Month – July 2015

Seattle Sounders and Colorado Rapids Preview

The Seattle Sounders trot out another underwhelming lineup against another underwhelming opponent, the Colorado Rapids.

The Sounders have lost 5 of their last 7 and somehow still sit tied for first atop the Western Conference at 32 points. Though this standing is tenuous, as Seattle could find themselves just inside the red line by the end of the weekend. SKC is currently holding the sixth and final playoff spot on 30 points, just two behind first place Seattle. A win against Colorado would give the Sounders some breathing room and some good juju.

The Rapids, comfortably out of the playoff picture, are on a little roll lately winning their last two (and thereby doubling their total wins on the year). Most of the year they’ve acquitted themselves like drunken sloths, but a recent lineup change to a 4-3-3 has put some heat in their attack. Colorado has 5 goals in their last two. They traditionally build their game from the back, as the Rapids define “bunker and counter.”

The offense under the microscope won’t be Colorado’s. Seattle’s attack has dried up with the absence of their DP strikers. Barrett and Neagle have not been getting the job done up top and word out of Starfire, from both Lagerwey and Sigi, is that much more is expected. Luckily Seattle will have the creative and goal-dangerous Marco Pappa back, at least in the 18, as Guatemala lost to Cuba. That’s a major let-down for Guatemala who took second in the 2014 Copa Centroamericana to World Cup darlings Costa Rica. Though keeping with the tradition of our recent lineup problems, Andy Craven is questionable. Craven had a run-in with backup GK Charlie Lyon in training and is probably out. I was really hoping Craven would get a chance at playing more than minimal sub minutes.

This may be the game where Sigi is forced to get creative, especially if the attack continues to sputter. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again, but expecting different results. How many times can we expect these Sounders, and especially Barrett and Neagle, to get the job done?

 

Seattle Sounders Stadium Expose Part 2

The Seattle Sounders fancy themselves the class of MLS. The Seattle Sounders play on old, fake turf. Clearly we have a problem here.

Yesterday I explored the civic cost of CenturyLink Field. Today I’ll discuss the utility and value of CenturyLink Field solely as a stadium; that is, as a building that hosts sporting events.

I don’t need to tell you that CenturyLink Field, along with being the home of the Seahawks and Sounders, hosts conventions, concerts, and even Amazon Quidditch. As long as us taxpayers are footing the bill, it’s great we’re getting so much use out of the stadium. However. The stadium was built, first and foremost, to host football and soccer games and it is not living up to its promise.

If CenturyLink Field wants to be a world-class sporting stadium, it needs natural grass. As Sounders fans, we often wring our hands over the lack of grass. The Seahawks allegedly love the turf, and they love it old and crummy. So as long as the Seahawks and Sounders are co-tenants, and First and Goal Inc. is the managing organization, the Sounders will always be second fiddle and getting grass is just pie in the sky.

First and Goal Inc., the little private company Paul Allen created to team up with the county’s Public Stadium Authority in the “public-private partnership” that funded the creation of Seahawks Stadium-Qwest Field-CenturyLink Field, openly stated that when Seattle was awarded an MLS franchise, if MLS demanded a natural playing surface, grass would be installed at the stadium. This old website from the early aughts still says so:

Why is FieldTurf installed in the stadium instead of natural grass?
CenturyLink Field’s playing field is covered with FieldTurf, an artificial surface that has received praise from the football community and has gained considerable acceptance in the soccer community. The PSA Board approved First & Goal’s request to install FieldTurf at the stadium only after FGI committed to install and pay for temporary natural grass for major soccer events. If Major League Soccer requires a grass playing surface, the field will be permanently changed to natural grass at the time that Seattle receives an MLS team. In the meantime, FieldTurf provides much greater flexibility in scheduling back-to-back events in the stadium.

First and Goal Inc. pulled the old bait-and-switch: “we’ll do FieldTurf now and when the little soccer team joins we’ll say we’ll get grass, but that’ll be like 7-10 years from now and we won’t really have to do it.” I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday… And sure, MLS never demanded Seattle play on grass, so no foul by FGI, right? But FGI also stated they’d install “temporary natural grass for major soccer events.” They’ve seemingly lived up to this, as we’ve seen sod laid down for the World Cup Qualifier against Panama and other exhibition games against European powers.

But now grass is being laid for a silly exhibition. The International Champions Cup (which is just a fancy way of saying “exhibition tour”) is coming to Seattle with Manchester United facing Club America at CenturyLink Field. Man U and America want grass, so they’re getting it. They’re getting it for a silly preseason friendly. Seriously can you imagine the Seahawks, Patriots, Eagles and Colts gallivanting around Europe charging fans in Hamburg and Amsterdam a premium to watch preseason games, and then calling it a major football event? That’s crap.

The Sounders play league games on turf. The Sounders play MLS playoff games, Open Cup Finals and CCL games on turf and yet, according to First and Goal Inc. these aren’t “major soccer events.” The Seattle Sounders want to be world-class, but their own landlord doesn’t consider them major.

 

Seattle Sounders Stadium Expose Part 1

The Seattle Sounders have a raucous and telegenic crowd that regularly crams the stadium for home games. CenturyLink Field is one of the crown jewels of MLS stadiums and there are many reasons why: the atmosphere, the location, the views looking over the Sound at sunset. But is CenturyLink Field good for the city of Seattle?

Sunday night John Oliver broadcast a scathing and hilarious condemnation of the practice of getting public funds for stadiums. In the next two days I am going to explore the value and cost of CenturyLink Field to the people who love its sports teams.

Normally I avoid referring to the Sounders’ stadium as “CenturyLink Field.” That is the name of a communications company from Louisiana and has nothing to do with Seattle or the Cascadia. Just ‘cause Paul Allen got handed a chunk of change for the naming rights, doesn’t mean I have to play along with their advertising or brand recognition schemes. However. In this article, for the sake of clarity, I will refer to the Sounders’s home not as vaguely “in Sodo”, but as CenturyLink Field.

Seattle has a long and fraught history with funding stadiums and for good reason. Soccernomics, a great book, discusses the economic futility of building stadiums or even hosting big sporting events, such as the World Cup or Olympics. No money is ever made by stadiums or sporting events, though the major reason the public is often duped into funding is for the promise of an economic boost. Interestingly enough, the only real benefit of a new stadium is somewhat unquantifiable because it affects the happiness quotient. Social scientists have found there to be less suicides, more births, and more citizens being “feeling in it together” during championship seasons by the home team.

And this is mostly great. Think of all the not-really-Seahawks fans Seattleites who became raving twelvers in just the last couple of years. If some folks felt less alone and more civically involved as a direct of the Seahawks’ success, great. And if all of this is indirectly related to the construction of CenturyLink Field, yeah stadiums.

But let’s look at the bill. CenturyLink opened in 2002 and cost $430 million in a “public-private” partnership which really meant the public funded $300 mil while Paul Allen (one of the richest human beings in history) tacked on $130 mil or just about 30% of the bill. That’s a partnership like “I helped with dinner because I set the forks on the table.” Sure $130 mil is a lot of money, but Paul Allen isn’t just Bob Kraft or Jerry Jones rich, he’s “owner of two of the world’s largest yachts” rich.

CenturyLink field is now 13 years old, which is over the hill. As decrepit as we remember the Kingdome, it was only 24 when it was imploded. King County still owed $80 million on the Kingdome then, and only just-only just-finished paying off all the debt it accrued from building the Kingdom way back in 1977. Which is great because now the county can start paying off the bonds that paid for CenturyLink, though whether we’ll still be paying when it too is rubble remains to be seen.

 

The Expendables: Seattle Sounders Edition

Some Seattle Sounders underwhelmed more than others in Saturday’s frustrating loss to Chicago.

The major whipping boys, as I see them, are Chad Barrett, Micheal Azira and Gonzalo Pineda. I’ve been anti-Chad “pickle juice” Barrett for a while now. His brace against Vancouver feels like a looong time ago. He can’t go 90 minutes, can’t create his own shot and he’s a liability on defense. Worse, we’ve seen his best and every minute he takes robs a young’un from development. Sigi ought to start considering Craven for Barrett’s spot in the lineup, both players had exactly one shot-on-goal against Chicago. Barrett found his in 65 minutes, while Craven needed less than half that, 25.

It sure looks like Pineda is cooked. Believe me, I am a huge Pineda fan (last year he was a revelation) but I think the party’s over. That whiff on the 92nd free kick that triggered Chicago’s counter was inexcusable. He’s only missed four games this season and has started 15, but that speaks more to our desperation to field a competent roster than to his indispensability to the team. The most shocking thing is Pineda’s collapse happened so fast. It seems like just yesterday Gonzo was acing the tightest passes into space and cycling the ball to the forwards. Did he somehow get his 370th carry and we didn’t know it? It sure seems Garth and co. know Pineda shouldn’t be starting and that’s why a certain Swede with an affinity for tacos was recently signed.

Azira? I’ve said what I’ve said about Azira. He could’ve made something happen, as he was in the right place at the right time, and just didn’t. Azira only played 7+ minutes but he indelibly scarred the game. He replaced the attack-minded and tiring Roldan as the center of the advanced midfielders. It made sense tactically, as we wanted to stay in the 4-2-3-1 to keep the midfield presence, but wanted a more defensive player. It didn’t work. Azira doesn’t work. The sooner he’s out of the 18, the better.

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I know I’ve been mighty quiet about the CONCACAF Gold Cup. I’ll chime in on the USMNT’s fortunes and performance in that tournament starting with Saturday’s match in the quarterfinals. The Group Stage of the Gold Cup is a farce. Since 1991, when the CONCACAF Championship was rebranded the Gold Cup, The USMNT had only failed to win 3 games in the group stage; now 4 with last night’s draw against Panama. In 2005 and 2009, the US drew their final Group Stage game fielding a B-Team lineup (kinda like yesterday’s result). It was only in 2011 when Clarence Goodson knocked in an own goal for Panama did the US ever lose a group stage game. Long story short: I don’t tune in ‘til the games matter. Though seeing Yedlin and Dempsey working together again sure felt good. If only they were both wearing Rave Green.

 

Writing About Another Seattle Sounders Loss

The Seattle Sounders lost 1-0 to the Chicago Fire Saturday.

I am getting sick of the Sounders losing to an Eastern Conference foe in maddening fashion. In fact, I am getting sick of the Sounders losing and then having to write about it.

My options as a blogger are limited to: 1, contextualize the loss (hey, we’re missing lots of players, but are still doing great on the table); 2, be a Pollyanna (Perkins looked great, didn’t he?!); 3, find a scapegoat (Pineda’s played like crap, huh?). I’ve been churning through those three tacks for the last couple of weeks (and at least then I had the World Cup to distract me).

Writing about the Sounders losing stinks, especially when they keep losing in bone-headed ways. In every loss, the under-handed Sounders play admirably, keep it close and then brain fart. The Philly loss centered on one moment of leaving CJ Sapong unmarked as he crashed the box. The SKC loss came down to giving up a late penalty. The San Jose loss was the result of sloppy defending on MPG and Nyassi, and the Portland loss was just 11 men giving up in the final fifteen minutes.

But this Chicago loss was the worst. First off, we didn’t play admirably (we played like crap), but still almost escaped with a result. We had survived a siege in the first half, looked good throughout the second and found ourselves nursing a draw, away, in stoppage time. We won a free kick. All we had to do was possess, run the clock another 120+ seconds, and we’re out, with a point, and a two-game unbeaten streak. But then, as Pineda is setting up to take the free kick, all the big bodies inexplicably run forward to get their head on the ball, leaving us exposed to a counter. Then Pineda fluffs the kick and the counter starts, but Micheal Azira mans-up on Michael Stephens and all can still be averted as Azira has all the time in the world to take the professional yellow and foul Stephens, but he doesn’t, and Stephens charges into the final third and finds Jason Johnson who slams the winner home.

The Sounders are getting really good at finding even more inexplicable ways to lose. And, frankly, I am running out of ways to write about it.

 

Seattle Sounders at Chicago Fire

The Seattle Sounders are in the Windy City to snuff the Chicago Fire.

Oddly, we have lost 3 of 4 away to Eastern Conference foes (at Philly, SKC and Columbus). This is an ugly trend, as losing to the inferior conference should be, but Seattle teams (MLB, NFL) always perform poorly in relation to long travel (remember when the Seahawks couldn’t win east of the Rockies? (and how was that for a hypotactic sentence?)). And yet we have never lost to the Fire (6-0-3). Something’s gotta give.

BOLD PREDICTION: Chicago is getting its attack healthy (Magee and Nyarko, plus the always-dangerous (but silly as hell) Harry Shipp), but Seattle’s D hasn’t suffered much despite the absences. Yes Perkins is another new starter, but is MLS-starter quality and Ozzie’s improved match fitness will only help. I expect Seattle to shut down Chicago, but it is the flipside that’s curious.

This match features a stoppable force versus a movable object. Seattle, the stoppable force, only has 2 goals from the JV (Neagle’s temporary equalizer against Portland and Mears’s salvation against 10-man DC). The Fire’s defense is the movable object, as they have many absences on the backline (remember this is the team that thought Jhon Kennedy Hurtado would improve their defense). My big question for today is: will Seattle’s ragamuffins score? I say, why not? Seattle 1-0.

Bonus Bold Prediction: Freiberg, who finished his paperwork Thursday and has been in training, is in the 18 but doesn’t play.

 

Seattle Sounders at Chicago Fire Match Preview

The duct-tape-and-bailing-wire Seattle Sounders will try to start a winning streak this weekend at the Chicago Fire. This narrative is getting tired, but the depleted Sounders’ roster will be even thinner without keeper Stefan Frei. Luckily the replacements seem to be figuring this soccer thing out lately, as the Sounders got their first victory last weekend against a very good (yet down a man for 60 minutes) D.C. United.

The Fire aren’t very good. In fact Chicago is the worst team in the league, even worse than Philly (which is good, ‘cause Philly beat us). The Fire own the absolute worst points-per-game average in the league (.94). They don’t cede too many goals (24), but man do they score at a sloth’s pace (18). And Chicago hasn’t won a league game since May.

The Fire’s roster isn’t decimated by Gold Cup call-ups at all (Joevin Jones went in for Trinidad and Tobago) and is getting mighty healthy right at the wrong time for Seattle. Mike Magee, the one player on the Fire you always think of, hadn’t played in a year. But he recently made two appearances with limited minutes in league games before making his first start in the recent Chicago USOC victory over Charlotte. Patrick Nyarko, that other dude on the Fire, is also getting closer to 100% and coach Frank Yallop expects them both to start this weekend

Oh yeah, Frank Yallop. Remember him, the coach of the San Jose “Bash Brothers”? I loathe Yallop’s coaching ethos. He is the last man holding on to O.G. American soccer, i.e. ugly, physical, slow boot-and-chase. He’s been holding back the growth of the game in this country for far too long with his Neanderthal tactics, and all Seattle needs is to lose another player to injury.

Though we are a depleted team, we’re finally learning to work together. Hopefully this is an edge against a Chicago 11 who aren’t used to working together yet.

 

Guest Writer: Seattle Sounders and Tradition

Your favorite Seattle Sounders blog is featuring a guest writer for the first time today. Welcome Samuel Goldman to Raving Green.

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The Sounders Are Using Premier League Traditions Responsibly

 

Some of the major American sports teams attract a global following. They have fans from all over the world. Every franchise has its own individual traditions. These customs are capable of impacting a game. But nothing is as impactful as unity. Universal traditions are passed down from generation to generation. Fans all over the world are always encouraged to participate.

Soccer is different. There is little if any unity. Numerous leagues all over the planet contribute to this problem. Occasionally clubs are able to attract a global fan base. When this doesn’t occur fans become territorial. If you steal their traditions they will be upset. If you’re a second rate league and you commit the crime you’re in big trouble. In many fans eyes MLS falls into the latter category.

The fan experience is normally a vital part of every major sport. When it comes to European soccer the experience is increased dramatically. Ancient chants and sometimes even scarf wearing accompanies matches. These traditions have always been a part of the sport and always will be. Most fans didn’t mind when MLS clubs began reusing their traditions. A couple did.

Soccer is growing like wildfire in the states. All of the bold predictions about it’s stateside growth are finally coming true. Everyone wants in on the fun. Seattle has established itself as the face of American Soccer. Their fans practice many of the European traditions. Many stateside fans enjoy their traditions. The feeling isn’t always the same overseas.

European Soccer fans have been known to complain about the reuse of their traditions. When they locate a target they immediately point their fingers at the culprit. Seattle has been pointed out a lot lately. Their use of scarves and chants is considered robbery. In some peoples’ eyes the practices should cease to exist. They think that MLS should create their own fan culture. Until MLS performs this task the accusers won’t be satisfied.

Accusing Sounders fans of being offensive is humorous. Claiming that they stole traditions is ridiculous. European fans might hate the club, but their favorite clubs don’t. Seattle has maintained a healthy relationship with multiple Premier League clubs. They play the clubs fairly regularly in friendlies. The opponents have included Chelsea and Manchester United.

Major European clubs don’t play stateside just for the money and exposure. If they did, they wouldn’t play high quality teams. In order for the clubs to agree to play you, they need your respect. Evidently Seattle is considered reputable in their eyes. Respect is another requirement. European players would exit the pitch if they didn’t feel respected by Seattle fans.

If you happened to be one of the few fans who are offended by the Sounders’ reuse of your traditions, you have two options. You could research the club’s history (they’re over forty years old). Or you could choose the easier option: stop watching all Sounders multimedia. The choice is yours.

 

USWNT and the Future of the NWSL

The Women’s World Cup Final on Sunday was the most watched soccer game, men or women, in US history. 25.4 million viewers tuned in to see us capture our record third star, more than watched the USMNT draw Portugal last summer in Brazil. The summer of 1999 ignited America’s passion for the women’s game. And that final was watched by a solid 18 million, the previous record for a women’s soccer game.

And yet… the women’s game is still on life support in this country. Most of the women America watched on Sunday are returning to the National Women’s Soccer League to play in front of marginal crowds on YouTube streams. I could talk about how important these numbers and this game was to inspiring another generation of young women, but that won’t save the NWSL. 1999 was the Big Bang as young girls’ saw for the first time they could aspire to be legitimate world-class footballers. Some of the biggest names on our roster were high-school-age athletes that summer:

Wambach – 19

Solo -18

Lloyd-17

Krieger – 15

Sauerbrunn – 14

Pinoe -14

All those young women were inspired by Hamm, Akers, Chastain, Foudy, Scurry and all. And yet not even ‘99 could save the WUSA or WPS, two previously folded women’s professional soccer leagues.

I think we marginalize the women’s game when we only talk about the progress, legacy and inspiration. Yes. All of that is important; it is the grassroots passion that truly grows the game. And yet we don’t need to mention it when we discuss the USMNT or the NFL. We assume young boys everywhere want to be professional football players and soccer stars. We take a boy’s passion for sports for granted. We know a whole world of opportunity exists for the lucky guy with the genes of the next Ronaldo. But does that opportunity exist for a young girl?

Sunday we saw a dominant team of athletes. This was no different than watching Germany last summer or Steph Curry and company last month. A peerless group of athletes went out and dominated the field. And yet they happen to be women. Women who now have to return to playing on turf fields in college stadiums or high school stadiums with minimum capacity and non-soccer specific amenities.

Our best male athletes are treated like fat kings. Our women like interns. The NWSL has a very tight salary cap of only $265,000 (not including the few big stars). The minimum salary is $6,842 and the maximum (non-star) is $37,800. These are barely living wages. Clearly there is an interest in women’s soccer. If we want to make sure the game doesn’t stay marginalized under the dominant gender dynamic of this country, we need to support these athletes. We need to watch the NWSL. Not because it is politically correct, but because we are privileged to see such world-class athletes in action. And because the next Abby Wambach and Hope Solo are sophomores or seniors at a high school somewhere near you.

 

We Are Lucky To Be Seattle Sounders Fans

The Seattle Sounders’ recent run of form reminds me how lucky we all are as Sounders fans. The roster is depleted and we lack quality depth at key positions, so we sign Erik Friberg and Thomas. We still have to see how these two signings will work out, but one thing is clear: no one involved with this team thinks good is good enough.

There is a difference between wanting to be good and being good. I am sure NYCFC and Philly want to be good, they just don’t have the organization to manifest that desire. Seattle does. We have ownership and a front office committed to a quality product. Adrian and company want to win. Badly. When L.A. trounced us in the 2012 Western Conference Finals, we went out and got Obafemi Martins. When Dempsey became available, we got him too. Hell this offseason after the Supporters’ Shield and US Open Cup double, Seattle added the best GM in MLS, Garth Lagerwey, to the team. The Sounders are solid team and culture builders.

The Tyrone Mears acquisition is a fine example of deft roster work. After only two seasons, DeAndre Yedlin was so good he jumped ship to Tottenham. His departure left Seattle with a huge hole in the roster. Instead of just leaving the fullback spots to Leo and Remick, we added competition with Mears. We took a low-risk chance on a high upside veteran, and it paid off. If Mears had proved to be an injury bust, we wouldn’t be out much money or forced to start an overmatched player.

In a bizarre alternate universe where the Sounders are terrible, trot out lineups devoid of star players, and lose regularly (i.e. every PTFCers’s wildest dream), we would’ve never signed Mears. We’d reach for overpriced names or settle for has-beens and cheaper options. Last Friday’s matchup against DC United was almost a window into this alternate universe. That game would’ve been one of the game you wait all season for. Your team can’t win, but the league leaders are coming to your house.

The game cast the plucky underdogs against the best. And for one brief moment it felt great to be thoroughly surprised by a Sounders’ victory. Despite the three straight losses, few of us fans are freaking out. And we’re a fan base (the fan base?) known for getting hysterical. I think we know now, fully, that we can trust our captains to steer the ship.

 

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