Month – March 2015

Seattle Sounders at FC Dallas Bold Prediction

The Seattle Sounders face top-of-the-table FC Dallas in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference semifinals. Both teams returned largely the same roster, but come into this game all topsy-turvy.

Perennially underachieving Dallas has been a jugador’ing juggernaut, dispatching San Jose, Kansas City and Philadelphia in breezy fashion. Presumptive champs Seattle opened with a dominant win over Eastern Conference power New England before being humbled at home (with a man advantage!!) to perennial cellar dweller San Jose (to further complicate things New England just beat San Jose earlier today!). So it’s hard to know where Seattle falls in the relative rankings of the league, but today’s matchup should be a fine test.

Bold Prediction: Both squads are missing key players, as Seattle will be without Marco Pappa, Ozzie and Clint Dempsey. Dallas won’t have the talents of flop-master extraordinaire Blas Perez among others. Goals will be scored in Frisco, buckets full.

The Sounders get yet another opportunity to start the junior partners. I predict Kovar starts at left mind with Neagle up top. The youth movement provides a spark, but Dallas benefits from a sloppy Seattle backline: 3-2 Dallas.

Selling DeAndre Yedlin Let Seattle Print Money

Happy Friday Sounders fans! To provide a little break from the good injury news (Ozzie! Air Marshall!) and the bad (Dempsey), I’m posting an excerpt to a solid article written by Joseph Mondello on S2 and MLS. Mondello explores the value and vagaries of MLS’s economic reality, a league with a strict salary cap in a market of rampant salaries.

Mondello makes the interesting point that MLS has finally found a way to print its own money. He discusses Seattle’s own DeAndre Yedlin, signed on the cheap and then sold to Spurs for big money. If other MLS teams can start farming their own talent and getting such returns on investment, we may have found another pillar in the foundation of MLS’s financial sustainability. Here’s what he says:

Some major constraints that MLS clubs must operate within are the financial structure of the league, coupled with a unique salary cap requirements that clubs must work around. As a league with an ambitious long-term vision, the owners have agreed to a financing structure aimed toward steady growth in a variety of markets rather than rapid expansion in key markets. This decision is influenced by the specter of Pele and the New York Cosmos, and the subsequent crash of the North American Soccer League after his departure. The current salary cap is a meager $3.1 million, with a restriction that the team’s highest-earner make no more than $387,500 annually. Within this agreement is the Designated Player Rule, which allows each club to sign three players to higher contracts that are not counted against the salary cap. Additionally there is the inclusion of allocation money in financing. Clubs can sell players, as well as Superdraft, Expansion draft, and allocation draft picks for this allocation money. In MLS, allocation money holds heavy importance in a conservative league built for expansion — it can be used for anything from player contracts, to improving youth academies and reserve teams, or even building state of the art facilities to attract top-notch players.

The important role of allocation money in MLS success makes sustainable youth development even more paramount. Clubs can sign players to cheap homegrown contracts, and receive massive returns on investments in the form of allocation money from transfer fees. The current financing structure of MLS is based on long-term sustainability, genuinely passionate local and global fans, and a foundation that markets the league as a brand with low risk and exponential returns for investors in the future.

….

A success story that increased importance of youth development and the Homegrown Contract program is that of Seattle Sounders right-back DeAndre Yedlin, whose impressive performances at this summer’s World Cup led to a transfer to Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur. The reported 4.6 million pounds Seattle received from the transfer fee will likely be invested in the newly formed S2 and their youth academies. In a developing league with high ambitions and a restrictive salary cap, talented and cheaply produced young players are incredibly valuable assets. A club can sign a player from their academy to a contract ranging from 50 to 80 thousand dollars a year, and potentially sell them for millions of dollars.

The whole article is definitely worth the read. But I do take a little umbrage with Mondello when he lists Seattle with Portland, Salt Lake City and Kansas City as “smaller markets.” Seattle/Tacoma is the 15th largest metro area in the US and booming. We’ll be ranked higher soon as Detroit (currently 14th) is shrinking and decadent eastern seaboard cities, such as Boston and Philly, have seen their growth slowed to a crawl. The other “smaller markets” Mondello lumps us with: Portland (24), Kansas City (30), and Salt Lake (48). I realize “smaller” is a relative term, but c’mon man. My city’s filthy.

The Times They Are A-Changing

MLS is a league that encourages roster turnover. The Seattle Sounders are not immune as they’ve gotten used to roster shake-ups in recent years. In 2012 they notably cut ties with Fredy Montero and in 2013 they moved on from both Eddie Johnson and Mauro Rosales. Last year was a new-look Sounders squad and 2014 to 2015 was supposed to be a seamless transition. I couldn’t wait for the season to begin just to get that taste of losing* to L.A. out of my mouth.

You all know the story; Seattle won a record 20 games, the Supporter’s Shield and a fourth US Open Cup. They did so employing eleven men committed to playing beautiful, attacking soccer. This season the Sounders were supposed to pick up where they left off last year, scoring goals and winning silverware, because they returned almost that entire starting 11 (with the exception of Yedlin of course). But a funny thing happened on the way to the season.

The roster we knew and loved is changing. People get older (Leo), people get cut (Parsemain), people get disappeared (Cooper?). Ozzie is still out. Mears and Marshall have both picked up knocks and now Dempsey is injured (thanks Klinsmann). Pappa will be away this weekend on national team duty, so the only thing we know for certain is to expect some seriously creative starting lineups.

On the long term, the roster shakeup may prove to be a good thing. Sigi Schmid has always been a manager who tinkers early in the season. And he has more data this season than ever before. With the maiden voyage of S2 and a friendly against Liga MX power Club Tijuana, many of the players on the backend of the roster got serious playing time. Oniel Fisher, Cristian Roldan and Aaron Kovar, oh Aaron Kovar, especially impressed. The more minutes these guys get, the more confidence. The more confidence, the sooner they can contribute to the first team. Roster shake-up from the youth inheriting the eleven is a good thing.

I am looking forward to the dynamics that the young guns can bring to the Rave Green. If the eleven men on the field hoisting MLS Cup come winter are a little younger than I expected, I’ll take it. Hell, I hope to see some of them starting this weekend.

 

*we didn’t lose to L.A., we merely failed to advance on a technicality. Yeah. I’m bitter.

Seattle Sounders 2: Let’s Leave Less To Chance

I’m known to get a little too excited with potential and prospects, but after watching Seattle Sounds 2 dispatch the defending USL champion Sacramento Republic on Saturday night I have to ask. How much will the presence of S2 affect the makeup of the first team roster?

Everyone watching S2’s inaugural game came away impressed. Gorgeous ball movement, deft finishing, solid set pieces: the definition of Sounders soccer. Who wasn’t tempted to think if Rossi or Craven or Mansaray could do the same things at the next level? Sometimes lesser competition muddies the evaluation of talent. However. Rossi’s quality on his free kick goal, Mansaray crossing the final assist with the outside of his foot to a streaking Roldan, and Craven’s balance and touch controlling the pass before smashing it home are all translatable skills.

As I discussed recently, sports is about new blood. In baseball, the late season Triple-A call-up who contributes to the playoff run. But soccer in the United States has long lacked a competent minor league. So has the NFL, but that league is still littered with stories where “untested” scout teamers blossom on the biggest stage. Kurt Warner was a journeyman nobody until Trent Green got injured in the preseason. Same with Tom Brady until Drew Bledsoe’s week 2 injury. The coaches saw plenty of both at practice, enough to slot them second string but without a timely injury, they’d never have surpassed the coach’s wildest imagination. “Next man up” is great and all, but what if the next man never gets the chance?

A bias exists on the practice field. Professional sports, the last great meritocracy, is not exactly that. The human animal is sentimental and risk averse. It is much easier to reward past performance than project future returns. Most coaches and managers have trouble selling high (see Amaro Jr., Ruben, and the Philadelphia Phillies). A good coach should cull as ruthless as death the “soon-to-be” from the “just-was”. Belichick lucked into Brady. He and the Patriots had just signed the 29 year-old Drew Bledsoe to a then-record 10-year, $103 million contract. How was “the greatest coach of all time” unable to see that the young Brady was ripe to overtake the old pro? If the Patriots had a developmental team, say the Pats 2, they may have known sooner that Brady was the future.

DeAndre Yedlin is arguably the Sounders’ Brady, a talented unknown who became a star because of an injury to a trusted vet. The Sounders had no intention of moving on from Adam Johansson until his injury. Sigi is a sharp evaluator of talent, he knew when to move on from Eddie and Mauro, but he wasn’t clamoring to start Yedlin back in March 2013. We, and the USMNT, got lucky Johansson was injured that preseason. S2 should take a little luck out of the equation.

I doubt presence of S2 provides serious roster churn this season but, at least, when we have to replace Deuce and Oba we’ll have a much better idea of who’s next up.

A New Hope: S2 and the Future of the Seattle Sounders

Welcome to the future Sounders fans! Tonight S2 dusts off their opaque logo for the first time ever.

This is where new President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey is gonna earn his pay. Yes he was hired to do the tricky job of making a great team greater, but also to oversee the development of S2. You need new blood. The Sounders built a strong Academy system and have always been good with scouting, player development and signing Home Grown talent. But a regular and competitive minor league team is indispensable.

Sports explores mortality. Everyone ages, breaks down and ACLs happen. Sports asks us, what can you do with your brief shot in the sun? “Next man up” has become a cliché because a team can never expect all its players all the time (if only we had Ozzie against L.A.). S2 will become the lifeblood of the senior team.

Recently signed rightback Oniel Fisher exemplifies the “next man up.” Lagerwey said Fisher was signed to a senior team contract because of his Jamaican national team pedigree and his position. With the loss of Yedlin, and the age of starter Tyrone Mears, the Sounders hope to see him develop into an MLS-starting caliber player with S2.

Lagerwey also discussed some of the mechanics of the roster relationship between the Sounders and S2. He said, “You can loan down, but not loan up. It’s not 100% black and white but that’s the simplest …way to express it… [Elevating] guys on an S2 contract is trickier…” Thus the reason Fisher is on a senior team contract.

S2 has only eight players under contract, not enough to field a full 18, let alone a starting eleven. Lagerwey said to expect guys loaned down from the Sounders and even some loaned up from the Academy for the duration of the season. S2’s roster is currently:

Qudus Lawal

Nick Miele

Duncan McCormick

Sam Garza

Aaron Long

Amadou Sanyang

Andy Craven

Pablo Rossi

Oniel Fisher and Charlie Lyon are expected to log serious USL minutes, as are the HGPs, Aaron Kovar, Darwin Jones and Victor Mansaray. Recent draft picks Damion Lowe and Jimmy Ockford should also play. I am curious whether Cristina Roldan, he of two senior team appearances in his first two games, will develop with S2 or be held back with the big boys.

BOLD PREDCITION:

S2 doesn’t get a cakewalk in their first game ever, as they host the reigning USL Champs, Sacramento Republic. Sacramento is coached by former MLS-great Preki and just signed former Sounder David Estrada. Hell, I know nothing anything the USL: let’s say S2 wins.

Who’s Left And Who’s Leaving?

I’m trying not to wonder where you are.
All this time lingers, undefined.
Someone choose who’s left and who’s leaving.

-The Weakerthans

First Kenny Cooper. Now Kevin Parsemain joins the list of questionably former Sounders.

Seattle Sounders FC has made no official statement regarding either Cooper or Parsemain’s status. Rumors sizzle on social media and, in Parsemain’s case, a source as a credible as a teammate corroborates it.

Is Garth Lagerwey smitten with the roster-churning Chip Kelly?  Does Brad Evan’s recent debacle at CB have the Sounders looking to buy? Or were the Sounders always looking to buy? These moves may just be the front office finally executing  offseason roster plans with the CBA firming up.

The Sounders’ roster is unbalanced. Seattle has a wealth of riches at striker and lacks depth (arguably starting quality) at centerback, winger and fullback. Cooper and Barrett and Parsemain can’t help the team win if they’re  on the bench, making questionable their continued place on the team. Oba and Clint are the kind of strikers who go the full 90 every game. Sigi usually reserves only a single spot in the 18 for a backup striker, recently Barrett. Cooper and Parsemain are expendable.

Moves both would help Seattle’s roster flexibility. Moving Parsemain opens up an international slot. Kenny Cooper saves the Sounders just under $300K against the cap (he earned $265,625.00 last season). Hell, Garth may even be able to trade him and bank some allocation monies or a shiny new winger or centerback.

Where In The World Is Kenny Cooper?

His Instagram account proves that he is currently in Seattle, but Kenny Cooper has been absent from the team for some time. Sigi and Garth keep repeating that his absence is excused, and Sigi went a little further in his explanation saying Lagerwey and Cooper were working out some CBA stuff. Could Cooper be the first MLS player to flex his newly acquired free agency?

You couldn’t blame him. When Cooper signed here last year he was grateful and excited to be in Seattle. But a full season of being relegated to the 18, at best, and Open Cup rosters can’t exactly feel great for a top 20, all-time, MLS goal scorer. This season is even worse.

Cooper wasn’t selected for the 18 in either of the Sounders’ first two games. Chasing a goal against San Jose, Schmetzer subbed Barrett in and that may have been the death rattle of Kenny’s career in Rave Green. I am afraid Cooper may be falling victim to the curse of Caskey, the league is passing him by.

I hope I’m wrong. Cooper is a very talented player. The man scores goals and is the reigning US Open Cup Tournament MVP (though it was shady that Barrett started the Final against Philly and Cooper didn’t log a single minute). Once upon a time he was regularly in the 11, but not anymore. Cooper still wants to be a starting forward, but in a league with Dempsey, Keane, Altidore, and Villa as strikers, Cooper would have to settle for a crappy team to regularly clock minutes.

Cooper is a class act but his MLS career has been peripatetic. The question in the Soundersphere isn’t where is Kenny Cooper, but where will he play next. I don’t know all the ins and outs of the CBA, no one does yet, but Cooper qualifies for the age and experience requirements (30 years old and into his 9th MLS season) that have been widely publicized. But does the new CBA allow free agency to happen midseason? Or are the Sounders actively shopping him as we speak? DC seems a logical fit as they currently lack a striker with Eddie Johnson’s absence (and with his presence­– seewhatididthere?).

Oh Kenny Cooper, we hardly knew ya. Once a Sounder…

Seattle Sounders Guarantee More Ugly Turf, Extend Lease at CenturyLink Field

Happy Paddy’s Day Sounders fans.

DSC06841In non-losing-to-the-stupid-Earthquakes news, Seattle Sounders FC finalized an extension of their lease/partnership with First and Goal Inc., Paul Allen’s managing organization of CenturyLink field, through 2028. The current deal had 2 more years left but Adrian and co. decided now was a fine time to renew their vows.

I am glad that the Sounders aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. If some pie in the sky soccer specific stadium was built, it would end up on the East Side or Renton. I love the stadium’s downtown location. When you’re standing on the highest concourse and can see Elliot Bay, the port and skyline, it is a thing a beauty. Soccer taking place in the heart of an American city. Soccer not relegated to the suburbs or undercard, but soccer as it is almost everywhere else, king.

Location aside, the turf is a problem. We are in the fourth year of the same turf at CLink (it was last replaced in 2012) and it shows. The terms of the new agreement are loose, but it’s being reported that the turf will be replaced every four years, if not sooner. Knowing First and Goal, I doubt we’ll ever see the sooner. Adrian said he had to make some concessions, but this one seems THE sticking point (at least for us Sounders partisans). Four years is not good enough because then we’re doomed to always be settling for this choppy, disgusting pitch.

The turf this year is gross. In just two games, and maybe this is a form of selection bias and I am just seeing what I want to see, it seems the turf monster is alive and well in Sodo. At the center stripe near the eastern touchline, the field is really chewed, black and ugly. I saw it on tv last week and in person on Saturday. The monster lurks especially there. More than a few times Pappa and Oba tripped up at that exact spot. Each time I looked, startled, to see if they were knocked or if it was an “away from the ball” spill. All the Thierry Henry histrionics aside, bad turfs ends careers.

I am especially sensitive to piss-poor fields being a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Veterans Stadium in the 80s, aside from being a drunken cesspool of the dark side of fandom, had disgusting AstroTurf. Many careers did end at the Vet, and all did with the dreaded “away from the ball” type fall. I know FieldTurf is so far removed from AstroTurf as to almost make this argument moot. However. Four years of round-the-calendar athletic competitions, plus the Seahawks now regularly going deep into the playoffs has turned the turf to nadda.

I am all for the civic usefulness of CenturyLink Field. As a citizen who subsidized this stadium, I am getting a lot of bang for my buck: Sounders March to November and Seahawks August to January. In a purely sports-related world, I am cool with the Sounders sharing with the Hawks. However. First and Goal exists to please the Seahawks first, other tenets (Quidditch!) second and the Sounders… oh… somewhere about last. Maybe I am too much of a Sounders junkie to not see reality distorted through my Rave Green glasses, but the Sounders are no also-rans. They are a dominant, if not the dominant franchise in MLS. The Sounders are a North American professional sports power player, and yet, with the little leverage it seemed Adrian had at the bargaining table, First and Goal doesn’t acknowledge that.

Joe, Adrian and Drew want the Sounders to be the class of the league: signing international talent, selling international talent, winning cups and playing the beautiful game. But our field looks like crap. We can show a potential signing our record, our coach, our trophy case, the city’s soccer culture and the downtown stadium. But the second he sees chewed up plastic grass, it all comes crashing down. The Sounders don’t control their own destiny. We must ask and beg and settle for what the Seahawks allow.

Seattle plays precise, aggressive soccer. We need the ball to stick to our feet and bounce right. FieldTurf will never be grass and that hurts the home team. FieldTurf can be an excellent and economical alternative to natural grass, but not after four years. Not with the Seahawks logo still visible.

San Jose at Seattle: And We All Come Crashing Down

Back to reality. Sure we all wanted the next nine months to be a slow and inevitable coronation for the Seattle Sounders. But no. They’re going to lose sometimes. Sometimes they’re going to underwhelm and sometimes disappoint. Saturday they did just that, losing at home to the San Jose Earthquakes 3-2.

The Sounders are always capable of the inexplicable clunker. But to lose to a team on a 17-game winless streak while up a man for over half an hour?! That is a new flavor of suck. On the heels of a dominant performance Week 1, and with Dempsey scoring 14 seconds in, it felt like the preamble to a rout. And that’s why this loss sucked so uniquely: everything was ripe for the taking. Adding injury to insult, Azira and Mears both left the pitch hurt (Mears’s sounds pretty serious as a “minor tear” was reported). Put to bed the dreams of a super team, we now know we got the same old Sounders.

And the same old Sounders are capable of brilliance. Last season Seattle played a clunker in losing to Toronto at home 2-1. Dempsey scored a consolation goal late, but the game was well in hand for the Reds. On that day we made Jermain Defoe look a decade younger, and on Saturday we made Chris Wondolowski look like a guy who doesn’t whiff a gimme in Brazil. But we all know how last season worked out: 20 wins, Supporters’ Shield, 4th US Open Cup.

I am not trying to be all Pollyanna and wish the dreadful performance away. Believe me that was one of the most uninspired performances I’ve seen from the Sounders in a long time. Here’s Neagle and Pappa’s heat map from the game

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 11.52.08 PMThat’s what out-of-position players pretending to be wingers look like. And that’s how Seattle loses.

Seattle also loses when an overmatched centerback makes disastrous decisions. In the past that’s been Hurtado, Scott, Traore or Anibaba. It was Brad Evans on Saturday, and boy oh boy did he really embrace those growing pains I was worried about.

But it’s early. The sky is not falling. They are still the bluest skies you’ve ever seen.

Seattle Sounders and Sartorial Asides: SJ at SEA

Seattle Sounders Matchday!!

So excited for today’s games for four reasons:

  • Early returns on the Sounders makes them out to be the class of the league.
  • The San Jose Earthquakes, their supporters AND management, are insufferable. I can’t wait to watch Oba, Deuce and Co. carve them up.
  • It’s the first game of the season I’m attending (my wife and I bought the Sea of Green half-season package)!
  • I get to rock my new Sounders gear.

So I realized obsession with sports-related clothing is bordering on neurosis. Something deep and atavistic about tribal affiliation and the mammal brain gets triggered when I don my Sounders gear. I become one of many, wearing our colors.

I got my authentic Pitch Black jersey with the 40th Anniversary patch for my birthday last Thanksgiving. Consequently I only got to wear it for one game, the anticlimactic second leg of the Western Conference Finals. Now I get to wear that awesome jersey again. I also bought a Rave Green Mariners 59/50 cap to match the Pitch Black ensemble. My old shale hat clashed with the Pitch Black, and I’m nothing if not sartorially-inspired.

Bold Prediction:

San Jose is getting better. I am impressed by the Earthquakes’ commitment to the re-boot, bye bye Bash Brothers hello Matias Perez Garcia. The Quakes started dumping players from the old system last season and the transition should be near complete as San Jose’s once and future coach Dominic Kinnear actually coaches soccer, not “tackle and flop.”

San Jose’s defense is… adequate, but goals will be hard to scratch out. Poacher extraordinaire Chris Wondolowski, the franchise’s long-time leading man, is quite the square peg in the new-look San Jose attack.

All that said, Seattle are leagues better than San Jose. The Quakes are in a transition and just don’t have the talent on the roster to put up much of a fight against the Boys in Famous Green. Seattle continues their hot start 2-0.

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