Month – March 2015

The Sounders’ Achilles Heel

The Seattle Sounders, after only one week, are number one in the power rankings and currently atop the table. They got three goals, a clean sheet and all three points while putting on a clinic against a quality foe in the New England Revolution. At first glance, they look like the team to beat in MLS.

Not to be the wet blanket but let’s play devil’s advocate. What makes the Sounders vulnerable, how will teams try to beat the Sounders?

Other than the health of Ozzie Alonso, the Sounders’ Achilles Heel is width in the midfield. Traditionally Sigi used the 4-2-3-1 and generated the majority of his offense out wide. Opponents used to scheme to avoid Zakuani screaming down the touch line or Mauro booming crosses into the box. Over the last two years, Yedlin’s forays provided width, but the Sounders, for the second year running, are lacking true wingers.

Lamar Neagle and Marco Pappa are our nominal wingers, as they are our midfielders who play wide. Neagle is settling in quite well as a plus-midfielder, as he logged 9 goals and 9 assist last year. But I think we can all agree that he is at best a converted forward playing out of position. Now Pappa belongs in the midfield, but as discussed already, he loves to cheat in. Pappa is also playing out of position. On the Panamanian national team he did his damage as a creator and attacker from the center of the pitch.

On Sunday night, Neagle and Pappa were, for the most part, archetypal wingers. They stayed wide, played both-ways and made New England respect the whole width of the pitch. Check out the heat map from the game:

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 9.36.34 PMThat is a vision of loveliness. Because of their inherent attacking natures, both are playing as inverted wingers (playing the “wrong” side of the field as determined by their natural footedness). For newer fans, playing with your natural foot inside makes it easier to drift into the center and attack at the top of the box. The trick for Neagle and Pappa is to stay discipline and hold their wide positions.

Both Neagle and Pappa are talented footballers. They are key to the Sounders’ feared attack, but their tendencies play into Seattle’s most glaring tactical weakness. Teams know we want Oba and Deuce to link up right through the gut of their defense. Without any real wide threat, opponents can hold a tight line and make life hell for Seattle. When Neagle and Pappa cheat in, we make ourselves one-dimensional and opponents can cover less space. Now Seattle has some superlative soccer players, but it’s long odds if you expect 2 men to weave past 6 with any regularity. Any good opponent can pack it in on defense and counter wide.

With Neagle and Pappa in the midfield, Seattle puts their best eleven on the pitch. But this leaves their attack predictable. We don’t have many other options behind the starters, as our depth behind Neagle and Pappa is Kenny Cooper and Chad Barrett.

Now I am on record saying Cooper is far, far more effective out wide than as a target forward. But both players are also converted forwards. The Sounders don’t have anyone on the roster who is a pure winger. Except for Aaron Kovar.

Seattle Sounders 2015 Predictions

To round out my Sounders Season Preview (funny since we’re officially in the swing of things), I present my overall Bold Predictions for the season. Picture me, today, looking into my M’Kraan crystal ball and seeing…

MLS Season: 17-10-7, 58 points

The Sounders slow their regular season roll in 2015 and settle back into their usual spot of second or third’ish best in the West. 58 points is still a solid season. The Western Conference is tough and getting tougher: no more easy points at Chivas, SKC and Houston aren’t pushovers, and San Jose has overthrown themselves completely and should no longer be cellar dwellers. However Seattle fails to pace the conference not because other teams are better, but because the Sounders are finally changing their ethos.

With multiple Open Cups, a newly acquired Supporters’ Shield and a ticket punched to CONCACAF Champions League, Seattle can set their sights on the one prize that fans feel is way overdue: MLS Cup. Dempsey and Co. tried to take them all last year but got bite in the butt by a tiebreaker. With a team this talented and a city this hungry, the Sounders can little afford to again miss their date with MLS Cup destiny due to the slimmest of margins.

Thus it’s a “Cup or Bust” year for Seattle, no matter the narrative coming out of Starfire. I predict Sigi rests his starters more than usual (no more Dempsey and Ozzie playing on three days rest on a Wednesday night at Chivas). Seattle’s best are at the peaks of their primes and Ozzie is already showing some age. Seattle will pull the old Dynamo/Galaxy rope-a-dope of privileging the playoffs over the 34-match slog that is the regular season.

Then the Sounders will clamp down in the playoffs. They will win MLS Cup. Boom. Said it.

Other Fun Seattle Predictions:

  • Loses the Cascadia Cup to Vancouver because, well… we’re kinda making of habit of this.
  • Loses in the Quarterfinals of the Open Cup to… oh hell… Columbus. Why not?
  • Advances to the CCL knockout stage setting up an epic run next season.

Sleepers in Seattle

To continue my 2015 Seattle Sounders Season Preview, we’ll look at potential contributors we don’t expect to contribute.

Sounders Preview Part 2: Meet the 2015 Seattle Sounders Sleepers

All us bloggers, analysts and talking heads can predict and project what Seattle will look like and do in the coming season, but we don’t know squat. The roster goes all topsy-turvy early in the year. Who knew that the trialist with the supposed career-ending injury would become a rock in the midfield. Gonzalo Pineda was off everyone’s radar at this time last year, as was DeAndre Yedlin and Mauro Rosales before him. Yes we have a stacked roster and it is logical to expect little wiggle. However. The 11 we start today will most definitely not be the 11 we come to count on during the next 33 weeks. So let’s meet some of the new players and fringe starters we may come to count on sooner than we think.

Of all the new faces on the Sounders’ roster, the most notable is rookie Cristian Roldan. The former Huskie star made his MLS debut Sunday night for all of 15 seconds. Though we haven’t seen much from him, the Sounders believe they pulled a major coup on Draft Day when Roldan fell to them. But it’s been a long time since a Seattle draft pick contributed much on the pitch. Barring anything Yedlin-esque, that won’t change in 2015. Roldan has the pedigree and talent to star at this level and that’s why he’s a sleeper. He’s got a great soccer IQ and is a very technical player. His inclusion in the 18 was huge last weekend, but he probably won’t see many MLS minutes. I expect to see Roldan really excel with the now operational developmental squad, S2, and he should grow into the Pineda role in the future.

Every team needs a folk hero and the legend of Kevin Parsemain lives on. Last season, the Rave Green faithful were teased by many preseason goals from Parsemain only to see him get injured and miss the year. He’s back and he proved in Tucson that all he does is score goals. The question for Parsemain is, can he contribute quality MLS minutes? At age 27, not exactly a young buck developing, he won’t get the benefit of the doubt. Though he’ll be competing with Cooper and Barrett for a spot in the 18, I think we can reasonably expect 6-8 goals from him this year.

New leftback Andres Correa is a young Colombian that didn’t impressed me much in preseason. Other than being a Channing Tatum doppleganger, he did very little of note on the pitch. Correa, however, gets the benefit of that doubt as he is only 21. Seattle has proven pretty good at scouting quality young Colombian talent. If Correa continues to develop and settles into the American style of the game, he could be the leftback of the future.

Aaron Kovar was conspicuously left off this list, as he deserves his own post. Kovar is probably THE sleeper in Seattle for 2015. Like Roldan he logged some, relatively, significant MLS minutes on Sunday night. His talent, natural position and the Sounders’ needs mesh very, very favorably for the Garfield High grad.

But if the Sounders starters keep playing like they did Sunday, these youngsters will be kept at bay.

 

 

Seattle Sounders: Number One in The Hood

The Seattle Sounders picked up where they left off last season, running and gunning and winning. A 3-nil thrashing of the Eastern Conference champion New England Revolution is a helluva way to start a season. And an even better way to kickstart a quest for MLS Cup. And no, it is not too early to start talking MLS Cup.

Game 1 Quick Takes:

As expected, the attack is just as potent (Hail Hydra!) as last year. Deuce and Oba did what Deuce and Oba do: dance, dance, revolution.

At least for one game, the defense looked better than expected. Way better. And that is surprising considering we revamped half of the backline. Bumbly moments aside, Brad Evans, tuckered out from coast-to-coast labor negotiating, acquitted himself quite well as a CB. And Tyrone Mears was a revelation at rightback. “Yedlin who?” would be sacrilege, but Mears deserves his own post. And of course Chad Marshall and Leo were their regular superlative selves.

Marco Pappa, how I love thee, let me count the ways:

    1. Goal creator
    2. Pesky Defender
    3. Fearless attacker
    4. Fancy Dancer
    5. And I said it yesterday: best left foot in the league.

He may not be the very best on set pieces, but he’s top five, and combined with his slippery assists in space and contributions to the attack, Pappa has the best left foot in MLS. Period (sorry Houstonians).

The young bucks got blooded. Cristian Roldan made his MLS debut and Aaron Kovar earned more precious first-team minutes. It was garbage time, sure, but real game action experience is priceless for a young player’s development.

More on the young guns tomorrow in Part 2 of my Sounders Season Preview/Overview. Until then, look who’s on top!

All is good in the world.

All is good in the world.

The Sounders, as Master Shake would say, are “Number One in the Hood, G.”

Seattle Sounders Matchday: New England at Seattle

Ahh Seattle Sounders matchday. The sky is bluer, the hills are greener. To get you amped for today’s game against the New England Revolution (not that you need it), I present my first bold prediction of the season!

Bold Prediction: Today’s matchup is the one Sounders fans expect when we took  the Xbox pitch for the second leg of the Western Conference Championship. Now we finally get to see the teams in a game that has much less at stake. The Revs are for real, no doubt, but so is Seattle. Both teams aren’t fielding an ideal eleven, as the Revs won’t have USMNT star midfielder, and Charlie Sheen pal, Jermaine Jones. Coach Jay Heaps will also be making game-time decisions regarding an ailing Lee Nguyen and Juan Agudelo. New England had a crack at the crown last year, while Seattle has everything to prove. We would’ve ripped them last year and I see no reason, Ozzie or not, why we won’t today. Seattle 3-2.

The State of the 2015 Seattle Sounders

Welcome back Raving Readers to another season of Seattle Sounders soccer!

Now that the CBA is set, we can kick back and get ready for the 20th season of Major League Soccer. To kickoff the new year, I’ve prepared a few Sounders Preview posts, so without further ado…

Sounders Preview Part 1: The State of the Sounders

For a squad that won 20 games, a Double and sat atop the table going into the postseason, getting bounced on a tiebreaker stung. 2015 is all about vindication for Seattle. Lucky for them they return the majority of their stellar roster.

The big question mark is the health of stalwart midfielder Ozzie Alonso. Alonso, in so many ways, IS the Sounders. His tenacity and accuracy in the midfield enables the beautiful attacking soccer we’ve come to expect from Seattle. And until recently he was an iron man. Frankly I am surprised the Energizer Ozzie, who rarely misses games, is still dealing with an injury. If Ozzie bounces back and is his usual self, everything is gravy. However if this becomes a Derrick Rose-esque injury situation, Seattle will be a far weaker team. Michael Azira starts in Ozzie’s stead, and it’s not that Azira isn’t solid, it’s that he is far from a rock star. The Sounders start stars at nearly every position. Azira is merely league-average at a position that is easily exposed.

Frankly I was surprised Marco Pappa was retained. Yes I screamed my heart out when he delivered those back-to-back daggers to clinch the Supporters’ Shield, but I felt he was miscast on our team. His talent is obvious and his vision unmatched, but Sigi often chastised Pappa for flirting towards the center circle and abandoning width in the attack. In the past, behavior like that got people nixed (see: Tiffert, Christian). I really expected a trade for allocation cash to Liga MX, as I figured Pappa wanted to get paid and Sigi wanted to field a winger he could trust. I am happy I was wrong. Sigi must feel Pappa’s unique talents are worth the trouble, or that having a potential Best XI player for less than six figures is too good a deal.

Brad “Captain Seattle” Evans is your new starting centerback. I find this move a very creative answer to the “how do we get our best 11 on the field every game” question from last season. No offense to the venerable Zach Scott, but Evans may be a HUGE upgrade at CB. I am getting a little ahead of myself, but we could have the best CB tandem in the league. That said, Evans is on the record saying that CB is the hardest position to play. I expect some serious growing pains early in the season, but Evans is too talented and too smart not to learn from them. Come October, we’ll have not only a solid centerback pair, but a pretty damn manly one.

Tyrone Mears replaces DeAndre Yedlin at rightback. As a phenom, local kid, and off-the-books salary, losing Yedlin hurts. But Mears may actually be better fit for Seattle. Mears was a steady but never-quite-good-enough English footballer. Other than one year on a relegated Burnley side, injuries and better competition kept Mears out of many Premier League lineups. But he is an experienced, disciplined international-style fullback who gets forward and he crosses a sweet ball, as we saw in the preseason. Mears won’t replace Yedlin’s star power, but the team will be no worse, and maybe better, with Mears.

I’ll be posting again on our very first Sounders Matchday with my first bold prediction of the year.

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