Month – May 2015

Chad Barrett: Seattle Sounders Sniper

Chad Barrett, a savvy vet, clinically finished both his goals Saturday for the Seattle Sounders. Barrett has been around the league, Seattle is his fifth team, and has never covered himself in glory. In fact, his career goals-per-90 is only at .364. However he is truly indispensbale as Seattle’s third striker.

I was sick of seeing Barrett in the 18 for two reasons: 1) I thought last year was a anomaly when he scored 7 goals in limited action (a solid .726 goals-per-90), and his clunker in Dallas was the sober reality; 2) I wanted to see the young guns get their minutes and felt rostering Barrett was impeding their development and the team’s. I was wrong on both counts.

Barrett is a deadly finisher. His touch on both goals Saturday was stupendous. He chases the ball, opens up and one-times it, finishing tight across the keeper to the far post. Pin point. Both times. I don’t want to get hyperbolic here, but that is a world-class first touch.

On his first goal, Barrett had just beat Vancouver goalkeeper Ousted to the ball and finds the open net:

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 11.13.18 PM

On the second, he has ‘Caps centerback Kendall Waston crowding him and still beats the keeper:

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 11.14.45 PM

Neither shot was easy, but Barrett finished both. And that is what the 2015 Sounders need, a veteran option at striker. Yes, I want Jones and Mansaray to develop. Yes, the Sounders need slowly keep folding youth into the starting 11. But when Oba or Deuce are out, and they will be, Seattle needs a veteran that can get the job done. Experience, technique and savvy wins championships. We still got a score to settle with a certain piece of silverware.

Seattle Sounders Tiki Taka Over Vancouver Whitecaps

The Seattle Sounders took a commanding lead in the Cascadia Cup rankings beating the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 Saturday.

Though early in the season, this was a fabulous result for many reasons: a Western Conference six-pointer, the aforementioned Cascadia implications, grabbing 6 points on a 3 game road trip and Hydra is back. With Obafemi Martins sidelined, Seattle just called in their other brace-capable striker, Chad Barrett. Now Clint, Oba, Neagle and Barrett have opened accounts and are looking for interest.

We also shook the Vancouver bugaboo. Seattle was 0-4-1 against the ‘Caps in their last five and had never (?!) won at BC Place. The Supporters’ Shield and 4th Open Cup were historic last season, but c’mon guys, first win at BC Place!!

The best part of Saturday’s win was the 25-pass (31?) sequence that culminated in Barrett’s second goal. Seattle’s midfield dominance, shortly on the heels of the 18-pass sequence in the bandbox of Yankee Stadium, is transcending the league. I don’t want to get things out of proportion here, but the Sounders are starting to look like tiki taka jedis. The ball movement may be square-ish and lack dynamism, but in both NYC and YVR, the Sounders camped out in the midfield and owned the ball. They kept exchanging easy pass and lulled their opponent to sleep while constantly recycling the attack and waiting for a good run. Then they struck.

Behold (and yes it’s annoying the camera cuts away here right at the key pass, missing Pappa’s assist to Barrett):

Seattle Sounders at Vancouver Whitecaps

The Seattle Sounders don’t win at BC Place.

Obafemi Martins is out with an undisclosed ailment, serious enough to require X-Rays.

The Sounders’s vaunted defense finally fell apart at Columbus.

Lots of doom and gloom going into this weekend’s Cascadia Clash between Seattle and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Bold Prediction: Let’s be real: Vancouver really wants this. They hate us and we really don’t care (and that makes them hate us more). They are top of the West and want to show the league their mettle against the bully of Cascadia. And they are exactly the type of team that unlocks us: a quick-countering, technical club with width.

I have no real reason to be so optimistic here, but I see a 2-2 draw. Can the ‘Caps socre two against us. Hell yeah. They pepper their opponents at home, with 11 of their 14 goals at B.C. Place. Can we score two against the ‘Caps, without Oba? Vancouver has given up only 9 goals, same as us, but in two more games. I am not afraid of their centerbacks, Pa-Modou Kah, anyone?, but Ousted is a rock in goal. He may even be supplanting Rimando as the one MLS goalie who regularly makes me shake my head. This prediction is based on the old cliche that rivalry games and emotions distort numbers (we are working with small sample sizes anyway). I am going with it.

 

Homegrown MLS

Hey Raving Readers, I was busy being beset by one helluva of a stomach bug this week and am only now getting back to full-go.

As a quick treat, here is an excerpt from an article I enjoyed:

The Premier League has proven to be an inhospitable territory to American field players in the last several years as the overall quality of the top flight in England has declined. The league, which stresses an over-emphasis on pace over technique (hence the recent failures of English clubs in European competition), also has demonstrated to be a poor proving ground for American players.

Jozy Altidore’s failures at Sunderland were in retrospect entirely predictable. Forced to play the game with his back toward goal, not getting quality service from uncreative midfielders and playing the sport at a frenzied pace where every touch was scrutinized and every miss magnified, it did not serve the American number nine well. Nor was Michael Bradley, the US’ best field player who played in Germany, Holland and Italy, aided in his development by a loan spell at Aston Villa.

The decline of Jonathan Spector as a player, once one of the United States’ great hopes as well as that of Tim Ream, a more recent defensive option, show the perils of Americans spending too much time in the British Isles with mid-table Premier League or Championship level sides. Both players would have been better served international career wise (but perhaps not financially) by a move to another European league or back home to MLS. The non-development of many young Americans who have gone to England at the early stages of their careers like Eric Lichaj and Will Packwood also show the limitations and dangers of developing American talent going to Premier League clubs.

While Major League Soccer is not the ideal destination in many cases for players, it provides a competitive environment. Brek Shea’s recent move from Stoke City where he was getting little time to Orlando City SC in MLS has revitalized the player’s international career and taught him the ability to play another position as a left-back.

I am thrilled that Deuce, Bradley, Altidore, et al., are back in MLS (Brek Shea… not so much). And I support any writer who reinforces the narrative the America’s soccer talent should stay here and grow our league,  national team, and soccer culture.

Seattle Sounders Need to Stake a Claim

The Seattle Sounders look to reestablish their winning ways this weekend in a Cascadian Clash with the Vancouver Whitecaps. At stake is the early pole position for the Cascadia Cup.

I’ve discussed this before, but Seattle has been the class of Cascadia in the MLS eras and only has 1 Cascadia Cup to show for it. Sure, it isn’t the most important Cup and winning the Portland series always feels more important than the entire Cascadia Cup, but… winning breeds winnings and the Sounders are still #hellagreedy.

Losing the Cup to Vancouver at home last year was a major disappointment. In that charmed season, the Sounders seemed capable of taking any silverware they wanted (the US Open Cup, the Supporters’ Shield). We were in prime position to claim the crown of Cascadia at home, but stumbled. That 1-nil loss at home to the ‘Caps was the first sign of failure from the 2014 Sounders and foreshadowed the losing to L.A. in the Western Conference Finals.

So this weekend the Sounders have a chance to redeem themselves. Which is really what 2015 is all about: closing the deal. A win this weekend will put Seattle in a mighty pretty position in the Cascadia standings.

Here is how the table sits now:

 

he he. portland.

he he. portland.

Let’s say playing in the same time zone complements our boys and they steal three points on the road at BC Place. We’d then have 6 points in 2 games, Vancouver would be at 4 in 3, and lowly Portland at 1 in 3. We’d have a healthy lead and a game in hand on both rivals.

I know I am getting a little ahead of myself here. It is still so early in the season that results don’t seem to matter too much. Plus playing the last game of a tough road trip, ww should be happy just grabbing that lone point away. Also, haven’t fared that well against Vancouver in the MLS era, and that was before they were leading the league.

Seattle is 3-4-4 against the ‘Caps, picking up only 13 of a possible 33 points. Sheesh. Seattle is a team known for offensive fireworks, but the Caps regularly skunk us (4 so far). Only in Vancouver’s inaugural season (when they finished bottom of the Western table) did they fail to record a shutout against us. So maybe grabbing three points north of the border is a little ambitious. That’s okay, I am feeling imperialist.

 

Seattle Sounders Fall to the Columbus Crew, US History Edition

The Seattle Sounders fell to the Columbus Crew in a “city” that no one knew had skyscrapers. It was muggy and it was humid in central Ohio, and the Sounders were feeling the heat. Saturday’s 3-2 loss saw the Sounders a bit too slow and a bit too sloppy, and a very talented Crew side made them pay.

We’re gonna lose sometimes. And in the middle of a long road trip, with two East Coast flights in the span of one week, losing to a good team is fine. Put Columbus in context: the Crew are a solid team and play especially strong at home. They field a magician in Higuain, and he pulled the strings and he kept connecting with stone-cold finisher Kei Kamara. Seattle usually does poorly against teams that can attack quickly, and we’ll need to be a lot better than we were Saturday if we see them again (which could only be MLS Cup). Sigi admitted not approaching the game the correct way tactically:

We gave them too much space, [we] might of gotten the tactics wrong, but that’s on me. That is something I have already thought about if we run into them again and how we may play them a little bit differently. We made a decision to play one way and maybe that was not the right decision, but on the same token, sometimes we were in position, but we were just a step slow.

We also just looked weary, as the defense came undone early in the second half. Our passing was far from crisp and there were too many sloppy turnovers. Ozzie had a very rare bad game, and yet, Saturday was only the second time this season we’ve allowed multiple goals. And Deuce kept being Deuce. Even on a bad day, this team can make it a dogfight. That is the hallmark of a champion.

***

I love cities and American history (and even used to teach high school history), but I know nothing about Columbus, Ohio.  I found myself unable stop taking potshots at the “city” (see, I can’t help myself!).  So I looked up some facts and learned Columbus has a population of 787,033 with 1.3 mil metro. Not too shabby Buckeye City.

I also learned that, unlike his eponymous state, George Washington actually tromped around the Ohio Country (as it was then known) for a land speculating concern called the Ohio Company. Yep, the father of our country was a capitalist land speculator. I liked him better growing hemp.

Ohio gained statehood soon after the US Army won the decisive Battle of Fallen Timbers near present-day Maumee, Ohio (where there is a delightful local chain restaurant called Fricker’s Chicken (where it is extremely hard to eat if one is a West Coast pinko liberal vegetarian)). Columbus, like D.C., was just a spot of wilderness before the local legislature decided to create a capital city. These cities have always baffled me. If the human animal didn’t choose to congregate on a chunk of earth due to natural advantages, water, resources, trade routes, etc., then why just make a city there? I honestly don’t get it.

Anywho, the Battle of Fallen Timbers is the capstone of a little-known chapter of American history when, as a sovereign nation, we first started slaughtering Native Americans for imperial gain. Shortly after winning the Revolutionary War, the fledgling United States, seeking to move into the Ohio River valley, met fierce resistance from the Western Confederacy, a large union of many Native American tribes. The fight between the US and the Western Confederacy lasted pretty much from the signing of the Treaty of Paris until Fallen Timbers (fun fact, a young Tecumseh escaped that battle and would later wreck havoc on the US from his outposts across the border in Canada. That is until a hale-and-hearty William Henry Harrison finally got the best of him during the War of 1812. Of course Harrison is the president who infamously died of pneumonia a mere month after taking office, so there’s that. Today Tecumseh is renown in both the United States and Canada as both a political leader and warrior).

So now I know a little more about Columbus, and so do you!

 

Seattle Sounders at Columbus Crew: Much Ado…

Seattle Sounders Matchday! Today in front of a vocal minority, the Sounders take on the Columbus Crew. These two teams have an odd relationship, what with the Sigi poaching and Brad Evans’s and Chad Marshall’s respective histories with each club. But lately the Crew supporters, or rather a very vocal minority, have taken this to just silly levels.

Crew supporters claim to hate Seattle, even inventing a hashtag, #hateweek. If that seems like much ado about a once-yearly-match-between-teams-from-different-regions-let-alone-conferences, they took it further by making a t-shirt. Jeez guys. There really must not be enough to do in Ohio. Sigi said as much citing the reason the Sounders didn’t stay east between road games:

Ouch.

The Crew’s refrain is tired: Seattle’s massive (seewhatididthere?) support is merely comprised of no-nothing, carbon-copy fans, whereas the Crew’s is authentic, man. I’ll concede that there are more casual fans in Seattle. It is understandable to have more casual fans when the club averages 45,000 people a game. The Crew? They’ve averaged around 15,000 for the last couple years. So yeah, you’ve got your niche diehards. Good for you. The other 30,000 people who don’t show up to MAPFRE (I try to avoid the corporate stadium sponsors on my blog, but what the hell is a MAPFRE?) Stadium are too busy enjoying Ohio’s “real” sports: football, baseball, hunting, fishing, shopping, eating.

But even the diehards die pretty easy. Last season the Crew had their first home playoff game since 2010 and all those hard-nosed, gritty, real Crew fans mostly stayed home. Attendance was listed officially at 9,040, but I watched that game. I saw a lot of empty seats.

let me guess. they're invisible!

let me guess. they’re invisible!

 

It is one thing to manufacture excitement, it is another to be hypocrite. You just look silly criticizing our support, in any way shape or form, when your “city” clearly doesn’t support your club.

Bold Prediction: Despite all I just said about the supporters, I actually love watching the Crew play. Higuain is a magician, Tchani and Trapp are really maturing and Kamara brings a finisher’s edge to an already beautiful possession-based attack.

The Crew nipped us in Sodo last year keeping the “road team usually wins” run going in this series. I am not sure if that streak holds. Portland was a gritty game and Vancouver is on the horizon, and, as the middle game in a three-week road trip, the Sounders could be ready for a let-down. I’d love a draw, but I don’t see these clubs staying patient. This game is going to be wide open. The Crew win 3-2 and give their bored little supporters something to hold onto throughout their boring humid summer.

 

Clint Dempsey: Antihero

Clint Dempsey is a polarizing figure. Though the captain of the USMNT and one of the highest-scoring Americans in World Cup history, Dempsey isn’t showered with adulation. The perception exists that Dempsey is a punk and a cheap-shot artist. In the most recent edition of MLS.com’s highly entertaining Instant Reply, Simon Borg builds on that narrative.

First off, we should acknowledge the complex web of perception converging around Dempsey. Since his successful run in the EPL, including the 23-goal season at Fulham and his signing with a top-flight team like Tottenham, and World Cup glory, Dempsey is the biggest star in American soccer. I am not saying the best American player, but the biggest, most recognizable American soccer celebrity. If your NASCAR-loving uncle can name one current member of the USMNT, odds are it’s Deuce, “oh yeah, that guy from the deodorant commercial.”

But Deuce doesn’t act the way we expect our megastars to act. He is no Derek Jeter. He is no Peyton Manning. Hell, he isn’t even a T.O. Dempsey is neither squeaky clean nor a consummate entertainer. We expect our star athletes to fall into a few set categories: Mr. Clean, Mr. Entertainer, Mr. Troubled-But-Talented. Think of any huge sports star from the last couple of years and I can easily pop them into one of the three categories. But not Dempsey. I think that is hard for most Americans to digest.

Dempsey just does his job and does it well. We should respond to that blue-collar ethos, but we don’t recognize it in our megastars. And Deuce is not an easy guy to like. On T.V. he is withdrawn and sullen with the media, and he plays the game pissed. He comes off downright surly. He doesn’t pander, or laugh, or kiss babies or anything.

Back to Simon Borg. In Instant Replay, Borg claims Dempsey takes a couple of cheap shots at NYCFC. The footage is far from conclusive, but Borg is persistent that Dempsey is committing acts that endanger the safety of his opponent. Borg fails to mention that Dempsey’s safety was already being endangered.

Like hockey and baseball, soccer needs to be self-policed. Whether two blue-liners are dropping their gloves or a pitcher is throwing a retaliatory strike, athletes have always followed a rugged code of fairness. The ref can only catch so much, and, especially MLS refs, miss so much. Flopping and thugging become, unfortunately, part of the game. If the ref isn’t watching close enough, a dirty player may try to gain an advantage with a kick-out or a loose elbow at his opponent. The victim of such extracurriculars is expected, within the untold law of the game, to embellish and flop and thus try to gain his own advantage, or, at the very least, force the ref to pay attention.

Dempsey don’t play that. Since his return to MLS, Dempsey has been fouled. A lot. But he is not one to flop. He is, for better or worse, one to retaliate. Everyone remembers his famous cup-check on Toronto FC’s Mark Bloom.

What is forgotten is the context. Toronto made hamburger of the Sounders, fouling Seattle, mostly Deuce, 25 times in that game. The ref didn’t have control of the match and Deuce went a little medieval. It’s not cool to slap a dude’s nuts, but self-policing is part of the game if the refereeing fails.

Already this season Dempsey has had his nuts stomped, his head bonked and his Achilles slashed. The man is a punching bag out on the pitch, and yeah, he gets cranky. In the NYCFC game, on a miniscule pitch, Deuce was a pinball out there, absorbing hits and bouncing around (and took a flailing leg from Ned Grabavoy right before Borg’s first cited incident). Does that justify him acting out? No. But let’s not pretend Deuce is some villain out looking to hurt people. He is just continuing a long-held tradition in sports and America by meting out some frontier justice.

The Madness of King Caleb

So much a part of being a Seattle Sounders fan is being a Portland Timbers hater. Today I have a hankering to clown on Caleb Porter.

One of my favorite games to play with Porter is the weekly “Wheel of Delusion.” After every Timbers game, usually a draw, sometimes a loss, Porter says something along the lines of, we played well enough to win or we deserved to win. Maybe Porter is fibbing to protect his job, or hoodwink the casual (i.e. ignorant) Portland fan, but I think he actually believes it. I am mesmerized, like a moth to flame, to see how piss poor Portland has to perform before Porter says, You know what? We played like crap and didn’t deserve a result. Frankly I think the man is incapable of anything resembling such a grip on reality.

You’d think this weekly parade of could’ve, should’ve, would’ve would be getting old for Timbers fans. But this is some of the tamest crap he babbles. I started to dig into more of Porter’s press conferences and interviews, and that man says the darndest things.

In his postgame interview following the Vancouver draw, at around the 3:20 mark, Porter talks about how his team could possibly score and says, “You’re only gonna score a goal 1 of 4 ways… You’re gonna score on a long build up, which rarely happens…”

Maybe it rarely happens if you’re Portland. Didn’t Seattle just string 18 passes together before putting one in the back of the net? Justsaying.

Then Porter, apropos of nothing, compared his woebegone Timbers to the surging Sounders. Porter responded to a reporter regarding the return of DP midfielder Diego Valeri with the odd, “How would Seattle do without Clint Dempsey?” Actually Porter, we’d do really well without Dempsey (more on that below).

Porter was interviewed by the Oregonian’s Jamie Goldberg following Monday’s practice. Around the 2:10 mark he obliquely goes back to the Seattle-without-Dempsey narrative, saying, “There’s no team in the league that would play as well without a DP.”

I think that’s a 10/10 on the Wheel of Delusion! Portland was 2-3-3, earning 9 points in 8 games, without Valeri. That’s playing well?! Seattle missed Dempsey (and DeAndre Yedlin) for 6 games during the World Cup last year. We went 4-0-1, 13 points in 6 games, during that run. At least do some homework before trying to weave a narrative. And keep Seattle references out of your mouth man, you just don’t compare.

If you dig further into the video (though do watch the very beginning when he doesn’t seem to actually believe his team is improving. He has to think to answering that softball question), Porter deftly cooks the books to better represent his team’s performance so far. At around the 9:05 mark Porter says, “11 out of 20 teams in the league have 10 points or less…4 teams in the West are on 10 points or less… We’re right where everyone else is.”

Porter has the numbers dead on, 11 teams are on ten points or less. However 6 of those teams have games in hand on Portland, tricky Porter. According to points-per-game, Portland sits in 15th place on the entire table. You are not “right there.” Also Portland plays in the Western Conference, the honor division of MLS, and is currently in 8th place out 10 teams. Furthermore, 6 of those 11 teams on 10 points or less are in the abysmal Eastern Conference. Portland is essential lumping itself in with also-rans like Philly, Chicago, the expansion clubs and Montreal. Really Porter, you make this too easy.

Last one, I promise (but jeez it’s like shooting fish in a barrel). At around the 9:47 mark, Porter says, when discussing the number of points the Timbers earned last year, “49 [points] is usually good enough to get you in [the playoffs].”

Porter is kinda right here. SKC (2014) and Montreal (2013) made the playoffs on exactly 49 points. And they both immediately got whupped in the play-in game. The last time 49 points punched your ticket in the West was 2012 when Vancouver made the dance with only 43 points (before being whupped in the play-in game). Maybe Portland secretly wants to rebrand his team the Portland (Maine) Timbers because that’s the only way he’ll have a shot at saving his job.

 

Seattle Sounders: Cascadia Poetry

The Seattle Sounders beat New York City FC in their inaugural match yesterday, 3-1. Just returning from my long weekend in Nanaimo for the Cascadia Poetry Festival (awesome time by the way- heard Brenda Hillman, Susan Musgrave, Sam Hamill, Stephen Collis, Amber Dawn and many more stellar land and sea poets, plus saw the unveiling of the new Cascadia map by David McCloskey), I only caught the match from the 52nd minute on. Luckily got to see the two late goals from the boys in Rave Green.

That 18 pass sequence was a different kind of Cascadian poetry. Just as beautiful.

 

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