Month – April 2015

Sixth Time’s the Charm: Seattle Sounders at Colorado Rapids Preview

April is the cruelest month for the Seattle Sounders. Last season we began with the same middling record through 5 games, 2-2-1; in 2013 we were 0-3-2. However the sixth game seems to be some lucky Sigi charm. Seattle not only wins their sixth game but also triggers their Mario star and becomes a juggernaut. Hopefully history holds serve as Seattle plays the suddenly-not-so-inept Colorado Rapids this weekend.

2013, we won our sixth game (at Colorado coincidentally) before earning five straight results, 4 wins. Last season saw the rise of “Man on Fire,” and first of five straight wins and 10 results from the next 11.

April also doesn’t have the best weather in some MLS cities. It snowed heavily in Den Commerce City yesterday. The weather is supposed to warm into the 40s today and be in the balmy 50s tomorrow. Which means the Rapids and Sounders will go toe-to-toe in the mushy mud. The USMNT bested both their archrival EL Tri on a reportedly atrocious field on Wednesday, and now your other favorite team may have to do the same.

Aside form history and meteorology, what can we expect from this weekend’s match? The Rapids, aside form last week’s 4 goal outburst, don’t score. Or win. The last time Colorado won was last July 25th against Chivas (oh Goats how we miss thee) and the last time they even scored was on October 11th, again against Chivas, but they still managed to lose.

Some noise has been made lately that Seattle should be worried about Colorado. That things are clicking for the young Rapids and they’ve figured stuff out. Screw that. The sun shines on a dog’s derriere some days. The Rapids looked great because Dallas has been a train wreck lately. The Hoops are winless in their last three with an aggregate of 7-1. Colorado just played them at a very opportune time.

The Sounders are better than the Rapids and should win. But it’s too early to really care about results. The Sounders looked great last week at L.A., arguably playing their best game ever at Stubhub, but dropped the result. I don’t know what I want more this weekend, for the Sounders to look good at the expense of a solid result (like last week) or play ugly but get the win win (like the Houston result). Hopefully the sixth game chamr works and the Sounders look great, win and trigger a month-long run of brilliance.

 

Thanks Again Kenny Cooper

Last night I was worried that if Jordan Morris played well, he’d be hammering another nail in the coffin of his Sounder’s career. After scoring the first goal in last night’s “unfriendly” against Mexico, it may be safe to say his chances of rocking Rave Green are dead BEFORE arrival. I’ll have more to say on this later, but first I want to follow up on yesterday’s Chad Barrett musings.

During the brief intersection of their respective Seattle careers, Barrett and Kenny Cooper found their fortunes intertwined. They both came in as veteran strikers and from jump street competed for the third forward position. Clearly Barrett won that competition and Cooper is gone, moved to Montreal to, hopefully, claim a starter’s role.

I hate to think that it was always going to be either Cooper or Barrett, but in hindsight, that seemed to be very much the case. With Oba and Clint locked in as starters and young guns challenging for development and minutes, Okoli last year and Mansaray this, how much room was there on the roster for above-average veterans? Not much.

I was a big Kenny Cooper fan. He was the unsung hero of last year’s US Open Cup run. His six goals in that tournament earned him the Golden Boot and us our first silverware of the season. We could only compete for the treble by season’s end because Cooper played his heart out throughout the Open Cup. The Sounders seemingly recognized this by giving him the honor of accompanying Sigi to the USOC media day. However on game day, who would be subbed on when the Sounders were surprisingly chasing a goal against Philly? Not Cooper, but Chad Barrett. I thought it was fishy then, but failed to recognize that, definitively, Cooper’s days in Rave Green were numbered.

Maybe Cooper didn’t want to be just a super sub or backup. Maybe he would’ve been happy with that role, but refused to take a pay cut. Maybe Sigi honestly felt Barrett could contribute more to the attack. Until his tawdry tell-all is published, we’ll never know. It was only for a season, 22 games and less than 1000 minutes, but we owe our Open Cup and double to Kenny Cooper. Once a Sounder…

 

There’s No Such Thing As “Friendlies”

Jordan Morris. DeAndre Yedlin. Brad Evans. Sure is a lot of Seattle in San Antonio tonight for the USMNT’s friendly match against El Tri.

I’m secretly hoping Yedlin and Evans convince Morris to sign with the Rave Green (you can’t get Top Pot donuts, Dick’s burgers, or Chuck’s Hop Shop in Europe!), but let’s be real. Starting up top in a game of this magnitude, friendly or not, is more fodder for the “Morris is too good for MLS” argument. This bums me out.

Bold Prediction: I am rarely a traditionalist, but let’s say Dos a Cero, Los Estados Unidos.

 

A Modest Proposal: Recasting Chad Barrett

Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid and forward Chad Barrett have a relationship going way back. Before joining Seattle last season, Barrett had wanted to play again for Sigi for a long time. His signing wasn’t met with much fanfare what exactly the great coach saw in the scrappy veteran was up for debate.

the beginning of 2014, Barrett was used as a super star sub. A Tasmanian devil, he injected energy and direct play in the waning moment of matches and his minutes always paid dividends. Over the first 12 games of the season, he came on late in 7 games playing a total of 100 minutes Barrett logged one goal, 2 assists and 4 shots, all on goal in those 100 minutes. These numbers are, of course, affected by the tyranny of small sample size. But a player logging something like 1 G 1 A, and 4 SOG per 100 is elite.

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a super sub!

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a super sub!

Soon after this run Barrett became a lineup fixture, starting 6 straight and appearing ( starting or subbing on for significant minutes) in 17 straight games. The World Cup and roster congestion contributed to these starts, but Barrett was earning them (as opposed to say, Kenny Cooper, but that is a different post). Though Barrett wasn’t the biggest name added before 2014, he seemed to be, with Pappa, one of the best.

He earned his roster spot and playing time as late game instant offense. Then this season happened. Barrett has already played more minutes in the first 5 games this year than he did in the first 12 last year. He subbed on against L.A. and San Jose and started against Dallas. In those 109 minutes, Barrett has registered 0 goals, 0 assists and only 2 shots, neither on goal. Again, small sample sizes, but his play isn’t passing the eyeball test.

Sigi only uses Barrett in offense-needed situations. In the two games where we didn’t need more goals (protecting the lead against Houston, or already routing New England) Barrett rides the pine. But against SJ, Dal, and L.A. when we needed a goal, Sigi called on #19. Barrett has one job, and he isn’t producing.

I propose that instead of relying on veteran to provide late game energy and attack, we instead serve youth. What’s the point of playing him over someone like Mansaray? If you’re chasing a goal and just looking to re-energize the attack, why not put on a pure striker, a young kid with energy to burn. Mansaray is more than a decade younger than Barrett (a decade!) and, as a HGP, doesn’t cost a thing. Barrett’s veteran depth on the roster is fine for now (though I have a scheme for that that involving signing a real winger and relegating Neagle to just the third striker spot, making Barrett redundant).I want to see Mansaray coming on with 20 minutes left. I want to see him have the chance to earn minutes like Barrett did last year.

 

Sometimes Your Best Ain’t Enough: Sounders fall to Galaxy 1-0

The Seattle Sounders fell to the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0, as Jaime Penedo, the L.A. keeper, played his heart out.

It was frustrating game. In L.A., with a subpar lineup, the Sounders bossed for long stretches of the day. They generated multiple golden chances and converted those to 14 shots, ten on target. But with Penedo doing his best Tim Howard impersonation, the Sounders would get skunked. There is little you can do but tip your cap to Penedo.

In my match preview, I said the Sounders and Galaxy are evenly matched, but L.A. just scores the opportune goal. Damn if Sunday’s game wasn’t a microcosm of the series at large. The game was fairly even overall, but L.A. finds THE decisive goal.

Other than the beginning of the second half when it looked like they took the field hung over and that moment of stupidity when they left both Alan Gordon and Gyasi Zardes unmarked in the box, Seattle’s defense played well. This game was devoid of any boneheaded Bradisms and the back line kept their shape. Though L.A. had 16 shots, only 4 were on target and most were greedy screamers from 30 yards out taken by Robbie Rogers. But the one goal was all L.A. needed, just like in the 2012 and 2014 Western Conference finals.

The should-have-been-man-of-the-match was poor Lamar Neagle. Lambasted and criticized for his lack of shots through the first month of the season, he hustled hard and put 6 shots on frame. 6! Remember how tow games we played an entire game with Dallas and neither team put a single ball on frame. Neagle had six in 74 minutes! Some of his decisions could’ve been better (from the privileged position on my couch I kept screaming, “Stop kicking it straight to Penedo!”) but that’s picking nits. Neagle got the ball in dangerous spaces and would’ve had a goal (or three) on any other day. Fun tweet:

It just wasn’t our day.

Seattle Sounders at L.A. Galaxy: Matchday

How ‘bout dem Sounders (2)!

Last night’s come-from-behind win against the Saplings (or, Timbers 2 but let’s make Saplings stick) was what we expect from anyone representing the Sounders crest. As Zach Scott so famously said, “We beat Portland.” I don’t’ care of it’s in the USL or the Magic Pro Tour, Seattle beats Portland. Good on you S2 for carrying the banner.

A team we have had more trouble beating is the Los Angeles Galaxy. Nightmares of the Galaxy toying before destroying us is deeply scarred in all Sounders fans’ memories. However the perception of fear is greater than reality. Seattle is 5-5-3, with an aggregate goals scored of 16-18, in their last thirteen matchups against L.A. This run stretches back to the beginning of the 2012 season and includes the playoffs. L.A. knocked us out of the Western Conference Finals twice during this span but we have more than held our own. In fact, the teams are practically dead even. Though L.A. has gotten the timelier goals, Robbie Keane’s ball-to-hand penalty and Marcelo Sarvas’s strike, the difference between these clubs is razor-thin and shrinking.

Bold Prediction:

L.A. traditionally dominates Seattle in the midfield. This season the midfield has been weak and one of the major contributors to their sloppy start. Maybe Bruce Arena corrects his lineup against us (it’s happened before), but even without Pineda, L.A. should lack their usual edge.

As I said before I see Azira starting and Seattle playing defense-first soccer. They’ll trust that Clint and Oba can link-up for a few moments of brilliance, while the squad focuses on the clean sheet. However, if there’s any player in MLS who, through sheer guile, can madden a defender it’s Robbie Keane. L.A. will look to exploit Brad Evans and force him into a boneheaded mistake or three. SO who wins?

It’s cliché, but which team is more up for this game? You can bet your sweet Aunt Betsy that this game has been circled on the Sounders’ calendar since the schedule was released. I don’t listen to that “every game is that same” crap. No one liked how we missed our shot at the treble. Sigi always wants to beat Arena and Dempsey looks like the kind of a guy who holds a nasty grudge. The Sounders win ugly, 2-1.

The Importance of Being Gonzalo Pineda

If Seattle were Japan and today was romantic yesteryore, Gonzalo Pineda would be a shogun. He is the man behind the curtain, the Wizard of Gonz.

Pineda does not put up gaudy stats. He doesn’t pull off eye-popping plays. All he does is the little things that make the difference. When Pineda starts, more often than not, Seattle wins.

Gonzalo Pineda was quite the find. Sigi’s ideal eleven to start last season saw Brad Evans teamed up with Ozzie in the middle. When Captain Brad got injured early against Toronto, Pineda came on and hasn’t looked back. Since then he has been, with Ozzie, THE first choice centermid. Think about that: an aging trialist coming off a nearly career-ending injury steals the captain’s roster spot. That sentence alone shows Pineda’s importance to the Sounders. If he wasn’t an excellent footballer, Evans wouldn’t be learning a new position

Pineda is a rock. After joining the starting eleven, he ripped off 14 straight starts (going 90 in all but one, when we went *only* 89 minutes in a 4-0 rout of RSL), and 19 starts in 20 games. He missed that one game due to yellow card accumulation. More than a month of solid play later, he missed a second start due to fixture congestion. However by late September, Pineda was hurt and only played 35 minutes in the next five games, missing three straight. Tellingly, his absence coincided with Seattle’s little swoon that almost cost them the Shield.

The Sounders went LLWWL without Pineda. As you can see, the games they won were easy pickings.

Dude. What if he had fumbled away the Shield last year?

Dude. What if he had fumbled away the Shield last year?

All of this is to ask, with Gonzo out due to his red card and “Be Rad” firmly entrenched in the centerback experiment, who is Hall-of-Fame coach Sigi Schmid gonna pair with Ozzie?

Late last year when Gonzo wasn’t available, Sigi initially started Rose. But after two straight losses, Azira got the nod for the final three. Azira’s performance last year (two wins in three) and his competent covering for Ozzie this year indicates that Sigi will be going with the young Ugandan Sunday in Carson. L.A. has looked a mess lately, but I am sure we’d all rest easier if we had our shogun on the pitch.

 

Making a Name With Defense

The Amoeba. Hydra. Call them what you will, but the Seattle Sounders make their name with offense. The only nickname thrown at the defense is maybe a$$h@/%$.

Surprisingly, so far this season Seattle is winning with defense. In the first four games of 2015, the Sounders have allowed just three goals. Only Colorado, DC and NYCFC have allowed fewer, and Seattle is tied atop the league table with a +3 goal differential. Granted, all three goals came in an ugly loss to the Quakes at home. But that means Seattle has held their opponent scoreless in three of their first four games.

Really?! Against San Jose?!

Really?! Against San Jose?!

The last time the Sounders kept three clean sheets in four matches was way back at the beginning of the 2013 campaign. After their really rough start, winless in their first five, Seattle righted the ship and starting knocking off wins. On April 20th they earned their first win 1-0 against the Rapids. After a bye, they drew the Union, 2-2, in Philly in a heated affair before shutting down SKC 1-nil and smashing San Jose 4-nil in the next 8 days (the Sounders won one more, 4-2, against Dallas before L.A. put four in the back of the net).

Remember all the red cards in that Philly game? Neagle was HEATED!

Remember all the red cards in that Philly game? Neagle was HEATED!

It has been 22 months since the Sounders had such a run. They played 66 MLS matches (including playoffs), and won 2 trophies in that span. The 2013 club was scoring with Mauro and Eddie and defending with Hurtado, Gspurning and a young kid DeAndre Whatshisname. And that season didn’t end well. 2014 was arguably the best squad Seattle ever fielded and they never played this tight in the back. If Clint and Oba can get their groove on with a little more consistency, L.A. better watch the throne.

 

Tissuegate: Pareja Shaping the Narrative

As everyone knows, #Tissuegate happened. As all you readers know, I love to hate Caleb Porter. So it’s especially delicious to me that he is involved in this little scandal.

We all saw what happened, Dallas coach Oscar Pareja tried to hand some sort of paper to Porter immediately following his team’s loss to Portland. Porter throws the “paper” in Pareja’s face and storms off. Porter presented his take on the incident postgame, claiming:

“I walked over to shake his hand and he had a tissue that he put over his nose and tried to hand me a tissue… So I thought it was very poor sportsmanship out of him [Pareja]. I never said one word to him the whole game and he obviously wasn’t happy with the loss. But I’ve never had a coach come up and disrespect me like that. So that’s what happened.”

Now we’ve finally heard the other side of the story, albeit a bit late, from Pareja. Per Alexi Lalas, Pareja was merely showing, with a cute little prop joke, his frustration with Porter’s constant whining. Thus the crybaby’s tissue.

So who are we supposed to believe? Unsurprisingly, I am siding with Pareja here. Trying to hand a dude a rag covered in your snot is serious magnitude level of gross. Such an act is also not a universal sign of macho disrespect. If that was the only message Pareja wanted to convey, an easy crotch grab or middle finger would’ve sufficed. As lame as it was, I do think Pareja just thought he was being cheeky. And lord knows Porter can whine (and gloat and wax delusional) with the best of them.

However, in explaining his motives for in l’affaire du tissue Pareja lied through his teeth. There is no way he was trying to communicate some greater good to his fellow coaches. He was just pissed. End of story. Trying to shape the narrative that MLS is full of crybaby coaches is very disingenuous of the Dallas head man. Pareja is a good coach, for sure, but he also inspires flopoonery (that is his teams somehow excel at both flopping and gooing out). He clearly embraces shady gamesmanship. Shaping a narrative that gets opposing coaches self-conscious of arguing calls, or of communicating with the refs in general, is a win for FC Dallas. Dallas thrives on pushing the rules to the breaking point. If Pareja gets any single coach hesitating to voice displeasure with refs, he won.

Long Time No Post

Sorry for the long delay between posts. I was on vacation and took a trip to Houston (ironically I missed the Sounders-Dynamo game. I wish the MLS schedulers had put the matchup at BBVA Compass Stadium. That would’ve helped me achieve my goal of seeing the Sounders at every Western Conference stadium.

I have much to say about my favorite whipping boy Caleb Porter and the return of Ozzie. I’ll get right on them.

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