A narrative, the Seattle Sounders choke when there’s silverware at stake, was buried Saturday at CenturyLink Field. In gritty and flashy fashion, Seattle won the Supporters’ Shield beating rival Los Angeles Galaxy 2-0.
The game was a deadlocked slugfest (literally at times) until the 82nd minute when Marco Pappa took an Obafemi Martins pass and one-timed it past the keeper, into the pink netting. That first goal was catharsis. I don’t think I’d ever heard CLink louder.
As the game drug into the 80th minute, the pressure became nearly unbearable. A draw seemed more and more likely, but conditioned to expect the worst in sports, I was sure L.A. was going to break our hearts. Sure of it. I could see them stealing one late and not leaving enough time for us to respond. But this year, as they’ve proven for months, the Sounders persevered, rewriting the history books and collective opinion of the club.
If the first goal was euphoria, the second was surrealism. Pappa again struck, bullyragging L.A.’s keeper, Jaime Penedo, into a turnover outside the box. Pappa dodged around the last defender and popped a cheeky chip into the net for the killing blow. I was in shock. I barely celebrated, literally stood mouth agape, until the ladies behind us tapped my shoulder for fives. Marco Pappa provided the sizzle to cap the game, but it was Seattle’s defense that won the Shield.
The Sounders, shockingly, played impressive defense. I don’t know if the game plan was to cede possession and absorb, but it worked. Defense and sitting back is not our strong suit, not how we roll. We attack teams, we punish them as we cram the ball down their throat. And yet Saturday, 58,000 screaming supporters saw Seattle, at home, tell the best attacking team in the league, go ahead hold the ball as much as you want, we won’t let you do anything with it. The Sounders didn’t bunker as ten men weren’t always behind the ball, but ceded the lion’s share of possession and shots to L.A.
This tactic proved brilliant. Much was made of the disparity of shots on Twitter and amongst those that follow MLS. The argument exists that L.A. was the better in the game, and Seattle got lucky at the end. Matthew Doyle, MLS’s armchair analyst, thoroughly debunks this narrative while discussing the expected goals stat. We gave up the ball, but not quality scoring chances.
Our spine is stout. Seattle has the roster to be a defensive power: Ozzie is such a stud, so is Marshall. If we protect the flanks with a reined-in Yedlin and play Evans in the midfield, we have a tight defense. And with Oba and Clint up top, we don’t need to be throwing the kitchen sink at the opposing goal. Stay tight, win the midfield, and link up to your strikers. Then sit back and enjoy the show. This tactic marked Gyasi Zardes to the point of irrelevance, (much like Keane last week), and allowed us to chose quality times to counter.
With Zardes quiet, L.A.’s attack was further diluted because they had to respect our transition game. We forced L.A. into a pickle between pushing a weak attack or throwing more bodies up and exposing space for our deadly strikers. L.A. resorted to holding in the midfield and fouling with abandon. Coach Sigi Schmid pointed out how L.A. had 15 fouls in the first half alone, on pace for 30 on the day, an insanely high number. Sigi flat-out outcoached L.A.’s Bruce Arena. Maybe another narrative, Sigi’s not a tactics guy, was also laid to rest this past weekend.
We’ll probably see the Gals again very, very soon (though I’ll be a huge RSL fan for the next two weeks). Will this strategy work with Keane in the pitch? One goal was all L.A. needed, and Keane is coldblooded. Goals change games. The Galaxy had a couple near misses: that glancing strike by Zardes and the balding short timer Landycakes could’ve ended it early. In the x minute he ran screaming on the end of a great ball at the top of our box and snapped a chip that, somehow, Stefan Frei reflex saved.
Chokers no more. Supporters’ Shield champs. Two-thirds to the Treble. All is good in the Soundersphere, and yet we remain #hellahungry. Giddy yet hungry. We still have five games left.