Month – June 2015

Seattle Sounders sign Erik Friberg?!

Wow. A lot can happen in 5 days. I was out at Hood Canal for a looong weekend and just returned home to a DVR’ed USA-Germany game this evening. I had pre-scheduled many of my blog posts before we left civilization.

The cabin has no internet and spotty cell reception, so my wife and I had to drive into town to catch the USA-China game at the Udder Room bar (their clam strips–delicious!). We listened, mercifully, to the Sounders-Timbers on the old wooden Westinghouse radio at the cabin. Then I drove into town and quickly posted my recap and preview of USA-Germany, but I failed to dick around on the internet. If I had I would’ve seen that:

THE SOUNDERS SIGNED ERIK FRIBERG!

Viva Los Tacos!

Viva Los Sounders!

USWNT vs Germany: Matchd Preview

The USWNT plays Germany today in the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup. Prepare yourself for a doozy, as the US gets their first real test of the tournament.

To be fair, Australia and Sweden were strong opponents in group play, as both made it to the knockout round, but Germany is of the US’s caliber: a two-time champion and perennial contender. Today’s match pits the #1 and #2 teams in the world, unfortunately they are on the same side of the bracket.

The good news is the US put together their best showing against China on Friday. And they did so without Pinoe and Holiday, t’boot. US fans have been waiting for a coming-out party by the team, but this team only kept scraping by. Though Friday was just another 1-0 win, the US finally looked like the US. We possessed, we attacked, we passed cleanly and, best of all, we looked like we had a plan.

Jill Ellis’s management finally impressed me. Starting Rodriguez up top with Morgan, and committing to the high press was smart. Rodriguez has speed and energy to burn (and probably a huge chip on her shoulder for fuel). Her and Morgan play a similar style at forward, and though that can be a problem, both players complemented each other in the press. Our pressure kept an inexperienced China team frazzled, and didn’t allow the Chinese to play paddy-cake with the ball and bleed the clock in bunkered fashion.

I am sure China would’ve loved to milk a draw, looking for a quick counter or just settling for PKs. Instead, the game was way more open than I expected. Our game plan (wow it feels good saying that) forced China out of their mold, and opened up their tight defense to exploitation. The USWNT’s possession in the final third was lights out.

The team is finding itself. Tobin Heath is a starter. With Pinoe out, Heath was a major creator. Morgan Brian had a chance to prove her worth in the middle but was mostly, unfortunately, a nonfactor. Holiday’s return will be timely, considering Carli Lloyd is getting in a hot streak. The big lineup question now: will Ellis go right back to Wambach and the boot-and-chase? I’d like to see the swift-attacking Rodriguez and Morgan, but high-pressing Germany could be catastrophic. To press or not to press, that is the question.

Bold Prediction: Germany barely beat France, so they are vulnerable. I didn’t catch the entire game, but that was France’s match to lose. The Germans played all 120 minutes, and so will be less rested on three days off. I doubt Ellis wants to go for the throat, she seems too conservative. But she can still take advantage of our fitness by starting slow with Wambach up top, before subbing in Rodriguez for the last half hour to really harry Germany when their legs start to fail.

Germany is a juggernaut. Ask Ivory Coast, Thailand and Sweden. Les Bleus were a quality opponent, but their D was shaky and Germany pounced. Germnay steamrolled us 3-0 at home in the semifinals of the 2003 World Cup, but this year our defense is a rock. We’ve only allowed one goal through five games. If we keep our shape and discipline, Germany will have a difficult time getting one past Solo. And we have the firepower, whether it’s Abby’s head, or Pinoe’s genius, or Llyod’s golazos or Morgan’s hustle. USA 1-0.

 

Seattle Sounders Lose (Again) to Portland Timbers

The Seattle Sounders suffered their worst lost to the Portland Timbers in the MLS era, 4-1, last night. For the first time in MLS history, the Sounders have lost three straight.

Both teams were hungry to recapture their winning ways, the Timbers after their 5-1 blowout loss to LA and Seattle after losing to two cellar dwellers in San Jose and Philly. It was Portland who started, and ended, the night strong.

My favorite whipping boy, Darlington Nagbe, actually had a goal. A unicorn made love to a sasquatch in the pot of gold at the end of a double rainbow on February 29th and Nagbe’s shot found the back of the net. But the overmatched Sounders fought back and equalized on a Lamar Neagle strike off a Tyrone Mears cross. This was Seattle’s first goal with a DP-less lineup, and I hoped the Sounders were finally flipping the script from underachieving losers to gritty survivors. The 1-1 score line at the half was well earned, and everything was going great until around the 65th minute.

I hate to say this, but hats off to Portland. They hustled and finished their chances well. A top-choice Timbers squad should beat a Sounders team featuring Oneil Fisher, Andy Craven and Darwin Jones. So congrats to Portland for getting the job done. Shortly after Craven came on for Barrett, possession flipped firmly to Portland’s favor. Adi scored to solid goals in less than two minutes, as the Sounders, frankly, lost composure (no comment on Fisher’s contribution to the two goals). Replacing Rose with Roldan, put even more youth on the field, and eventually Wallace added the fourth goal in stoppage time. It probably felt really good to beat the dead horse.

After their putrid run of form, getting blown out of the park in a Cascadia derby wasn’t exactly what Seattle needed. Luckily, this blowout has an asterisk. Portland leveled a tired, vastly undermanned Sounders team. The loss sucks, because Portland sucks, but I can contextualize it within the frame of “we don’t have our DPs. what do you expect?” But after 5 games of this, we can’t keep chalking up putrid offense displays and sloppy defense to our DP-less phase. I am sick of contextualizing. We need the Sounders we have to change this narrative.

 

Seattle Sounders at Portland Timbers: Round 3

The Seattle Sounders play their archrival the Portland Timbers today down in that stinky little river city. This game always has gravity, but as Portland has been climbing and Seattle falling in the MLS rankings lately, this one will be especially heated.

Portland had a stellar run of form going before LA buzz-sawed, 5-0, them for the worst result in the Porter era. DP CB Liam Ridgewell got chippy at the end of a sloppy game and saw red, meaning he’ll be out for this Cascadian Clash. Ridgewell and LA’s Alan Gordon went up for a ball. Ridgewell had no chance of winning it as Gordon had position, but scraped a high boot, cleats out, on Gordon’s back and thigh. Straight red. Wait. A DP got testy in an out-of-control match and saw red? Think of the children. At least Dempsey only assaulted paper.

Ridgewell’s absence should soften the Timber’s defense, he’s been stellar lately. But we can’t score goals with our current lineup. The sounders are scoreless in our three understaffed games: 0-1 SKC, 0-2 SJC, 0-1 Philly. Luckily we haven’t hemorrhaged goals like PDX. After resting players against Philly, we should have a better crack at Portland.

We should have a first choice backline as Marshall only had fifteen minutes as the world’s biggest striker and Mears benefitted from the rest. Though the availability of Ozzie is still uncertain, the midfield should be fine. Pappa will be making his last start before the Gold Cup and Pineda should have shaken off the rust from his time away (lordy was he a problem on Wednesday). Forward is still a glaring hole. Barrett would make a big difference if he can go.

It’s funny how we lamented the depth at midfield earlier while saying we had too much talent at forward. We all have to admit that Neagle up top just isn’t working.

Bold Prediction: I’m starting with a modest proposal to Sigi: start Darwin Jones as the lone striker. He was one of the very few goal-dangerous Sounders in Philly. Yes he’s raw and made the horrible decision to shoot into the side-netting instead of feeding Marshall for an easy goal. That said: he is fast. And stout. He has good body control and mass, and could be a pesky lone striker. I can see Jones harrying a depleted Timbers backline, allowing Rose, Pappa and Roldan to fill-in and clean up. I doubt Sigi makes this call in this game however.

My confidence is shaken in the JV getting results, but rivalry games are chaos. We are in Portland’s heads: 1:1 draw.

****

Sorry we haven’t recorded a Wrong Color Green podcast in a while. My partner-in-crime, Bob, recently became a father. Unfortunately he’s raising a little Timbers fan, but we’ll love him anyway.

 

Seattle Sounders Will Unseat the NFL

The Seattle Sounders will one day unseat the NFL as king of American sports. Or so says Britian’s top sportswriter, Martin Samuel. On the eve of the renewal of the best rivalry in American soccer, let’s take a moment to remember who rules MLS. Writing in the Daily Mail, Samuel says:

Their [Seattle Sounders] average attendance last season — 43,734 — would put them sixth in the Premier League behind Manchester United, Arsenal, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Liverpool.

They are the best supported club in the Americas, with the exception of River Plate of Argentina, and the 27th best supported in the world. If they could persuade another 2,000 people to commit in a city with an area population of 3.6 million, they would be inside the top 20.

There was a fraction under 40,000 people to watch the match against San Jose and Seattle’s management would have been disappointed with that. They share the stadium with the Seattle Seahawks NFL franchise and most of the upper tier remains closed off for all but local derbies. Yet those average 55,533.

Major League Soccer is coming to realise that the key to growth is rivalry, which is why New York now has two teams and Los Angeles is getting more. Hinton, a United States resident since 1977 and a former coach and club president at the Sounders, says major cities are queuing up to get a team of their own, Atlanta the latest on that list. The fans don’t know football the way they do NFL, he says, but one day they will. Maybe sooner than anyone anticipated.

I always love looking at those attendance figures: 6th in the EPL, and second in the whole hemisphere only to River Plate. Counting the gate is usually for the CPAs and front office-types. But in a sport still fighting for legitimacy, the massive drawing power of Seattle needs to be celebrated. But that isn’t all, the game must improve for actual change to take place. Samuel goes on:

So what happens next? This is where it gets interesting. The football isn’t the best right now, but that hardly matters. It is improving and, as it does, so will commercial interest. Then, if soccer in America capitalises on the fears around NFL, it could grow rapidly. And once the money comes in, we know from experience, so will the players. And not just for the last hurrah, either.

If soccer began to generate the wealth of other frontline sports in the United States, it would start to capture players at 25, not 35 — or at least pique the interest of their agents.

America would keep the best players generated by its academies, too, because a country that sings the national anthem before every sports event is aching to promote homegrown heroes.

Imagine if the super-fast young men now schooled to be wide receivers became wingers instead; or played off the shoulder of the last defender? In a country of 319 million, have no doubt the talent is there.

This is a drum I’ve been beating for quite some time: when young athletes choose soccer over football or basketball, we will win the World Cup. Think of LeBron or Cam Newton in a red, white and blue kit. Or better yet in Rave Green.

Faith No More: USWNT vs China

The USWNT plays China today in the quarterfinals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Ottawa. With the yellow card suspensions to both Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday, prognosticators seem to be down on the US.

Rapinoe is our MVP. Though Solo is incomparable, the backline the strength of the team and the forward position stacked, Megan Rapinoe, is the franchise. Holiday has been doing yeoman’s work for the USWNT since 2011, but her star really ascended last year in the NWSL leading FCKC to the championship (over Pinoe’s Seattle’s Reign). Missing both will hurt, as the midfield has been a mess.

I don’t know how the US will compensate. Jill Ellis has proven somewhat inscrutable with some of her roster and lineup decisions. We won’t be at our very best, but we should beat China. China hasn’t been that good for a long while. They are currently ranked 16th in the world and, other than memories of 1999, have been mostly irrelevant. And yet, pundits doubt the United States’ chances against China.

Whether they doubt or believe is irrelevant. The USWNT’s record stands alone: objective, excellent. The USA is the Brazil of women’s soccer. Winners in two of first three World Cups (and never off the podium), dominating the Olympics (always gold, except for silver in 2000) and the Algarve cup (10 championships, the record). These are the premier competitions for women’s soccer, and we just plain own.

Oddly, one of the only chants I heard in BC Place during the US-Nigeria game was the Nike-spawned “I believe. I believe that…” It was fun last summer for the USMNT. They stink. They’ve gotten better lately, serious contenders in CONCACAF, relevant on the world stage, and they have a plucky charm. But the men have only won 1 knockout game in the last 81 years. Contextually that chant doesn’t work with the USWNT.

Saying you merely believe the USWNT will win is at best, weak sauce; at worst, solipsist. The US should win. They have talent, infrastructure, culture and recent form on their side. I always assume they will win and when they don’t it’s an upset.

The chant “I believe that we will win” also puts all the agency on the fan, the I. It is weird to make you, the spectator, the subject of the chant. All you are doing is espousing the virtues of your faith. Okay? Traditionally chants are imperatives, exhorting the home team to excellence: “Let’s go Cubbies” or “Fight and win!” These women don’t need your faith. They have proven, time and again, their championship bona fides: Wambach’s header against Brazil in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Cup, Morgan’s ice-cold strike in stoppage time of extra time against Canada in the semis of the 2012 Olympics. They don’t need us, we are along for the ride/

Bold Prediction: If China bunkers and the US flounders, this game may be ugly. I am worried about Wambach’s minutes, but this game should be key for her. We can win if we pump crosses into the box and hope to find Abby’s towering noggin. This is the style of play that has been cheesing me off lately, but should work against China: USA 1-0.

 

Seattle Sounders Lose to The Philadelphia Union

The Seattle Sounders continued their recent slide losing 1-0 to the Philadelphia Union last night. Seattle has now lost 3 of their last 4, 3 straight in all competitions.

This loss hurts. The Union stink and even they got the better of a depleted Seattle side. Granted, the Sounders started three debutantes in Jimmy Ockford, Oneil Fisher and Aaron Kovar. Expectations weren’t high, as this was the most JV lineup Sigi’s been forced to field yet. I want to say that blooding the young’uns now will pay dividends later. I want to say that, but all I can think about is how crappy Sounders soccer has been lately.

The only bright spot was the play of Fisher. He looks like a real gamer. He was pacey and confident, and the moment wasn’t too big for him. This may seem like hyperbole, but I remember having the same thoughts when Yedlin first entered the lineup. I’m not trying to saddle Fisher with unfair expectations, but we need some of this kids to step up and surprise. Maybe Fisher can deliver.

As for the other newbs, Ockford was abused at times and Kovar has yet to really impress me. I can somewhat forgive Ockford, as he was playing with an unfamiliar CB partner in Zach Scott. But I keep waiting for Kovar to change into a player who is challenging the 18, and he always disappoints. If he wants to show Sigi he belongs, now is the time.

It’s only going to get harder. I’d have loved Seattle to have stolen some sort of result from San Jose or Philadelphia. These were the easy games. Next up is Portland. Then LA. We have to stop the bleeding, but with the Gold Cup fast approaching and Oba not miraculously healed, I don’t see how. Unless we, maybe, I don’t know, borrow Jordan Morris. Klinsy isn’t using him.

 

Seattle Sounders vs Philadelphia Union: The Ugly Contest

The Seattle Sounders will once again take the pitch masquerading as a small market club. Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Ozzie Alonso will all miss tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Union. Tonight marks the second game in a row (and just another one of many) where the Sounders will be without a DP.

These undercard lineups haven’t exactly been working out for the Sounders. Seattle is 0-3-0 (losses to SKC, USOC Portland, and the Quakes) when starting the replacements. Luckily Philly may be the club to right what ails us. The Union average a dismal .88 points per game, the very worst in the league. They play like it.

Expect an ugly game tonight. Both teams will wind back the clock to MLS circa 1998, as both Seattle and Philly are playing on 3 days’ rest and flying coast-to-coast. The Sounders, of course, lost to San Jose at home, but the Union were absolutely embarrassed at StubHub 5-1 by the Gals. These two teams will be greedy to forget last weekend.

Bold Prediction: Seattle, depleted and injured, is still the better team. By far. Philly only has the edge in health, as just Le Toux is questionable. How bad are the Union? They have lost 7 of their last 10 and give up the most goals in the league with 30. Their defense is a sieve, mostly because of their ever-rotating goal tender situation (it seems the Union got the curse of the Flyers). Philly can score, at 19 in 17, they are on pace with LA and Dallas. But their has been stalled and goals have been in short supply lately.

The 4-2-3-1 should work fine this time. Azira does his best Ozzie-light impersonation and Thomas, Pappa, Rose and Roldan are getting used to working with each other. Neagle probably starts up top, but that man looked plain gassed Saturday. I wouldn’t be so bold to predict Mansaray or Jones in the starting eleven. Or would I? Either way Seattle wins the ugly contest: Sounders 2-1.

 

USWNT vs Colombia: Match Recap

Yesterday the USWNT beat Colombia 2-0 to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Things have yet to click for the US as they punched in another grinding, hiccupping performance against a very game Colombian side.

One of the most refreshing aspects of the women’s game is the lack of cynicism. The men’s game, especially the World Cup, is a world-class diving exhibition. Players, even the very best (*cough* Neymar *cough*), selfishly flop and dive and roll around in histrionics. Yesterday Colombia made up for years of solid, honest play at the Women’s World Cup with a flop fest for the ages.

If an American sneezed on a Cafetera, she went down screaming. It is being reported that forward Ingrid Vidal just got a call from Hollywood. The ref was a sucker for all the diving, as the US was charged with 22 fouls. In the entirety of group play, we averaged only 10 fouls a game. We somehow managed to commit more than double that.

The gamemanship of Colombia and inconsistent officiating had me terrified of a fluke upset. Especially after Abby Wambach missed her penalty (actually her whiff preserved my bold prediction streak (and if you believe my bold predictions are infallible, I have a MLS franchise in Miami to sell you!)). Luckily, the ref was forced to call the egregious penalties that allowed us to go a player up and ice the victory.

Again, just like against Australia, Rapinoe and Holiday both got soft yellows in the first half. Now both will be out for Friday’s showdown with China. Coach Jill Ellis is going to have to get creative with her lineup, as Pinoe and Holiday have started every match so far. The US, even with their ideal eleven, failed to create much of an attack yesterday. Against the bunkering defense of China, the absence of both creative midfielders will be felt. Almost every goal scored by the US this Cup has been somehow affected by Pinoe. I’d love to see us overload on forwards in a 4-3-3, get Morgan, Press and Leroux (or Rodriguez) pressing high and making runs, but I doubt Ellis gets that out-of-the-box. The US just hasn’t been creative this World Cup.

In Ellis’s postgame presser, when asked what she thought of the US’s attack and ball movement, she said she was pleased. That was the wrong answer. Through 4 games, the US has failed to sustain an attack. We have three goals in our last three games, the last two against subpar defenses. We’ve benefitted from red cards in our last two games and two penalties yesterday. We have three goals to show for it.

Ellis preaches strong defense. This is great. But it seems she just kinda lets the offense do its thing. She reminds me of Rex Ryan coaching the Jets: merely focusing on fielding a formidable defense while settling for a mediocre O. But it’s not like the USWNT only has Mark Sanchez to lead the attack. Maybe the better analogy is Buddy Ryan and the 1990 Philadelphia Eagles. Buddy coached the hell out of a star-studded defense, but couldn’t be bothered to worry about offense. He wasted prime years of Randall Cunningham, Mike Quick, Fred Barnett and others’ careers. It is almost a coaching crime to let Pinoe, Morgan, Holiday and Press lie fallow.

 

USWNT vs Colombia: Match Preview

The World Cup is about to get real. The USWNT plays Colombia today in the win-or-go-home knockout round. Though we haven’t looked great lately, we won the “Group of Death.” Australia, a team we beat on a bad day 3-1, advanced past Brazil yesterday. The US should, should, have no trouble with Colombia.

The big narrative for the Yanks is whether coach Jill Ellis can figure out the lineup. Against Nigeria, our eleven was the strongest of our Cup so far. Alex Morgan, making her first start in over a year, grabbed the headlines, but it was Tobin Heath who made the difference. Our midfield finally worked together against Nigeria. Coach Ellis had been forcing out-of-position players to the fill the winger role opposite Rapinoe. In the first game it was natural forward Christen Press; in the second, natural centermid Morgan Brian. The confusion in the midfield snuffed the connection between the center third and attacking third and limited the strengths of midfielders like Lloyd and Holiday.

Tobin Heath is a winger. Occupying the space along the touchline, flying box-to-box and pumping in crosses is her bailiwick. She is positionally aware and has a high soccer IQ. That said, I don’t think as an individual player she is exactly top flight: at times she gets beat 1v1 and has limited technique. But just having her on the pitch makes the whole team better. She allows the midfield to be a midfield, she allows Holiday and Lloyd to be at their best.

The US has a wealth of riches up top. I understand why Ellis was trying to get Press on the pitch earlier: she is very, very talented (that goal against Australia). You have the US goals-scored leader in Wambach and the speedy quality of Sydney Leroux also on call. And, oh yeah, Amy Rodriguez, only the highest scoring American in the NWSL last year. With Alex Morgan back, the logjam at forward further congests.

Ellis has tried Leroux and Wambach up top, Press and Leroux, and Morgan and Wambach. This last duo has made the most noise for the Stars and Stripes, but looked rusty against Nigeria. Hopefully they can rediscover their chemistry on the fly. Morgan has energy and hustle and she fought her whole 65 minutes on Tuesday, which is a great going forward. I think Wambach starts again up top because Ellis is so committed to boot-and-chase.

The Nigeria game was boring, it was mid-Century footy in the worst possible way. After we got the header from Abby, Ellis showed no desire to push for another score. In a way, I can understand. Nigeria attacks well, so why keep pushing and open yourself up to an unnecessary counterattack? And yet we didn’t just park the bus, we parked the whole damn cruise ship. We ceded all possession to a quality attacking team for a little over half an hour. Normally this would be a recipe for disaster. But we have a great defense and it worked Tuesday. Let’s hope it works again today.

Bold Prediction: To Colombia’s credit, they have done something we haven’t at this World Cup: scored in every game so far. Los Cafeteras advanced from a difficult group, getting results from the 33rd and 25th best teams in the world. They only lost to #6 England. This team is not a push over, especially with Andrade on the pitch.

However. This game will be decided by the USWNT. If we field a team that works together and knows themselves, we win in a rout. If we are still working the kinks out against a team that shocked France 2-0, we could be the next big team to suffer an upset. I think Morgan is the catalyst and I hope Heath starts. If so, US 2-0.

 

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