Month – September 2014

Seattle Plays For Keeps

The Seattle Sounders’ capturing their fourth US Open Cup in six years has me all a tizzy. It is so easy to love this team for a multitude of reasons (beautiful soccer, homegrown stars, plucky émigrés and a charismatic coach, to name a few), but Tuesday’s gritty win reminded me of this club’s ambition. The Sounders want to win everything. They are a seriously, legitimate, we-want-to-be-the-very-best driven team. We are lucky here in Seattle to have such a team. If it takes hiring the best coach available, the Sounders will do it. If it takes paying the biggest salary in the league, the Sounders will do it. Seattle is absolutely committed to excellence. It’s great as a fan to know they care as much as you do.

The soccer culture the Sounders cultivate affects more than just fans. Players want to be Sounders. Take Kenny Cooper for example. The man has, twice in his career, scored 18 goals in a season. It must be hard to go from an unquestioned starter to a fringe player fighting to be in the 18. Tuesday night, Chad Barrett started over him. Coop had owned the USOC, but Barrett has been playing better lately and Sigi wanted to win. Sure enough, Barrett did what he does and put a ball in the back of the net. And you haven’t heard one word of complaint from Cooper. He’s just happy to be here.

Though they risk minutes, great players want to play in Seattle. We should be honored by the Coopers and the Barretts who couldn’t wait to transfer to Seattle. That says a lot about our team, our city, our overall soccer culture. Clint Dempsey himself, when he visited for the US-Panama World Cup Qualifying game summer of 2013, said Seattle was one of a kind. Our draw is real. And it is phenomenal in the most literal sense. Seattle is a one-off, a phenom, a Brigadoon for American soccer.

My wife and I went to four weddings this summer (Alaska, Pennsylvania, Southern California). In our travels, I met many people who proudly called themselves longtime soccer fans, or recently interested parties. But all these “soccer fans” stopped short of saying they’re MLS fans. Maybe they caught soccer fever during the World Cup and only support the USMNT. Or maybe the World Cup was a gateway to soccer, but “only watch European leagues.” Or they’re longtime Eurosnobs who live and die with a team in a city they’ve never breathed a mortal breath in. I found this very odd. None of the people I met said, “I am an MLS fan” (other than a kid in Disneyland wearing an RSL t-shirt, who, thank god, booed me when I said Go Sounders!). But the “soccer fans” who are too good for MLS will still bag on Chivas, the Union, their local teams. Can you imagine someone in Green Bay saying, “I am a football fan, but The Packers just suck. Who’d watch them?” In the rest of the country, MLS still has that uncool stink about it: you can’t befriend that kid or other people will think you’re weird too. Luckily back home, here in Seattle, soccer is cool and the Sounders are ice cool.

Maybe because our team cares. Maybe because they never mail it in. I used to misattribute a quote to Norman Rockwell, “Everything you do is masterpiece of yourself.” The Seattle Sounders are always painting their masterpiece: every game, every practice, every signing. The Seattle Sounders fight for every record. The Seattle Sounders fight for every trophy. They never take a game off, or make excuses or settle for anything but their best. And that attitude inspires our city. In Seattle, we play soccer for keeps.

Historic Se4ttle Sounders Win Fourth US Open Cup Trophy

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Your Seattle Sounders are the 2014 US Open Cup Champions! Damn it feels good to type that. Damn it feels good to be a Sounder.

Last night’s game was a doozy (and I’m not just talking about the Kloudtv stream*). The final 3-1 score line doesn’t do the match justice. Hats off to the Philadelphia Union, they played their hearts out. Philly was gritty and focused and played pretty soccer. This was not the team we cruised past in early May. Interim coach Jim Curtin has them playing with pride and flair. Maidana, Wenger and Nogueira gave us fits all night. Hell, in the final minutes of regulation my heart was in my throat. We were wilting faster than dollar store roses and Philly kept attacking. Those two shots, nearly back-to-back, when the Union had open looks at our goal?! Sometimes you just get that rub of the green.

Luck wasn’t with us earlier in the contest, as multiple gimme chances went wanting. Clint Dempsey missed an easy tap-in in the 10th minute, multiple shots tickled the outside of the posts. I was afraid we’d rue all our missed chances when Philly was taking the game to us. But Seattle weathered the siege of the Union and came out in extra time resolute. We pushed the tempo and Obafemi Martins was the difference. He truly is the catalyst of the Sounders’ attack. He worked so well with Clint Dempsey and Marco Pappa and that finally allowed Seattle to unlock a surprisingly stingy Philly backline. The Sounders took their lumps (ask Zach Scott and Brad Evans) and went the championship distance.

Seattle has played so well for so long this season, that you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. It didn’t last Friday when we could’ve settled for a draw against RSL. And it didn’t last night when we came back from a goal down to win our fourth Lamar Hunt in six seasons. This win meant a lot to the Sounders.

It is so refreshing to see how giddy men like Clint Dempsey and Marco Pappa were after the game. These are men who’ve played soccer for a long time in many leagues. They’ve been celebrated, they’ve been humbled, but they’ve never won a cup. Both were like kids at Christmas in the beer-soaked, postgame locker room. There is no cynicism or apathy in either.

One trophy down. Three to go (yes, I am greedy. I want Cascadia too).

#Se4ttle

* My wife and I tried our damndest to find a bootleg stream (that’s how we watch the NBCSN and ESPN broadcasts), but ended up having to pay the nine bucks for the GolTV stream. Wow. It was janky as hell (though GolTV was impressive with their prompt and polite refund for the poor quality stream). We tried running Ross’s audio simultaneously to compensate for the start-and-stop, but even good ol’ Soundersfc.com was having technical difficulties. Dammit America. This tournament matters. The US Open Cup is august and storied and ought be respected. It is insane to think that in marketing-crazed America, no one wants to sponsor a national broadcast of the US Open Cup championship other than, sorry GolTV, a two-bit cable channel? We can do better. Soccer deserves better.

SE4TTLE!!

What a win! Thanks boys, you played like champs!

Sartorial Questions Abound

This is kinda silly, but I can’t stop thinking about it.  Another question begging to be answered is what kit the Sounders will rock in tonight’s matchup. They traditionally favor their third kit in Open Cup and CCL play. But Philadelphia has loudly announced they’ll be wearing their Bethlehem Steel-inspired alternate jerseys in honor of the USOC powerhouses from yesteryear. The Union’s black jersey disallows Seattle from wearing Pitch Black or even Cascade Shale, the only two jerseys they’ve worn in Open Cup play this season. Will Seattle don their home Rave Greens? Or would they dig out Super Cyan? I can’t wait to see. So stoked for this game.

The Once and Future Champs

The Seattle Sounders have their eyes on some serious silverware this season, like the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup. Seattle is a successful, decorated franchise but these awards elude them. The one cup Seattle has won, and won in buckets, is the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Tonight that cup is at stake, as Seattle plays the Philadelphia Union in the USOC Final.

The Sounders won three straight Open Cups and were knocking on the door of history coming thisclose to a fourth in a 2012 before completely flaming out last season. This season, the Sounders have had a helluva Open Cup run. I was chanting at Starfire for the drubbing of PSA Elite. I was there for the nerve-wracking shootout with San Jose. I watched overtime against Portland and the slaughter of Chicago. But tonight’s match is for all the glory.

I want this game. I want this win. This is Seattle’s first crack at the Lamar Hunt since… oh, a certain game in Kansas City officiated by a certain Ricardo Salazar. That loss hurt. The crap penalty awarded to Kansas City that looked to be the go-ahead. Ianni getting sent off at the death, and then the crap call that Gspurning left his line on the final pk’s. Tonight the Sounders seek vindication.

I know the Philadelphia Union looks like an easy opponent (I said as much earlier), but game day is always different. Union coach Kevin Curtin said it, “Yeah, finals are unique, they’re always crazy. You play in them and sometimes the teams don’t look like they do in the build up to a final.” The Sounders should not take this opponent lightly. The Union have never competed for a trophy, so will be hell-bent for leather. They are a team on the rise, losing just once in their last ten games. And they can score, having the best offense in the Eastern Conference with 45 goals. Philly started a b-team against New York on Saturday, resting Conor Casey and limiting Sebastian Le Toux, Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueria. Tonight Seattle must field a top-flight lineup determined to win.

Unfortunately, Seattle’s has question marks in the lineup.. Marco Pappa, a stalwart for the entire USOC run, is just returning from the Copa Centroamericana. The rest of Seattle’s ideal eleven just clocked 90 grueling minutes in an epic slugfest with RSL on Friday. It seems coach Sigi Schmid must make some curious calls with his starting eleven. The Sounders chose Kenny Cooper, not Clint Dempsey, not DeAndre Yedlin, not Obafemi Martins, to accompany the coach to the pre-game press conference Monday. No offense to Cooper, but he is not a star or a face representative of the franchise. Sure, he has been on an Open Cup tear, but would Sigi start him over Martins or Dempsey? I understand the nod to Cooper’s USOC scoring streak, but tonight it’s do or die.

Tonight in Chester, PA, Seattle gets its first chance at a trophy in 2014. It is only the US Open Cup, a trophy they’ve won three times. A trophy their supporters aren’t satisfied with. A trophy they were robbed of in 2012. A trophy that doesn’t have a televised tournament. Our trophy. Tonight let’s reclaim what is rightfully ours.

Bold Prediction: These games are never easy. The Union want it badly and we’re not going to field a “starting” lineup. Dempsey won’t be in the eleven and neither will Pappa. I bet Andy Rose starts over Gonzalo Pineda. Our depth is quality and our 1A is still better than Philly’s best. We should win this game. I see both teams trading goals and then holding on the draw for a long time before a late go-ahead by… Chad Marshall. Sounders 2-1.

Let Us Now Praise Andy Rose

The Seattle Sounders played like champions Friday night in front of the Emerald City faithful, beating Real Salt Lake 3-2. The winner came at the death with Andy Rose striking true from about twelve yards out. Andy Rose. Andy freakin’ Rose. Can you believe it?! No offense to Obafemi Martins (or, um, that guy who captains the USMNT) but Rose is the hottest player in Rave Green.

Great teams build their team purposefully and with a dedication vision. Much is said of RSL building their team the right way: through coaching, scouting and player development, not flashy big-name signings. Rose, however, is one example of Seattle out-Salt-Lake’ing Salt Lake. Drafted by the Claret and Cobalt, Rose was immediately traded to Seattle for the rights of promising young defender Leone Cruz. Cruz is finally a pro, toiling away with the San Antonio Scorpions of the NASL while Rose, slowly brought along and coached up, is an MLS star in the making.

Andy Rose is an incredible story. Once upon a time, he was a plucky project clocking too many minutes for a team built to win now. In 2012, Rose was a freshly signed rookie who kept finding himself clocking meaningful minutes. The Sounders had Ozzie and Mauro and Evans and even Christian Tiffert, but somehow this 22 year-old kid kept popping up in the lineup (much to the chagrin of the fan base). We grumbled because Rose wasn’t a big named star, a hot prospect or even an accomplished but unsung veteran. Though Rose acquitted himself well, he was just some kid. He was too easily seen as a weak link on a club with such lofty ambitious as Seattle.

Last year Rose suffered a helluva sophomore slump, seeing his minutes and production greatly decrease. It was easy to think Rose would be one of many professional soccer aspirants who’d fade into obscurity (hello Alex Caskey). An injury early this season further complicated Rose’s return to the first team, but recently he has recovered and been reborn.

Andy Rose is a weapon. I never predicted Andy Rose would become a player I want to see on the field, but damn, we need more Andy! Rose is killer on set pieces. He creates what an (American) football coach would call a “matchup problem.” This time it isn’t a bulky linebacker trying to cover Jimmy Graham, but the third or fourth best defender flailing at a 6’2’’ Rose’s confident strikes. When the Sounders set up for a corner, the opposition immediately puts their best aerial defender on Chad Marshall and Zach Scott, as both are deadly. Of course, Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins attract attention, leaving that poor overmatched guy to contend with Rose. The Sounders will take that matchup every day of the week and twice on gameday. Literally. The reborn Rose had his coming out party in mid-August against the Chicago Fire in the semifinals of the US Open Cup scoring twice on set pieces. Last week against Chivas USA, in his next significant minutes, he again scored twice on set pieces. So Friday’s dramatic last-minute winner was actually kind of a letdown for the Aussie. He only scored once.

That sound you hear is the rest of the league collecting evacuating their bowels. A team with Dempsey, Oba, Pappa, Neagle, Barrett and Cooper just added another weapon. The Sounders have been winning (2 ppg!!) without a plethora of dedicated set piece targets, but now can diversify their attack even more. And the best part is, the Sounders didn’t even have to make headlines or look outside their own locker room to find this player. They just had to wait for one of their own to develop, get coached-up and start believing in himself. Andy Rose is a testament to the Seattle Sounders and their system. Hell, I never thought I’d say this, but Andy Rose may very well be the difference that puts Seattle into soccer nirvana.

Seattle Sounders beat Real Salt Lake 3-2 in Epic Tilt

THAT is how you win the Supporters’ Shield. By fighting and clawing and scratching and pushing ‘til you get what you want. Big teams play big in big games and the Sounders are the biggest team in MLS right now. Damn. It feels good to be a Sounder.

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Begrudging Respect: Seattle Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake Matchday

Tonight in Sodo the Seattle Sounders will clash with Real Salt Lake in a megawatt, no-holds-barred, keep-the-lights-on, another-sports-cliché match that may decide Western Conference supremacy (or at least keep L.A. at bay). And I’m honored to be taking my uncle, Bob. He is a gourmand and world traveller who prefers classy wines to grassy knees. Other than golf, he is emphatically not a sports fan. But the Sounders fever my wife and I exhibit, and the city he lives in, compelled him to check out a game. Tonight he’s in for a real treat.

Real Salt Lake is one of those clubs you can’t really hate. At least I can’t. The Claret and Cobalt do it the right way and they are committed. Sure, they have a stupid, piped-in fight song, but their fans care. I’ve been to Rio Tinto. It’s in the suburb of Sandy, but that doesn’t stop the RSL faithful from packing the place and singing along.

RSL is a classy group. They don’t employ a Blas Pérez or a Will Johnson (anymore), just quality players you can’t help but respect: Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy and, of course, Nick Rimando. RSL is committed to developing players and keeping a core intact, which results in a culture of consistent excellence. And they do it in a small-market without being flashy like us, New York, Toronto or Los Angeles. That deserves begrudging respect.

If you only follow international competition or European clubs, you probably care less for the mighty mite shot stopper, Nick Rimando. However, Rimando is approaching folk-hero status among MLS-heads. He has been brilliant for so long that his feats are almost of heroic proportion. I remember the 2012 Western Conference semifinals where Rimando stopped damned near everything put at him. The first leg up here in Seattle went scoreless and the game in Sandy was as well until the 81st minute. It was a lone, late and deadly shot from Mario Martinez that decided the series in Seattle’s favor. During the home game, a cold night in early November, I screamed many unpleasant things at every save Rimando made. He was simply lights out, laying out for corners, punching headers and cutting angles all night. Late in the game, he collided with a streaking Christian Tiffert and took an elbow to the temple. I howled with the barbaric green-and-blue faithful for the coward to get up and get on with it. I had my blood up and wasn’t feeling none to classy. Rimando finished with game with a black and swelling eye, and I felt mighty sheepish about my behavior later. Nick Rimando is nothing but class.

The problem here is: Seattle too often must go through RSL to achieve their goals and succeed in MLS. This rivalry, though not culturally or geographically natural, is predicated on competition. The teams have gone toe-to-toe in huge games too often to count. Plus RSL has what Seattle wants: an MLS Cup. RSL has been in multiple championship games while Seattle wallows in the lobby of the contender’s club, eyeing L.A., Salt Lake and Kansas City jealously.

This Friday with a rested Dempsey, the Sounders can change their stars. We called our 4-2 victory over Portland a statement game. Scratch that. Portland is playing for their playoffs lives and their defense is as loose as blueliner’s tooth. This is Seattle’s statement game.

Bold Prediction: We’re rested. So are they. We have top-flight talent. So do they. The big difference in the match will be Álvaro Saborio who recently returned from injury. All he does is put balls in the back of the net. Not trying to sell the Sounders short, but I see a tie: 1-1.

Clint Dempsey: Rested or Rusty?

A familiar face graced Starfire Sports Complex Wednesday as the Seattle Sounders took to the practice pitch. A face that launched a thousand memes: the Deuce face. Clint Dempsey is back training with his club after a much needed rest that coach Sigi Schmid gave him following the win at Chivas USA. on Friday, a, hopefully, rested and ready Clint Dempsey will take the field in Sodo.

Dempsey needed rest and I am glad he got a little. I would’ve preferred he was given the whole time between Colorado and RSL, but maybe Sigi felt he needed to strike a balance between rest and keeping a rhythm. We don’t want Deuce rusty this Friday for the big clash with the Claret and Cobalt.

Sigi told the media last week, “I’ve given him some additional days off here. Clint and I had spoken about it. We establish here’s a place where we can give you five or six days. When you look around the league at a guy like Matt Besler saying ‘man, I’m tired, I need a break’ I think we’re trying to incorporate that and keep our team going at the same time. We gave Clint a break right after the World Cup, I thought that was necessary, and I think we need to give him a little break here.”

Deuce has been inconsistent scoring-wise ever since coming back form Brazil. He’s working and contributing off the ball, but he lacks that crisp final touch. Sure he has always been a streaky scorer, but this is different. You can see him flagging at the tail-end of games. I can really relate to the supporters who said, why the hell did Sigi play Dempsey in the Chivas game? Dempsey is tired, he has said as much, and was clearly less effective for the second half on Carson. The Sounders need him fresh in November.

Seattle has high, high hopes this season and tired superstars don’t factor into that equation. Remember Oba from late last season? Yeah, neither do I. Martins came over tired from Levante, played two seasons straight and was cooked when we needed him most. The same could happen to Dempsey. A few small spells here and there are not what he needed, he needed a major break. The man has been punching the clock since Christmas. Dempsey’s played in Fulham, Seattle, Brazil and back in Seattle this year.

With Seattle’ crap draw in the stretch run of the season, the Sounders need to squeeze every opportunity out of this team. It goes without saying that Deuce is a key component of the attack. We need him fresh and full of piss and vinegar.

MLS and Its Spotty Glory

The Pacific shroud had settled inland and upon Greater Los Angeles. Unseasonably cool in Carson, the few fans zipped their hoodies or downed their beer jackets watching the Seattle Sounders finish yeoman’s work in dispatching an apathetic opponent away on a Wednesday night in front of maybe 400. American soccer totem and Seattle forward Clint Dempsey was the last Sounder spared, coming off the pitch in the 87th minute of a nearly meaningless game. Dempsey has played for big clubs in Europe and around the globe in the World Cup, but tonight he was just sweat-soaked and tired. He raised his hands to applaud his few supporters and clocked out of work.

Last Wednesday’s game in Carson shows what it’s like to be a pro in MLS. The glory is, at best, spotty in American soccer. Dempsey moved from the soccer cradle of the EPL to empty stadiums in the suburbs. The Stubhub Center was abandoned, like other stadiums in retread MLS cities. It’s easy to think how glamorous being a pro athlete would be: money, travel, playing a child’s game for a living, but when you fly week after week to dead arenas and (pardon the sports cliché) “have to get up” for a game against a despondent team in a deserted park midweek… sheesh. They ain’t all Timbers-Sounders kids. Yet. I still believe that soccer has nowhere to go but up in this country. I know this is an easy position to take, but people thought the same thing in 1976 and where did the NASL go? American soccer will survive if MSL focuses on slow, steady growth.

MSL hasn’t guaranteed its long-term future yet. Recent moves, expansion and loosening salary constrictions, are proving strong signs of life, but the league can’t maintain draining clubs such as Chivas. It is like an infection. the more Dempseys and Bradleys we bring in, great press and stories, but we must focus on stable, measurable stats. Attendance numbers have dwindled for the L.A. Galaxy since Beckham left (he was that important) and TFC failed at throwing money around and dissolved into a useless puddle again. These are some big markets with flagship franchises and they are not yet thriving. So slow the roll on your bullish take, MLS needs to focus on cleaning house before inviting more people to the party. The opposite of what it is currently doing in the Southeast, handing out franchises like it’s Halloween.

It’s scary to think how successful an expansion Chivas USA was. Like the Sounders after them, Chivas came out like gangbusters only missing the playoffs in their first year. They qualified for the playoffs four seasons straight, 2006-2009, winning the West in 2007. This franchise used to have All-Stars and Coach of the Years. They used to compete in the CONCACAF Champions League and send players to big-time European clubs (Brad Guzan) and the USMNT (Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan). This was a proud, growing club once upon a time. So don’t ask for whom the bell tolls Orlando and Atlanta, entropy and apathy can happen anywhere. MLS must set their house in order and do the right thing by Chivas USA: find solid, committed owners who’ll keep the team in the West and produce a winning culture. If not, shades of the NASL may arise.

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