Month – November 2014

Seattle Sounders vs Los Angeles Galaxy: West Coast Apotheosis

Huge day. The apotheosis of the Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles Galaxy’s rivalry happens tonight. Sorry for being so incommunicado readers. I am still recovering from the worst head cold of my life. Bad week to be on the PUP list, but I roused myself from post-holiday convalescence to boldly predict.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Sounders want to play a tight game. This starts in the middle third where Seattle had a hard time linking up with Oba and Clint. The availability of Seattle’s Ozzie Alonso and Marcelo Sarvas will be key. The midfield was won by L.A. last week with the absence of Ozzie, but if Sarvas’s health keeps him benched expect the opposite.

The Sounders, down a goal, need to push the attack. Maybe it’s the Sudafed talking (or the Dayquil, or maybe like Samuel Taylor Coleridge I was visited by an inspired fever dream): this game is going to be wide open. Bad news: the Galaxy will score first. Good News: The Sounders will score. A lot. Sigi does his best to have his charges follow the script of the last month and play tight in the back and score opportunistically. But Keane and Donovan are too good to keep at zero.

The score is tied 1-1 at halftime. The Sounders score early after the break to take the lead in the game and tie the series. Around the 60th minute, L.A. scores what seems to be the dagger. With their backs against the wall, like it was back in April against Portland, or in the US Open Cup against Philly, Seattle goes all cardiac kids and puts two more in at the death. Sounders win 4-2, and the series on 4-3 aggregate.

Happy Thanksgiving

A happy holiday to all my Raving Readers. Thanksgiving is a great day: food, family, (American) football. Enjoy it.

Wishing you all delicious pies,
-Brent

Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles Galaxy: The Grunts Play Top Billing

The Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders are bedecked with star players. But last weekend, in the first leg of the Western Conference Finals, it was the grunts who won the day.

Us folks here in Seattle want to crow about how we took L.A.’s stars out of the attack. Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan were absolute non-factors in the game. The pair combined for only three shots (none on goal). Rendering that dynamic duo rarely dangerous, at home nonetheless, is a true testament to Seattle’s newfound commitment to defense. However Galaxy fans could claim the exact thing.

Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins are now scoreless in three playoff games. However, L.A. didn’t exactly shut Seattle down. Oba and Deuce combined for six shots, three of which were on target. Only sublime keeping from Jaime Penedo and the rub of the green kept Seattle off the score sheet. Coach Sigi Schmid always talks about the paramount importance of creating chances and, considering his bona fides, I’ll take his word for it. Thus Oba and Deuce are bound to get hot eventually. Let’s hope it’s very, very soon.

As both sides’ stars were taken out of the game, the yeomen made their mark. L.A.’s Marcelo Sarvas scored the lone goal and Robbie Rogers (four shots, one on goal) and Stefan Ishizaki (numerous deadly through balls and crosses) were the Galaxy’s most dangerous attackers. Seattle’s grunts made their mark on defense.

Any conversation about the hustling grunts from last week’s game is incomplete without mention of Zach Scott. Despite the Twittersphere being all, well, atwitter over Scott not getting that second yellow, he played a fine game. It’s the playoffs. It’s a huge rivalry. It was chippy. Could Scott have gotten carded a second time? Hell yes! The man attacked every Galaxian who dared approached him. That’s how Scott plays and it works. Did Scott deserve a second yellow? Well Taylor Twellman sure thought he did, but the Buddhists teach us to divorce ourselves from the concept of “deserve.” The whole situation was blown out of proportion with Omar Gonzalez running his mouth claiming referee Kevin Stott declared he wouldn’t give Scott a second yellow no matter what. Gonzalez runs his mouth, he does that. And he’s an expert at second yellows.

The edge this weekend may go to Seattle’s supporting cast. We did not have Lamar Neagle, he of nine goals and nine assists, available. His presence could make a huge difference. Not only because of his athleticism and work rate, but because he allows Marco Pappa to play as a super sub. In these tight, defense-first matchups, Pappa is better off the bench. When discipline and playing to zero is key, Neagle can give 65+ minutes of quality two-way playing. Then when the game is winding down, Pappa’s creativity is a real spark off the bench, as evidenced in the final game of the regular season. I think Pappa plays pissed when he has to come off the bench. An angry Pappa is a very good thing for Seattle.

Tuesday Quick Update

Sorry for not posting today readers. I have caught some horrible cold. Take your vitamin c and stay healthy ’cause this one is a doozy.

A quick congrats to Chad Marshall who won a very deserving Defender of the Year title.

A prayer for the family of Michael Brown. Injustice and racism are still very much institutionalized in the United States. All the diversions of the holidays and professional sports shouldn’t distract us from striving to be conscious citizens fighting for a better society for all.

Seattle Sounders at Los Angeles Galaxy: Leg 1 Recap

The Seattle Sounders lost to the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 in a kiss-you-sister affair Sunday night in Carson, California. Seattle would’ve preferred a result or at least a road goal, but L.A. must be disappointed having only scored once.

The Sounders didn’t look great, as they were under siege for the majority of the afternoon. Without midfielder Ozzie Alonso, el Corazon de los Sounders, Seattle ceded the midfield repeatedly. L.A.’s middlemen, Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho, took advantage and triggered a ceaseless attack. The Galaxy registered 20 shots and 60% possession. It seemed every time a Galaxian started charging with the ball at his feet, Seattle’s defense retreated. No one challenged L.A. in the middle third. It got so bad it seemed our centerback’s asses were in Stefan Frei’s lap. L.A.’s backline set up shop at the midfield stripe, while ours did so on Frei’s line. At one point Omar Gonzales dispossessed Obafemi Martins at midfield. That was the major difference in the game: L.A. attacked, we defended.

Despite constant pressure, L.A. could only mount a lackluster attack. Most of their twenty shots were errant at best. We took exactly half as many shots and yet equaled L.A. for shots on frame (at three). Even L.A.’s lone goal needed a freaky deflection off centerback Chad Marshall to beat Frei. L.A. had the clear advantage, at home with a first-choice lineup, and they cold only muster a single goal and three shots on target.

If you had told me before this weekend that Ozzie wouldn’t be back, that goal-dangerous Lamar Neagle (warm wishes and prayers to him and his) would be an unexpected scratch and that Michael Azira, Andy Rose and Chad Barrett would see significant minutes, I’d have been scared stiff. But even with this lineup we still practically shut the Galaxy down. Only losing 1-0 to L.A. in L.A. is not a bad result.

I would have loved a road goal. Having one in our pocket would’ve been a victory for us, even with a loss of equal margin. Keeping the Galaxy from scoring a costly goal will be difficult, but I believe the Sounders can do this and win 2-0 or 3-1 at home.

The suburbs of Los Angeles played prelude to the match we’ve been waiting all season for. Next Sunday in downtown Seattle, the stage is set for the exciting final act.

Seattle Sounders at Los Angeles Galaxy Gameday

The Seattle Sounders vs. the Los Angeles Galaxy. The First Leg of the Western Conference Finals is finally here.

Bold Prediction: Seattle’s attack has been clunky while their defense has been the tightest its ever been. It’s like the Sounders somehow traded hats with Vancouver or something. They’ll need to stick to this formula to get a result in Carson.

Of course an in-form L.A., coming off their rout of RSL, will surely test the strength of Seattle’s newfound defensive shape. Ozzie Alonso probably won’t play and this will greatly affect the midfield, allowing Keane and Donovan to find space. I see a 2-1 L.A win, but Seattle with a crucial road goal.

Seattle Sounders at Los Angeles Galaxy: A New-Look Seattle

Big game in Carson this Sunday as your Seattle Sounders square off against the Los Angeles Galaxy in the first leg of the MLS Western Conference Finals. All the time off and the relative anticlimaxity (neologism!) of the Dallas series, had me lulled into a false sense of serenity. It wasn’t until I started researching this post that the butterflies began welling up in the guts. The Sounders are in the Conference Finals. They are so close to the Treble but have to play Los Angeles. It had to be Los Angeles. I am terrified it’s Los Angeles. We can beat Los Angeles.

The Sounders proved in the last L.A. series that they are a different squad from seasons pat. They didn’t play like 2012 Sounders, the 2013 Sounders or even the 2014 Sounders. This Sunday in SoCal the Sounders need to stick to their new and improved formula: play to zero and spring a timely goal or two.

Tactically, Seattle has overthrown themselves completely. The team’s undergone a significant role reversal when you consider how they got to their franchise-record 20 wins and 64 points. From day one, Seattle simply said we’ll score more than you. But ever since the two drubbings we took at the hands of Dallas and New York at the end of September, it seems the team has put a real focus on playing defense-first soccer.

In the seven games since those back-to-back losses (including the playoffs), the Sounders have only conceded seven goals. A single goal-against a game is a huge improvement from the 1.5 per we were yielding up to that point. Averaging 1 goal against can win you MLS Cup.

Seattle’s gone 3-1-3 in this run as opposed to 17-9-3 before it started. Our hellbent-for-leather style earned us lots of wins but also resulted in a proportionality higher number of losses. Hell we had only three ties through 29 games and now have three in our last four. The team is committed to getting results.

Most surprisingly, despite the appearance of Seattle’s veritable bottomless font of goals drying up, the Sounders scored thirteen in their recent run. That’s good for a 1.8 goals-for average. I’ll ride 1.8 GF and 1.0 GA all the way to MLS Cup.

Mo Money, Mo Winning: MLS Embraces Salary Disparity

Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles Galaxy, New York Red Bulls and the New England Revolution. The last four teams standing in the MLS Cup playoffs are all big spenders from big markets.

Traditionally, clubs that have the deepest pockets stand atop the table. In MLS, the formation of super clubs has been prevented by the salary cap. As the allowed number of DPs has climbed to three and the salary cap has loosened, clubs like Seattle, New York and L.A. have embraced the role of big spender. Of the final four teams, the Revs are the only surprising addition to this elite company. They’ve been stingy in recent years, but ever since they signed Jermaine Jones away from the Chicago Fire, they’ve been acting the art of super club.

The four semifinalist clubs are all in the top 6 in spending this year (and that includes Orlando City and Kaka’s enormous $7.1 mil contract, the largest contract in league history). The only team that actually took the pitch this season and isn’t in the final four? You guessed it, Toronto FC. TFC was the biggest spender in the league and didn’t even make the playoffs, again.

MLS might finally be transitioning to a big-name league. Maybe this is the beginning of a new trend and we’ll never again see a Dallas-Colorado final (unless those clubs loosen the purse strings). If so, I pity the small markets. Unless you have marquee players you’re not doing squat come autumn. All the big boys have their big toys and, except for perpetually cursed TFC, the big players played big in big games. Or maybe this whole phenomenon is a one-off. We are only one season removed from Kansas City vs. Salt Lake in the MLS Cup.

Some fiscal imbalance is good for the league. MLS needs marketable stars, big names with big talent. No offense to SKC or RSL but when Graham Zusi and Kyle Beckerman are the faces of the two respective MLS Cup tilters, the league ain’t exactly capturing a large TV audience. This season, MLS has celebrities to sell. Dempsey, Donovan, Henry and even Jones, considering his tremendous efforts in Brazil, are household names. ESPN can slap Deuce’s face on a promo and non-soccer fans are like, “oh yeah, that guy.” It’s the economy stupid: the more people tune in, the more commercials are sold, the more the league profits, the more salaries can rise, the better the league gets.

Compare this season’s playoff bracket to the spending list:

spending and the playoffs

The team that spent more consistently beat the team that didn’t, regardless of seeding. The play-in games gave us one exception: #10 Dallas beat #9 Vancouver. Spending between those two clubs was close, $5.1 to $4.5 mil, making the difference in total payroll negligible. As a Sounders fan, I hope this “more spending trumps less spending, unless the differences aren’t too large” theory holds. L.A. outspent us by $1.3 million.

But I think we can all agree that DeAndre Yedlin and Marco Pappa are vastly underpaid, so maybe the spending difference is none too large between the robber barons of the West.

Jordan Morris vs. DeAndre Yedlin

Yesterday I wrote about Jordan Morris and his looming decision to sign with MLS. I want to be clear, Morris forgoing MLS for Europe is very different than DeAndre Yedlin quickly bolting to sign with Tottenham Hotspur.

Both players’ actions are similar in that they say, “MLS is not the best league in the world. I want to test myself against better competition.” Thing is, no one is saying otherwise. MLS is not the best league in the world. Better players play elsewhere. Morris skipping out on the domestic league boldly insults MLS’s, and the American soccer infrastructure’s, ability to develop soccer talent. Whereas Yedlin’s decision was nothing but good publicity for MLS.

Yedlin and Morris had very different career paths. Morris practically has Lebron-esque hype. USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann raves about him and the Sounders are salivating at the chance to sign him. And Morris was capped by the senior team yesterday (and had some dangerous touches) in the USMNT’s 4-1 drubbing to Ireland. This is a far cry from Yedlin’s experience.

DeAndre Yedlin was a nobody when he became a Sounder. Like Morris now, Yedlin was a collegiate sophomore when he signed his first professional contract. But Yedlin wasn’t getting a sniff from US Soccer during his Akron days. Before a random injury to Adam Johansson opened the door for Yedlin to play, he was just another talented youngster. No one expected much from him but now he’s the owner of shiny new contract with an EPL club. Here lies the rub, the chief difference between Morris and Yedlin’s situations.

MLS did right by DeAndre Yedlin. MLS commissioner Don Garber and Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer despise Klinsmann’s notion that MLS cannot develop young players or challenge developed players. This narrative, they contend, stunts the sport’s growth in our country. Yedlin is a huge piece of evidence that Garber and Hanauer are right. Sigi Schmid and the Sounders coaches are responsible for Yedlin’s rapid development. Klinsmann rostered Yedlin in Brazil mostly because he liked what he saw from the Sounders rightback. It is hypocritical for Klinsmann to denigrate MLS at the same time he lauds Yedlin. Seattle gave Yedlin serious minutes and serious coaching. And he’s a better player for it.

Yedlin can only jump straight to Spurs because he developed in MLS. Spurs are, usually, a top five club in the EPL. It isn’t like Yedlin’s signing with an Eredivisie also-ran. Too many Americans go overseas and fail to see significant minutes or end up in leagues no better than our domestic one. How is this better for a young player’s development than the Yedlin experience? No one knows where Morris will end up or if he will ever deliver on the promise of his talent. But he would be wise to consider Yedlin’s past eighteen months and make his decision accordingly. I feel it is the best possible decision for the young man, as an American soccer fan and a devotee of the Eternal Blue Forever Green.

Jordan Morris, Jurgen Klinsmann and the Future of MLS

To sign or not to sign, that is Jordan Morris’s question. The Stanford sophomore now regularly receives call-ups to the USMNT, and Morris is clearly primed to move past his collegiate career.

Once upon a time, a top American soccer prospect like Morris would be eyeing a contract in a lesser European league like Landon Donovan or Alexi Lalas before him.

With the advent of MLS, ambitions Americans had a local springboard to opportunities across the pond. The Clint Dempseys and Tim Howards of yesteryear followed this path and found real success amongst the best leagues in Europe.

Now MLS is at a crossroads. The league has gained real legitimacy and clout and strives to be a “league of destination.” Clint Dempsey is back. Salaries are up. TV deals are hefty and expansion is rampant. So what is up with Jordan Morris?

Unlike DeAndre Yedlin, Sean Okoli, Aaron Kovar and, presumably, Darwin Jones, Morris is one successful collegian not chomping to sign an MLS contract. The Sounders would sign Morris to a homegrown contract in a redhot minute. Leading us to presume that the only reason this won’t happen immediately upon the termination of the NCAA tournament (which starts this weekend and runs until December 14th) is that Morris is considering skipping the Sounders and jumping right to Europe. Which would be quite a blow to not only the Sounders, but also MLS in general. And if Morris does so, I am sure he is drinking the Jurgen Klinsmann Kool-Aid.

As has been oft-discussed, USMNT coach Klinsmann has little respect for MLS and has slowly been creating a rift between himself and MLS commissioner Don Garber. Klinsmann’s been running his mouth about the quality of MLS and its inability to develop players. He was not impressed with Dempsey and Michael Bradley’s decisions to return to the league and he publically admonished Bradley, saying MLS was hurting his career. Garber was heated and, to some criticism, quickly issued a press release touting the league while denigrating Klinsmann. Jordan Morris is why.

If a highly talented young American like Morris will forgo one of MLS’s marquee clubs for a shot at toiling in a lesser European league, MLS is back at square one. It would be a staunch rebuke to a league clawing its way to legitimacy. If the perception exists that our domestic league cannot develop our most talented players, than American is truly still a soccer backwater. Seattle Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer clearly wants to sign Morris, and talented young locals like him to his club. Any slight, or appearance of slight to the domestic league directly affects him. He recently said:

“We are investing millions of dollars in youth development. It’s hard enough to compete with foreign teams who are trying to poach players in the U.S. and Canada. I’m certainly not happy if our federation and its representatives are in any way pushing our players to sign with a foreign club and bypassing our professional environment.”

Our federation, specifically Klinsmann, seems to be pushing players away. Klinsmann is especially taken with Morris. He recently said, “We see something special in him” in response to Morris maybe playing against Ireland in todays friendly. God knows if Klinsmann is specifically telling Morris to forgo MLS for Europe, but the two have clearly talked about the youngster’s career path. Klinsmann discussed Morris’s future with ESPNFC back in September, saying “He has the choice now to say, ‘OK, am I jumping on the Sounders track in January, or am I considering another year, or am I considering maybe even going to Europe?’ He has those pieces on the table that he can discuss with his family and his dad and with his coaches to hopefully make the right decision for him. “

Klinsmann is the coach of the USMNT and keeping the MLS talent pipeline open isn’t his job. However after Deuce and Bradley made it cool for Americans to play in MLS again, and after Klinsmann himself roster a record 10 MLS players for the 2014 World Cup, Morris skipping out on the Sounders could be a major blow. The news has been nothing but good around MLS and soccer in the US in general, but Morris’s single decision could reverse a lot of positive momentum.

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