Month – May 2015

Seattle Sounders vs New York Red Bulls: Rapid Reaction

The Seattle Sounders won in cardiac attack fashion tonight, tacking on the go-ahead goal in stoppage time over the New York Red Bulls. Though supersub Chad Barrett got the credit for the goal, Clint Dempsey created it. Even on night where he was, as Taylor Twellman said “quiet,” Deuce changes games.

This game needed changing for us Sounders fans. New York completely outclassed Seattle for the first 45 minutes and bossed the game at times. As discussed last week, Jesse Marsch has his club playing quality soccer. Though their recent run of form doesn’t reflect this, the Red Bulls’ were a quality opponent and their play was worthy of a result. But then Marco Pappa happened.

The mercurial career Marco Pappa continues. Sometimes Pappa “forgets” to defend, sometimes he gets so cute with the ball he bungles a promising attack, and sometimes he is the definition of brilliance. Many times throughout the game, he made poor decisions and drove me mad. I felt his goal on Wednesday had him feeling cocky and sloppy and so a hindrance on the pitch. Even on the play that ended in his equalizing goal, he probably made the wrong decision. Neagle and Deuce had the centerbacks tied up, giving Pappa multiple options. His best was Oba open in the box. His next was Andy Rose completely unmarked and ready to make a far post run.

the many headed hydra

the many headed hydra

Pappa opted to keep. A little fool headed, but he got the goal and that’s what matters (I’ll write a longer post on Pappa this week).

Tonight we were a tired team starting an atypical lineup, but we got all three points. With results like tonight, we can be a special team this season. The difference between a draw and win in May matters in October. We need to defend the Shield.

 

Seattle Sounders vs New York Red Bulls

The Seattle Sounders look to go back to the top of the MLS table today in Sodo against the New York Red Bulls.

Though they started the season strong, New York is 1-2-2 in their last five. That includes a loss to Philly and a draw, at home, with Colorado. The Red Bulls are looking for a better run of form.

Seattle however has been on a role, going 3-1-1. The only nit you could pick with the Sounders is that they only have 1 goal in the last 180+ minutes of soccer. Though Oba’s recent injury, roster rotating and their opponents’ quality defense in those games (SKC and the Rapids) are mitigating factors. Seattle can and will score against New York.

Bold Prediction: Now I have been way off on my last couple of bold predictions, so I gotta get back on a streak. New York will employ high pressure, but that should backfire. Seattle is too good at exploiting open space and any opponent who wants to cede that to the Sounders should expect to get punished. However, Seattle will be a bit tired as they are playing their 3rd game in 8 days. I don’t see a third straight clean sheet. Seattle 2-1.

 

Previewing the New Look Jesse Marsch New York Red Bulls

Morning Raving Readers and sorry for the late post. Last night I became entangled with last minute adventures in home ownership.

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These are the Seattle Sounders we’ve all been waiting for. The Sounders sit atop the table in both points and PPG. They have allowed the fewest goals in the league, 9, and are tied for the most scored, 18. Seattle displays the capacity to play attacking, possession-based soccer and gritty play-to-zero slugfests. After 12 games, it is a little too late to say it is too early. The Sounders look good and it matters.

This Sunday in Sodo our boys will have their first challenge as kings of the mountain when the New York Red Bulls come to town. Unlike recent seasons, I find it hard to dislike the New York Red Bulls. Maybe it is the new money kids in town, but my anger is dulling at their corporate name and unfortunate location.

I didn’t agree with the firing of Mike Petke however. Petke had taken a perennially underachieving club and turned them into winners. The 2013 Supporters’ Shield was NYRB first ever piece of silverware, a major accomplishment for an MLS original club. Last season, though NYRB slumped somewhat in the regular season, they made a deep playoff run only falling to New England 4-3 on aggregate in the Eastern Conference Finals. Petke was 30-19-19 in two seasons in North Jersey and his dismissal made no sense.

That said Jesse Marsch is a solid coach (and was pretty funny on those Road to Brazil features last summer on MLS.com.) You can’t argue that Marsch is winning with Petke’s squad. The 2015 roster has no Thierry Henry or Tim Cahill. BWP is still playing well, and the squad is clearly better with Sacha Kljestan, but they are playing different than when Titi ruled the roost.

in the not too distant future

in the not too distant future

The Red Bulls like to press and press and press. High pressure used to befuddle the hell out of the Sounders (think of those 2013 matchups with Portland). Not so much in 2015. With deft ball handlers on the backline (Evans, Mears, Marshall) Seattle is far less flustered by high pressure (*cough* Jhon Kennedy Hurtado *cough*) and able to exploit an opponent’s pesky forays.

Marsch says he’ll have his side attack. Maybe he thinks he can take advantage of a sleepy Sounders quad (it’ll be our third game in 8 days), because pressuring us at full strength just seems silly.

 

Table Topping Seattle Sounders Not Salazar’ed

The Seattle Sounders beat the Colorado Rapids in a prosaic 1-nil victory Wednesday night to top the table!

It was a beautiful early summer’s evening by Elliot Bay, with the sun set casting downtown in pink, violet and gold, but the soccer didn’t match. The Sounders won a gritty game against a stalwart Colorado defense. Good teams, teams that want to contend for championships, gets point in midweek games at home against lesser opponents. No excuses, damn the ascetics, just get results.

To be fair, the Rapids play tough soccer and field a top-flight defense. They made it hard on Seattle. The game featured fouls galore. Colorado had something like 6 in the first 20 minutes, and seemingly tackled any Sounder the moment they had the ball at their feet. The game got chippy and the Sounders, led by Ozzie, almost caught up on fouls midway through the second half. The official stats lists the fouls as 12-8 Colorado, but the ref let lots of rough play slide, on both sides.

I brought my cards!

I brought my cards!

Oh yeah, the ref. Making last night’s game even tougher was the unfortunate presence of Ricardo Salazar as head official. I think, though I am not certain, that this was the first game Salazar officiated involving Seattle since June 1st 2013. That game was an easy 2-0 win over Chivas, but Salazar did his thing showing Oba red (thankfully MLS later rescinded the card). Salazar was the fourth official in our 1-0 loss to the Timbers in Portland at the end of the 2013 season, the game where Ozzie saw straight red, but I believe that was it. Until tonight. Doing his part to thwart Seattle, Salazar repeatedly gave Colorado dangerous freekicks, dead center of the pitch just outside our box. Thank god the Rapids have an inept attack or we could’ve been Salazar’ed.

Salazar hasn’t been involved with a Sounders match for quite some time. I almost–only almost–forgot about him. Then I think of the 2012 USOC Final and my blood boils. For a quick reminder of how terrible a referee he is, check out this oldie but goldie link from Joshua Mayers days on the Times’ Sounders beat.

Top of the table. Check. Leading ppg. Check. Things are starting to come together for Seattle. ;et’s just hope MLS doesn’t get the crazy idea that Salazar should be officiating more Sounders games. Especially ones involving Portland.

Seattle Sounders vs. Colorado Rapids: Woeful Turtle and the Hare Trigger

The Seattle Sounders look for all three points tonight against the woeful turtle of the Colorado Rapids.

The Rapids are the only club in the league still yielding single-digit goals this late in the season. The Montreal Impact have allowed only 10, but in 4 fewer games than Colorado. That is to say, the Rapids have a serious defense. As expected, nobody draws like the Rapids this season. They seem perfectly content to play to zero.

However. Colorado got their second win of the season, 1-0, last week against the suddenly stumbling Vancouver Whitecaps. It was coach Pablo Mastroeni’s first win of 2015 (having been suspended for the only other victory). Was last week’s performance a turning of the page or a fluke? We’ll know more tonight in Sodo.

Bold Prediction: Having put 3 past their keeper earlier in the year, the Sounders are solely responsible for a third of the Rapids’ conceded goals. A third! This “vaunted defense” don’t mean nothing to Hydra. We score in bunches with our hair-trigger offense. Plus Oba is back. We want all three points and I think we pull out the stops to get them. Maybe the Rapids burns us on a counter, but we taken them all. The points, that is. Seattle 3-1.

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Much drama and controversy this morning in the soccer world, as the United States’ FBI and Department of Justice has leveled serious racketeering charges against FIFA. 14 FIFA members were arrested in Switzerland and are being extradited to the United States. Crazy. Sepp Blatter was not one of the 14 arrested, but one can hope. Stay tuned.

 

Seattle Sounders and the Dog Days of Soccer

The dog days of the Seattle Sounders’ schedule is about to start. Including last Saturday’s nil-nil draw against Sporting Kansas City, May 23rd, the Sounders will play 9 games in the next 37 days, culminating with Portland away on June 28th. 9 games in 37 days averages out to a game every 4.1 days. That is quite a pace to maintain for over a month.

And aside from our next opponent, the matches won’t be easy ones. Seattle will face Eastern power the New York Red Bulls, Western leader FC Dallas, personal bugaboo San Jose Earthquakes, and Sporting Kansas City in this stretch. Oh yeah, and they’ll play hated rival Portland twice. The USOC matchup against the Timbers on June 16th is going to be very emotional (it is difficult not to predict a let-down 4 days later against those pesky Quakes). We do play Philly, the league doormat, but that’s after a cross-country flight to Chester, PA. This stretch is really going to test the Sounders.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 5.06.23 PMGood news? Of these 9 games, only 3 are away (but 2 are in other time zones: Philly and SKC). Bad news? Seattle only has a full week off between games once between NYRB and SKC. Our depth is going to be tested.

The Sounders have mostly been rolling out a consistent lineup this season. But things will get intersecting. Obafemi Martins should be back this Wednesday night against Colorado. But Gonzalo Pineda picked up a seemingly serious knock against Vermes’s thugs. Expect to see either Andy Rose or Cristian Roldan pick up his slack. I wonder is Azira will spell Ozzie some, or Leo will get some starts as well.

Realistically, I hope the boys bag 12 points in the 8 MLS games during this run. 1.5 ppg seems low for so many home games but, against this competition and considering the grind, that would be a solid take-away. I’d gladly trade some of those points, say 9 (or even 8) in 12 to ensure we beat Portland at Starfire in the 4th Round of the Open Cup. We have silverware to defend.

 

Seattle Sounders vs Sporting Kansas City: Ticky Tacky

The Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City played an MLS game Saturday. On the Christmas Eve of European soccer, both clubs looked like they belonged in a second-class league.

Kansas City started a motley group of backups and young’uns, and we failed to capitalize. At home. SKC didn’t do anything that special, but played tight, clogged the middle and denied us time on the ball. However. The Sounders did continue their transformation into a possession-based side.

The Sounders, of late, have successfully employed a tiki-taka-esque approach, their 18- and 25-pass buildups before goals that last few weeks were beautiful. The sharp passing and possessing ethos of the 2015 Sounders continued against SKC as Seattle attempted an incredible 687 passes (a season high) and completed 80% of them. The Sounders also retained a whopping 65% of the possession. If you were Caleb Porter, another devotee of possession-based football, you’d point to those numbers and crow about it. But the game ended nil-nil, at home, against a depleted side.

Possession with a purpose is a pseudo-newfangled idea. After the long dominance of Barca and the Spanish national team built on short passes and sustained possession, the backlash is to question this ticky-tacky tiki-taka. Keeping the ball is great, but what do you do with it? What is your purpose?

Looking at the passing charts, you see most of Seattle’s passes were deep in our third: (from opta)

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 11.11.50 AMConversely SKC only attempted 374 passes, competing 73%. We dominated them in this statistic. But another telling number is chances created: 8 Seattle, 7 SKC. Nearly equal. Shots on goal? 3 for SKC, only 1 for SSFC. So I must ask, what is the purpose with all that possession Seattle? To play keep away for 90 minutes and happily trot off the pitch earning only a point? Is this the darker side to the siren song of possession football? Even in Portland, Porter has been playing a much more direct game (due to injury and the club’s sputtering of late). Seattle wants to play pretty football, hopefully wins don’t come as the cost.

 

Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City

The Seattle Sounders are home sweet home. They’ll be hosting old foe, new rival Sporting Kansas City tonight in Sodo.

There is no love lost between these two clubs. Familiarity usually breeds contempt (hello Portland!), but Seattle and KC have only played each other 9 times in the last 6 years. However. Both teams have been championship contenders for the majority of their shared history. And though Seattle has made a habit of beating the Sporks in stoppage-time (5 of those 9 meetings), SKC won the elusive MLS Cup. Biggest insult of all, in a shady, closed envelope deal, Sporting got to host the 2012 USOC Final and we got Salazar’ed.

Today sees the renewal of this rivalry as it intensifies with both teams being in the Western Conference. This game isn’t just for bragging rights, it’s for 6 points. SKC is only 2 points down the table from the Sounders, and have been in good form. SKC is on a 4 game unbeaten streak and had 11 days off between their last two results. Their most recent being a Wednesday romp over New England.

Don’t underestimate the power of Benny Feilhaber’s mullet. Yes, last season the Sporks underwhelmed, but they are not far removed from being one of MLS’s elite teams. Peter Vermes, love him or hate him (frankly, I hate him) is a helluva coach and has his squad playing tough football.

Bold Prediction: SKC scores goals, they are tied atop the table with 17. But SKC is giving up goals, to the tune of 15. That isn’t Philly bad, but it has them tied for 3rd worst. What’s odd is, the Sporks don’t concede shots, just goals. This is a curio. A team that has always been known for defense and limits shots-on-goal shouldn’t be a sieve.

And that’s not exactly what the Sporks are. They have 4 clean sheets on the year, but a couple freak games (3 goals allowed against at Dallas, 4 against Houston) have them looking shaky.

If Seattle can stay discipline and look for the high-percentage shot like last week, goals will be scored. I don’t necessarily see the tiki-taka today. I see an open moving game and Seattle pushing the envelope. Dimes to donuts, this one is a shoot out. 3-2 Seattle.

A Different Kind of #Dempseywatch

Clint Dempsey’s superb play lately has instituted a different kind of #Dempseywatch. We are all bearing witness to soccer greatness.

Dempsey has earned a point in 10 straight games MLS regular season games going back to last Fall. The last time he didn’t log a goal or an assist was last October against the Vancouver Whitecaps in that deflating 1-nil loss at home that imperiled our run to the Supporters’ Shield. This streak has Dempsey tied for second place in MLS history. Three players (Roy Lassiter, Ronald Cerritos, Mauricio Cienfuegos) had 11-game streaks, but these all happened in the dark ages of the late ‘90s. This Saturday Dempsey has a chance to carve his name in the MLS records book.

Even crazier? Deuce had a point in 8 straight starts going into that skunker Vancouver game, giving him at least a point in 18 of his last 19 games. Bananas.

just two games started where he hasn't logged a point

just two games started where he hasn’t logged a point

Remember when Dempsey couldn’t find the back of the net with a searchlight? When he first transferred to Seattle in August of 2013, he played almost three months before logging his first point, a goal against the L.A. Galaxy. Now he is a man on constant fire. Which is funny considering Deuce has a reputation for being a streaky scorer.

His early MLS returns supported that notion. Last season he started hot, recording at least a point in his first six games – this including the man-on-fire stretch when he had 7 goals and 4 assist in 4 games. Then he was skunked in 7 of his next 9 starts. That is until August 24th against Portland, delicious, when his 18/19 streak began.

We have to admit, Dempsey has become shockingly consistent. It’s getting to be weird when he doesn’t find his name in the box score. Currently Deuce is tied with Kei Kamara for most goals scored with 7, and tied at 2nd in assist with 4.

When you think of the Sounders poetic attack, you usually picture Oba doing pretty things and scoring goals. Most of the narratives around Deuce are about his perceived crankiness. We need a new narrative for the man. His play deserves better. Saturday against a leaky defense, let’s hope for fireworks.

 

Seattle Sounders: Not So Green

The Seattle Sounders are old. Yesterday I discussed the usefulness of veteran Chad Barrett to an experienced team looking to win big. Older teams have talent, experience and savvy. They also have injury problems and a shorter shelf life.

MLS’s Matthew Doyle explored the question of Seattle’s aging roster recently and pretty much dismissed it. But it is a potential concern. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. We’ve seen injuries slow the team down (Ozzie, Oba) and players lose a step (Pineda, Marshall).

7 of Seattle’s ideal 11 is 30 or older. 30 isn’t some magic number for decline (unless you are an NFL runningback), but it usually signifies the autumn of a player’s prime. Thus the majority of our team is heading towards the winter of their careers. Aside from maybe Frei, who is also arguably also in his late prime, only Neagle and Pappa are solidly in the sweet spot of their careers. And Dylan Remick is the only spring chicken.

See chart:

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 10.47.38 AM

Seattle’s cumulative age is currently 29.81. We are just squeaking under 30 because we swapped our oldest player, Leo Gonzalez, for the 10th youngest (and remember that counts teenagers). With Gonzalez at leftback, the team’s cumulative age jumps a whole year to 30.1. That is really old.

Hopefully Remick for Gonzalez is just the tip of the youth movement iceberg. The Sounders need to start blooding their young talent more. Other than Remick, only Rose regularly sees minutes. Think of all the players who will need to be replaced next year, Pineda for example. Can we expect Roldan to be 100% ready in March 2016?

Sigi seems hellbent-for-leather to ride this squad as far as they can go. We were a technicality away from our first MLS Cup tilt. This is still, by and large, the same team that took the league by storm last season, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Unless, of course, they break down.

 

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