traore looks cooked. Last year, Djimi was a revelation but this year he’s turned into a pumpkin. Zach Scott, love him to death, but there’s a problem when he’s an unquestioned starter at centerback. And Jalil Anibaba has been a disappointment when was supposed to be the centerback of the future. I strongly wonder if Apam’s signing could be the end of Anibaba’s time in the Emerald City.

Anibaba was billed as a young veteran centerback with pace who could play outside or inside. Curious because that’s exactly how Sigi recently described Apam. Maybe back in the offseason, GM Adrian Hanaeur had this prototype in mind and sent Chris Henderson out to find this “young veteran CB with lineup flexibility and pace.” He and Henderson traded for Anibaba but are now admitting that he doesn’t fit the bill. What’s odd is that Apam was signed pretty much blind. Allegedly everyone is just taking Obafmei Martins’s word on this one. I don’t know enough about Apam to figure if he will see significant minutes starting this season, or if he was merely an insurance policy, but I am breathing easier knowing we have someone, anyone, who can play centerback that isn’t named Anibaba.

Speaking of signing Nigerians, it is being reported that the Sounders just re-upped Oba’s contract to the tune of $6+ million over two years. If these numbers prove true, Oba just doubled his salary. Hell, if I crapped money I’d have paid the man even more. It is a damn joy to watch him play.

Alrighty Sounders fans, enjoy your Tuesday. It is our last day to breath easy and not stressing about the Supporters’ Shield, the Treble, or our soccer destiny this season.

Trigger Warning: Seattle Sounders Very Capable of a Collapse

There were no tommy guns, cement trucks or missing bodies, but a murder took place in North Jersey. The Seattle Sounders were beat by the New York Red Bulls 4-1, dropping points and finding themselves sharing the Supporters’ Shield lead.

There are many reasons to be livid about the game at New York. Getting pasted 4-1 was about as bad a result as you could expect, but coach Sigi Schmid also gave his starters even more minutes?! Saturday was Seattle’s third game in eight days (plus the extra time in Philly), so fatigue, both mental and physical, is less an excuse than a context. But they are not out of the woods yet. The Sounders’ next match, Wednesday in Frisco, TX, will be their 4th in 13 days, the last three on the road. These are conditions the Sounders must endure, but they can control minutes, rest and regen. They didn’t.

I was totally prepared for a loss. I expected a loss and wanted Sigi to field a JV lineup so we could move on, rest up and look forward to the stretch run against Western Conference. But nope, Sigi starts Ozzie Alonso and Chad Marshall and then, down 3-0, throws Clint Dempsey and Oba Martins into the fray. If you’re going to rest your starters, Sigi, rest them. Don’t throw them into a 3-nil drubbing. And don’t give me that crap about scheduling Dempsey and Martins to play regardless to preserve their rhythm. They played in Philly on Tuesday and will play Dallas on Wednesday. A week between games seems like a fine rhythm to me. Throwing two tiring stars into a lost game just feels like the same decision making process that gets us whupped 3-0 in the first leg of playoff series: “Oh crap, we’re in trouble. Let’s double down.” Sigi, you don’t need to be a riverboat gambler, you’re sitting on a gold mine. And besides, they call it “double or nothing” for a reason; most of the time you end up with nothing.

Deep breath. We just won the U.S. Open Cup and punched our ticket to CONCACAF Champions League. We are tied for the Supporters’ Shield lead and hold a game in hand. Nothing here is cocked. The Sounders made us ecstatic coming back at the death to beat RSL. Tuesday night’s instant-classic USOC Final further cemented the feel goods. This team seems to have that championship edge, a winner’s swagger. Then Saturday came. And with it lots of demons: last years collapse and ghosts of playoff pastings past.

I earlier discussed my PTSD from last year’s swoon. I am now realizing just how visceral and real those emotions are. The New York game was everything that’s wrong with the Sounders: boneheaded individual errors, sloppy defense, and poor finishing resulting in a blowout. When the Hydra machine is humming, it is easy to forget the team’s bad habits, but they’re there. And tired legs and minds will exacerbate them. Hopefully, this loss pissed us off enough to get back in gear. That’s my only silver lining. Maybe we were getting cocky or complacent. We need to play with an edge. We cannot let up. We need to beat Dallas.

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New news on commenting. I was having a real problem with spammers clogging the comments, so I shut them down a while ago. I needed to clean out the backlog and find a fix. This weekend I installed DISQUS to handle the comment filtering. If you’ve used it before and have an account, great. Get cracking. If not, it is easy to make an account and then you’ll be able to comment here as always. I look forward to chatting with you.

Also a special shoutout to Jacob Alfredo. I found your comment amongst the spam. I just want to say, thanks for reading. And yeah, attendance for that Chivas game was abysmal. TV broadcast couldnt’ve have done it justice. I feel sorry for the Chivas fans because I MLS is probably going to shut them down the team for a year or two. I couldn’t imagine not having the Sounders for a season, let alone two. But realistically, with everything that franchise is going through, it very well may be for the best.

Seattle, New York, Portland, Vancouver, Los Angeles and Dallas: Matchday Prediction Madness

Alrighty Seattle Sounders fans, today is a huge day of soccer. The schedule makers at MLA gifted us with a glorious slate of games, as three have direct playoff (and Cascadia) relevance to the Sounders. And all three start sequentially with no schedule overlap, so in twenty minutes you can plant your butt on the couch and watch soccer for the next seven hours! And every game means something to Seattle’s magical season.

2:00PM: Vancouver Whitecaps at Portland Timbers. I hate the Timbers. Maybe it is the Philly fan deep in my sports DNA, but I enjoy schadenfreude at my rivals’ expense as much as I revel in the joy of my team’s success. I do not want Portland to make the playoffs, or have any joy in Mudville. I want more cryingtimbersfan and cranky hipsters eating tater tots. Let’s hope the RSL tifo artists were right and that last year was a fluke. BUT I don’t want Vancouver to win this matchup. If they did, they’d be in the catbird seat for the Cascadia Cup. Oh the drahmer!

Seattle and Vancouver are tightly locked in the Cascadia Cup standings. But we control our destiny, even if Vancouver wins today. The final Cascadia clash of the season, here on October 10th, is between us and the Caps. I’d like less pressure on that game (seeing as how, oh, we’re pushing for the Shield and MLS Cup, no pressure). If Vancouver draws Portland today, we can draw the game on the 10th and still take the Cup (with the goal differential tiebreaker). So cheer a draw in Stumptown (great part of soccer, you can cheer for draws).

Bold Prediction (aka desperate wish): 2-2 Draw.

4:30PM:Seattle Sounders at New York Redbulls. Read all about it.

&:30PM: FC Dallas travels to Carson to take on the Los Angeles Galaxy. I think it’s easy for any Sounders fan to see we want L.A. to keep dropping points. Sure, I want the Hoops to take it to them, but I can settle for a home draw for the Gals. And added bonus would be that a key Dallas player (Perez, Castillo?) sees red and sits out Wednesday’s game with us.

Bold Prediction: (let’s be real, I am not predicting anything): 1-1 Draw. Perez gets sent off for a flop in the box. Keane misses the PK. Bruce Arena gets pissed and mouths off and loses another 20 grand. L.A.’s management gets pissed at Arena and fires him. L.A. doesn’t win another game for the season! In the offseason, L.A. hires the recently unemployed Caleb Porter to further drive the franchise into the mud. HAHA! I am a mad Nostradamus genius!

Seattle Sounder at New York Red Bulls Match Preview

The Seattle Sounders play at the New York Red Bulls Saturday in their last matchup with an Eastern Conference opponent (until MLS Cup, amirite?) this season.

The Red Bulls are a quality opponent in fine form, getting results in four out of their last five matches (three wins). With Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York is an offensive powerhouse. Especially at Red Bull Arena, as they have scored 29 goals at home, good enough for second in the league behind the Los Angeles Galaxy. The aforementioned Henry and Wright-Phillips are dominating the statistics this season, Henry with 12 assists and Wright-Phillips with 21 goals, pacing MLS. In fact, Wright-Phillips has a very realistic shot of tying the single season mark of 27 goals (shared by Chris Wondolowski and Roy Lassiter). He just needs a goal a game to do so, just a hair over his .91 goals per 90 minutes played. Because of the quality of these two, New York is capable of fireworks.

If you’re reading this site, you know what the Sounders can do: Dempsey, Martins, Pappa, Neagle, and Barrett. Dempsey and Martins are the two most dangerous men in MLS (sorry Titi and BWP). Seattle’s attack can come from anywhere (Hail Hydra!), whether it’s Neagle with a golazo, Barrett with a pesky finish or Pappa with a lethal free kick. The Sounders lead the league in both goals and swagger. Saturday should be a barnburner.

But… I doubt it will be. Seattle just played their hearts out in two emotional slugfests over the span of five days (with a cross country flight thrown in), and I can’t imagine them getting all hot and bothered for an away match in New Jersey. Yes, these men are professionals and it’s their job to play a kid’s game for money. But they’re human. They have emotional limits and a finite well of give-a-damn. I wouldn’t be surprised if coach Sigi Schmid fields an Open Cup-esque lineup. In fact, I want him to.

Rest everyone at New York. The last week has been a hustle and most players may still reek of stale beer and champagne from Tuesday night’s locker room festivities. Let the boys have a breather. Start Hahnemann, Remick, Traore, Anibaba, Yedlin (he’s young), Bowen, Azira, Pineda (he’s rested), Kovar, Cooper and Okoli. Why not? Losing to New York wouldn’t be that bad. Sure we’d drop points, but not to a Western Conference rival, and we can’t relinquish first place (no matter what Keane, Donovan and Co. do). Plus we’d be fresher for next Wednesday’s game against the very dangerous FC Dallas. That is a game (in the West, against the #4 team, away) we need to win.

Bold Prediction: Behind a MASH unit, Seattle plays admirably, but fails 3-1. If Sigi pushes his starters in Harrison, NJ, I’ll call a 2-2 draw. But I don’t want to see that with the Hoops looming in Frisco. C’mon Sigi, mail it in (but isn’t this opposite of what I was talking about yesterday?).

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