Month – December 2014

Keith Olbermann and Seattle Sounders’ Q Rating

Happy offseason and holidays folks! Like many of you I’ve been following (American) football a lot lately. Yours truly is enjoying a bittersweet postseason as his beloved Birds finished with a 10-6 record but will watch the playoffs from the couch. The Seattle Seahawks are doing well once again, having locked up the #1 seed in the NFC for the second straight year. Recently the Hawks did receive some bad publicity. This video was sent in by Raving Reader FriarTuck.

Though funny, as a Sounders fan I couldn’t help but be a little miffed by Olbermann’s swift dismissal of the team. Sure in the national consciousness we’re just a blip, but amongst the domestic soccer cognoscenti, the Sounders are legion. Then I remember that this is the same buffoon who repeatedly denounces the world’s favorite sport. The last thing I want is him giving the Sounders love. Besides, “No one likes us! We don’t care!”

Obafemi Martins: Oba MVP in 2015

Seattle Sounders fans can look forward to star Obafemi Martins playing with a mighty big chip on his shoulder in 2015. MLS named L.A. Galaxy forward Robbie Keane Most Valuable Player two weeks ago over Martins. When Martins was snubbed by his national team for World Cup duty, he claimed he’d play his own Oba World Cup and dominated MLS throughout the summer. I’m looking forward to the Oba MVP season next year.

Being awarded Sounders club MVP and MLS Goal of the Year honors are some consolation for the Nigerian (Martin’s goal against the Earthquakes was a helluva strike. My wife and I were up in our regular seats, high up in the west end, and from our angle Oba’s wonder strike looked even more ubermenschian).

The race for MLS MVP was tight this year as Keane, Martins and New England’s Lee Nguyen all had stellar seasons. Most prognosticators had it down to Martins and Keane, but Keane won the award easily. Thing is, major awards always lapse behind. The establishment usually honors the status quo even as the world changes around them (think of the Grammys or how Scorcese didn’t win an Oscar ‘til “The Departed).

Oba and Keane both put up tremendous numbers, though Keane’s raw stats were slightly better: Keane: 19 goals, 14 assists; Martins: 17 goals, 13 assists. But context is key. If everything was about numbers, then Seattle merely tied both Dallas and L.A. in the playoffs.

The context of professional sports MVP is further complicated because the award is usually given successful teams and, often, champions. The fact that Keane was named MVP days after L.A. advanced past Seattle to the MLS Cup most certainly played a part. If Seattle had advanced would Oba be clearing mantle space at this very moment? Seattle won the Supporters’ Shield and Oba was the best player (sorry Deuce) on the best team over 34 games and 8 months. Yes Keane had better raw numbers, but Oba was always very much involved in the flow of the game. Even when not getting the obvious, neon-light-can’t-miss wonder strikes.

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In other Robbie Keane news from the week leading up to MLS Cup, the Irishman was spouting many crazy things. He made a clear swipe at CenturyLink Field’s playing surface in dismissing “astro turf” (as if this is the 80s). I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: the best turf is not better than the best grass. But there are horrible natural grass surfaces out there and quality turf far surpasses them. Sharing the stadium with the Seahawks contributes t more wear-and-tear, but I’d rather play downtown in a vibrant stadium and setting than on a perfect grass pitch forgotten in the suburbs any day.

Keane also claimed his breaking-down body can play for another four years. I hope you keep playing Robbie. If you’re as much of an impact in the next four years as you were in the last four games against Seattle, the Sounders will have no trouble winning the West for the foreseeable future.

Raving Green: Until Next Season Folks!

I’ve been drunk on a Sounders bender all season, but now I’m awake. It’s a bright 9 am, and I’m hungover remembering US Open Cups, thrilling victories over Portland, Marco Pappa plain clowning Jaime Penedo for the Supporters’ Shield and, alas, a tie that ended a dream.

On a bittersweet note for Sounders fans, who saw the season end 135 minutes from a Treble, The Los Angeles Galaxy won MLS Cup yesterday. In an odd way it’s always comforting to lose to the eventual champ, knowing you were only knocked out by the best. But if we had one more goal, or Ozzie for 15 more minutes, or spotted Juninho at the top of the box, maybe that would’ve been us downing New England in added time. Small solace indeed.

Today Raving Readers is my final post of 2014. I want to thank all my regular readers for following me throughout the season. It was my first time running a blog. I didn’t properly appreciate how much of a marathon six posts a week for forty weeks would be; I just love the Sounders and writing and jumped in the deep end. It was a blast.

I’m done posting regularly for the time being. Though some key offseason dates are soon upon us:

  • Wednesday, December 10th, is a big day. The MLS trade window opens and the MLS Expansion Draft occurs.
  • December 12th and 18th are the dates the MLS Re-Entry Draft unfurls.
  • January 15th is the MLS SuperDraft.
  • Training camps should open, assuming a new CBA has been agreed upon, shortly thereafter.

I’ll jump in and post my two-cents when exciting Sounders news breaks, or if I just get the itch to blog.

Thanks again Raving Readers and Happy Holidays.

Los Angeles Galaxy vs. The New England Revolution: MLS Cup Final

Today the Los Angeles Galaxy and the New England Revolution take the pitch to decide the 2014 MLS Cup Champion.

Bold Prediction: I’m sick of yellow confetti. This is less a well-reasoned but ballsy prediction, and rather a visceral wish. Lee Nguyen and Jermaine Jones continue their unquestioned dominance of the league and carve up L.A. to the tune of 4-2. Have fun in retirement Landycakes.

Seattle Sounders: Logistics of a Youth Movement

The third and final installment in my Seattle Sounders ch-ch-changes series will focus on the logistics of Seattle’s roster reshaping.

Yedlin is gone, to begin with. Seattle’s first Home Grown Player and the first HGP to ever play in a World Cup has unofficially officially played his last game in Rave Green.

GM Adrian Hanauer and co. are already buys preparing for the future. Sounders FC extended coach Sigi Schmid yesterday keeping the club under the direction of a solid steward. The front office will now busy itself with the inevitable roster churn: filling out the USL Pro’s S2 roster, weathering the expansion draft and adapting to the new CBA.

The second order of business was to announce a roster shakeup with 8 players passively released from contract: Marcus Hahnemann, Djimi Traore, Cam Weaver, Jalil Anibaba, Tristan Bowen, Eriq Zavaleta, Onyekachi Apam and Sean Okoli. Some of those players were long in the tooth and their release was no surprise. Hahnemann, after more than two decades, retired from professional soccer where he started. Traore, after a long and illustrious career, is also retiring and rumor has him transitioning to a front office or coaching position with Sounders FC. Weaver and Anibaba are journeymen veterans who couldn’t find many minutes with the first team here. Apam was a speculative signing late in the season that didn’t pan out. The surprising names are Bowen, Okoli and Zavaleta. All of these players are now no longer members of the Sounders senior team.

S2 would appear to be the next destination for these players. Hopefully Djimi and Hahnemann slide over to S2 as coaches. Okoli, Zavaleta, and Bowen are all 23 or younger and, having earned some first-team MLS minutes, would be the senior members of the junior team. If Seattle had S2 last year, Zavaleta would’ve never been a Goat. Bowen, though seasoned, is still very young and very talented. He’s a Merlin-esque player, his career is almost moving backwards, as the league’s first HGP who could finally find himself on a developmental team six years into his career.

Okoli has the most curious situation. Okoli left Wake Forest and signed an off-the-books HGP contract with Seattle. Let me explain. According to the current CBA, teams are allowed to sign as many HGPs as they like. Regular HGPs are paid close to the league minimum but the perks of signing a player to an HGP contract is to prevent the player from being eligible in the MLS Super Draft. Currently there are about 80 current MLS players signed as HGPs. However two of those HGPs, per year, can be signed to more lucrative contracts that don’t count against the salary cap. These off-the-books HGP contracts are powerful bargaining tools when signing a player. Yedlin and Okoli previously occupied Seattle’s two such contracts.

Okoli has just been released from his contract making room, ostensibly, for Darwin Jones and Jordan Morris to sign as the off-the-books HGPs. Smart clubs want to reserve their precious few off-the-books contracts for potential starters. Signing Yedlin to a free contract was a coup for the Sounders. As a two-time All-Star not eating into precious cap space, Yedlin gave Seattle a real competitive advantage. Seattle’s hoping Morris proves the same. Okoli ceding his contract gives the club the bargaining power of the limited contracts, and, presumably, in return he will now sign a more lucrative contract with the USL Pro-affiliated S2. How the new CBA treats transfers and contract reciprocity between the two leagues remains to be seen.

What about Aaron Kovar you ask? He was signed to a regular HGP contract last year and has been retained as such. Victor Mansaray recently signed a HGP contract as well and we can assume it’s the regular type. Mansaray, at only 17, should immediately be shuffled over to S2 to develop.

Seattle is brewing a veritable youth movement as Jimmy Ockford, Aaron Long, Damien Lowe and Kevin Parsemain are still under contract. It’s hard to think of the 2014 Sounders in the past tense. But looking ahead to Morris, Okoli, Kovar and Jones repping the crest for the next decade is some solace.

The Seattle Sounders: Depth the Wrong Way

A quick follow-up to yesterday’s post about the eventual disintegration of the Seattle Sounders we’ve come to know and love.

I look back at the MLS Western Conference Finals and feel robbed. If I were a weaker man, I’d rant that if Ozzie Alonso played the full series, the Sounders would’ve won running away. This was our season, our series and our DP midfielder pulls a bum hammy against Dallas. Which was especially maddening because Ozzie is the energizer bunny, rarely injured and always ready. Except when he wasn’t. Seattle had a stacked roster, but was shockingly thin at key positions.

We crowed all year about our depth. But we had depth the wrong way, as I wrote about earlier in the season. Clint Dempsey and Oba Martins are superlative strikers but if one of them they can’t go, Sigi has a cornucopia of attacking options. He can trot out Lamar Neagle, Kenny Cooper, or Chad Barrett. At defensive midfield, however, pickings were slim.

So many forwards, no midfielders. Or rather, no battle-tested, 100%-trusted midfielders. I wish Adrian had signed the a midfield equivalent of Barrett or Cooper to slot in for Ozzie. But he didn’t. That was our weakness and Los Brasilenos made us pay. At midfield we settled with Michael Azira and Andy Rose. In everyone’s worst case scenario, both saw significant minutes in the biggest game of the season. The dropoff from Ozzie was just too much. There is room for improvement.

The 2015 Sounders can be better than this year’s variety at two key positions: centerback and midfield. Seattle is hungry for help on the backline. I love Chad Marshall but L.A. toasted us when he was out. Hell, we were desperate enough for depth at the position that we signed an out-of-shape international centerback sight-unseen.

As I said earlier, the Sounders had skimpy midfield depth. The team got lucky with trialist Gonzalo Pineda. Who would’ve logged all those minutes besides Ozzie if not for him? Rose? We also need wingers, true touchline-hugging attacking midfielders. Marco Pappa always cheated in, Neagle’s an out-of-position forward and B-Rad’s a Swiss Army Knife. Again we got lucky because DeAndre Yedlin’s forays from the backline gave us the attacking width a winger normally provides. Unfortunately Yedlin now wears a crest with a chicken standing on a basketball, not the Space Needle. Hopefully Aaron Kovar can develop, but how much can the senior team expect of him next year? How much can we expect from any of our youngsters?

Looking ahead, the Sounders youth movement has started. We’re stacked at forward, as we can shed Cooper and Barrett and still have Parsemain, Okoli and Neagle behind Oba and Deuce. We can lose Pappa for Kovar, and hopefully further develop Rose. However looking at the roster to project the 2015 lineup is a fool’s errand. Who would’ve ever expected we’d have Pineda and Parsemain and Cooper at this time last year?

At least it’s only six weeks until training camp.

Seattle Sounders All Shook Up

Now the Seattle Sounders fall apart. Yesterday’s State of the League Roundtable reminded us that the league moves on and the 2014 Sounders are now consigned to history.

DeAndre Yedlin is now very much property of Tottenham Hotspur. Marco Pappa probably played his last game in Rave Green, especially after coach Sigi Schmid called him out by name, again, for not following direction (we remember what happened to Christian Tiffert). And I don’t see a place for journeyman Kenny Cooper going forward.

The MLS expansion draft is exactly a week away. The Sounders will surely be plundered. That’s the bad news. The good news? Well Sigi, GM Adrian Hanauer, and Sporting Director Chris Henderson will scout and add players to the roster. Whether or not the roster will be “better” next year is unknown, but it will be different.

How different is very much in the air. Seattle blew up the lineup following their loss to Los Angeles in the 2012 Western Conference finals. Bye bye Fredie, hello Oba and Clint. The lineup was again shaken up following last season’s abysmal end. Bye bye Eddie, hello Chad Marshall and Pappa. After another season ends without the MLS Cup held aloft in Sodo, does Sigi and company take a scalpel or a chisel to the roster?

Last year the decision was easy because the team had obvious flaws. This offseason the decision will be complicated by the inevitable loss DeAndre Yedlin and the expansion draft. The MLS Expansion Draft allows Orlando City and NYCFC to pick ten players each from the existing MLS rosters. Each team is allowed to protect 11 players (all Generation Adidas players are protected as well), and a team can only lose a maximum of tow players. The Sounders will lose two players. It’s frustrating because we’re good. Good at scouting and good at talent development, and other clubs are going to benefit.

But we’ve never been good enough. Who knows? Maybe the 2015 iteration of the Seattle Sounders, rejiggered with capable replacements and dazzling chemistry, will be the first to raise that Cup.

What If? The Seattle Sounders Swan Song

At long last we come to the end of the journey. The Seattle Sounders fell to the Los Angeles Galaxy Sunday night, winning 2-1. Somehow it doesn’t feel right. We should have won. It was our season. But every team can say that. Soccer is a cruel, cruel game.

It hurts so much to lose in the semifinals. I sang in the rain for three hours in 2012 only to watch the Galaxy leave the pitch victorious. I huddled on the couch with a bitchin’ head cold this weekend, only to suffer the same. This intimate knowledge with ascendency-interruptus is compounded with being an Eagles fan. Losing in the championship hurts, but it is an accomplishment in and of itself to stand in the arena and play. But losing in the semis? Knowing your team was good but not good enough? Not good enough for at least a shot at the top? That is a special sort of hurt.

In my heart of hearts, I selfishly and jealously feel the Sounders were the better team. I honestly do. I believed. I believed like in the Open Cup, that late RSL game and the first L.A. series. I believed that these Sounders would somehow find a way to get it done. As they had for the past eight months. These Sounders fight and, against all odds, win. That they didn’t hurts.

Losing to L.A. is double-edged. We lost to an incredible team. There’s honor in that. If Dallas had snuck in, or RSL, and beat us, that would’ve been an obvious stumble for a team chasing the treble. But L.A.? There’s honor in that. But it’s L.A. They’ve now knocked us out of the playoffs three times in the last five years. It’s embarrassing. Losing to them is becoming an annual tradition. Sigi and Adrian and Chris can assemble an incredible team and L.A. will still just beat us. That’s embarrassing. They can smirk all the way to diving class. They can smirk while they stop, drop and roll away the last two minutes of regulation.

Am I bitter? You bet I am. If the ref cards Penedo for time wasting and yet doesn’t add a second of time, that seems a little unfair. If L.A. checks Dempsey every time the ball finds his feet and we’re never awarded a free kick, that seems odd. The gamesmanship and flopping and Juninho rolling around howling didn’t cost Seattle the game, but it bled precious minutes off the clock. Maybe a better team would’ve never been in that situation, but we found ourselves desperately needing a goal in the dying moments. L.A. had no qualms resorting to various ploys and petty tactics to milk the clock in their favor.

Worse part, I feel like we lost this game back in Carson. Last week I was proud of our resolve, thinking hey, we’re only down a goal, without a top-flight lineup away. On the heels of the Galaxy’s dismantling of RSL, I felt we performed admirably. But it wasn’t good enough. We worked hard and hustled, but it wasn’t good enough. Seattle, on the balance, was not good enough.

But maybe they were. Over the five games L.A. and Seattle played this year, the series is tied 2-2-1. These teams are so close. If L.A. and Seattle played this series ten more times with the same exact conditions, weather, health, etc., do we win 6, 7, 9 of them? How often does Juninho’s goal go in, or Sarvas’s last week? Does Penedo always make that double save? Do Clint’s shots always go just awry? What ifs, what ifs what ifs.

Defeat is made of should’ves. Honestly there is nothing the Sounders should’ve done, or could’ve done, better. They players played their best and still lost. And that’s just it. Regret is made of what ifs.

It Stinks Like Rotten Meat

Maybe it’s melodramatic, but only Langston Hughes can capture my feelings right now:

What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?

Hell. There’s always next year.

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