Month – August 2015

All is Right in the World: Seattle Sounders Beat Portland Timbers!

The Seattle Sounders won BIG against their blood rivals, the Portland Timbers, Sunday night in Sodo.

The hugeness of the victory cannot be understated: 6 points in the Western Conference, 3 points towards the Cascadia Cup, climbing back above the thin red line, Ozzie’s return and, maybe most important of all, we beat Portland. That’s what we do. It’s nice to be reminded what reality you live in. We most definitely live in the Seattle > Portland reality.

The win was big but the game wasn’t exactly pretty. The Timbers were the “better” team on the balance of the night, especially in the first half. The Timbers, passing crisply, dominated possession in the midfield and sparked surge after surge of attacks. Portland vastly outplayed us, putting 13 shots on goal before intermission to our 3. But. Goals change games and Obafemi Martins is a game changer.

Portland can point to their first half stats all they want, but Seattle got the numbers that matter. Oba and Valdez were trying to start a little linkup early in the match, the ball was pinballing possession between the two teams, but Oba persisted in a scrum of Timbers ‘til he found himself with a sitter on Kwarasey’s doorstep. 1-0 Seattle.

Seattle’s second goal, also created by Oba, was a tad more complicated. Mears found Oba alone and boomed one over the top. Oba gave chase until Kwarasey stonewalled him in the box. Sure, the call was controversial, as Taylor Twellman and Ian Darke constantly reminded us, but soccer is a subjective game.

If Oba’s first touch was a “shot on goal” then Kwarasey had every right to stand his ground, but if Oba’s touch was just to control the ball and set up his goal scoring opportunity, then Kwarasey fouled Oba by denying him that chance. Despite the whining you hear emanating north from Pee-Town, the call was solid. Clearly the ref saw the latter reality and his perception is the only one that matters. And honestly Timbers fans, do you really think that first touch was Oba’s attempt on goal? Oba don’t have bad touches in the goalmouth, unlike some Argentinians I can name (*cough* Melano *cough* Urruti).

Sure the second half saw Jewsbury get one back, but the game was pretty well in hand. Portland managed 7 more shots to our 3 in the final 45, and that makes sense. They were chasing the game. So Timbers fans can take their bawling about refs, and stats and shove it. We got the W, all three points when it mattered. Did we get lucky? Sure. But you make your own luck and Seattle is just warming up.

 

CCL Matchday: Seatle Sounders at CD Olimpia

Tonight in Tegucigalpa the Seattle Sounders and CD Olimpia play a rematch of last week’s instant classic.

Frankly ekeing out a draw would be a great result. Losing (by not too wide a margin) may be better. The schedule of Group F is balanced decidedly against Seattle. After tonight the Sounders will have played all but one of their Group F games, whereas Olimpia will be only 2 games in, and Vancouver just 1. We need those two teams to stay invested in their games. The Honduran side’s domestic season is in such jeopardy (sounds familiar), that winning tonight may cause them to tank in their games against Vancouver. If Olimpia feels they still have a puncher’s chance, they’ll do their best to take it to Vancouver. Granted Seattle’s chance of advancing is much better if both opponents play to draws, but I’d be cool with Vancouver getting whupped on later in the MLS season and slowing down their trajectory into the Western Conference playoffs.

BOLD PREDICTION: Sigi Schmid accompanied a mixed squad down to Honduras. Higher roster players such as Frei, Mears, Neagle, Pineda and Rose travelled along with Damion Lowe, Victor Mansaray, Jimmy Ockford, and Darwin Jones. Sigi is really giving us a wide spectrum of the roster and, arguably, a better 18 than he fielded last week.

I was one of the folks super bummed about the B-side that took the pitch last Wednesday against Olimpia. Then RSL happened. Now I’d much rather have Mears, Frei and Neagle not be in Honduras tonight. I am especially bummed Neagle travelled. He is a dynamic contributor to the first team and definitely needs rest. Neagle is eating minutes like nobody’s business. Saturday’s game saw him play less than 60 minutes for only the 5th time this season. He’s started 20 of 26 League games and all 3 non-league games. He’s given the full ninety 12 times, and 80+ 15 times. For an attacking player, that is a tremendous amount of work. And with Barrett and Clint still convalescing, Seattle needs as many quality striker options as possible.

So “tank in Teguce and keep your starters fit for Portland” isn’t going to happen. But hopefully the JV starts and the better players peppering the 18 are only called on if the game is getting out of hand (remember goal differential is the first tiebreaker, so we don’t want to fall apart). I think Sigi is fine with losing tonight, but hopes for a draw. This is a CONCACAF game, in Central America, so it is hard to legitimately predict the match… So let’s “go out on a limb here,” and say things get wacky. Final 2-1 Olimpia.

 

Seattle Sounders: Dylan Remick vs. Oneil Fisher

The Seattle Sounders are flying to Houston today en route to Tegucigalpa. The team has a two-day journey before meeting CD Olimpia in Wednesday night’s CONCACAF Champions League match.

Sigi is accompanying, what we assume to be, a reserve-minded squad to Honduras while assistant coaches stay behind and train with the A team in front of this weekend’s (enter adjective here) derby with the Portland Timbers. From sleuthing the tweets, I’ve deduced that Marco Pappa, Gonzalo Pineda and Damion Lowe are all headed to Honduras. I am gravy with this selection so far.

I was less gravy with the selection Sigi fielded in Utah last weekend. Though Sigi selected 10 of the 11 starters who destroyed Orlando City, Seattle’s left side was a mess against Salt Lake. Aaron Kovar played LM in front of Oneil Fisher. Kovar, as I said, acquitted himself well. He kept finding people in dangerous spaces against RSL. The light is finally turning on for him and his passing accuracy is starting to match his IQ and vision. After his monster performance against Olimpia (that cross bar did him dirty), I could’ve endorsed him starting at RSL. But not in front of Fisher.

I don’t get the Oneil Fisher love. Yes he’s adequate in 1v1 defending and yes, he has pace to burn. But his positioning and situational awareness have been garbage lately. He was great against Philly earlier this summer, then poor against Portland. Sure he’ll continue developing. Fisher is young and so his streakiness isn’t a surprise. But the Sounders, finally getting healthy, don’t need a streaky, leaky leftback when the games get tight. They need someone solid and dependable.

Dylan Remick had seemingly earned an unquestioned starting spot. He was plugged into the 11 in early April and started 13 of the next 14 games. Then Fisher started getting spot starts and since, Remick has only started 4 of the last 9. Hmmmmm. I know the young man from Brown isn’t the sole catalyst here, but we’ve been pretty stinky over the last 9 and we were smoking good from April ‘til June. Coincidence? I know this reasoning flies in the face of solid statistical analysis, but this is a juicy bit of anecdotal evidence.

Actually I can see why Fisher earned some starts. Our offense had flatlined and he is a fast, attack-minded player. We needed width and more dangerous options going towards goal in July and early August. I get it. But with Oba, Valdez, Friberg and Evans together we have a goal-dangerous attack again. We don’t need to swap defense for pace with our fullbacks.

Kovar, still so raw, in front of Fisher, still so raw, created a loosey gooesy leftside for RSL to exploit. And exploit they did. I don’t know if Remick farted in Sigi’s closet, but I’d sure like him starting again pronto.

 

Gut Punched: Seattle Sounders Lose to RSL

So the Seattle Sounders are in danger of missing the playoffs. After a blindsiding 2-nil loss to Real Salt Lake in Utah, Seattle’s grip on the postseason is becoming a white-knuckle affair.

Remember that 4-nil victory over Orlando City? Remember how good the Rave Green Kool-Aid tasted? We all thought we’d hit the turnaround, the epiphanic moment when the Sounders got their act together, right? Garth had signed the reinforcements, the old guard was getting healthy, and we were gonna started murdering fools all the way to MLS Cup. And, then, oh yeah, Saturday happened.

I was sucker-punched by the result (and this one hit can’t be blamed on Luke Mulholland). I predicated a 2-0 game… Sounders. Whoops. Sure I knew RSL was getting healthy, I knew it was tough to play at the Riot, but c’mon! RSL had been garbage lately; losing 6-4 and 4-nil, and we were just starting to click. Honestly the result seems inexplicable to me. Inexplicable.

“Goals change games” is a tried-and-true Sigi witticism. And referee Silviu Petrescu gave RSL a gimme with a botched handball call. Sure I’m biased, but rewatch the gif (which I’m sure you’ve done 100s of times); it is a textbook example of ball to hand. That aside, the Sounders couldn’t muster any sort of response. They couldn’t win in the midfield, create any legitimate shots and, worse, merely ball-watched Mulholland’s post banger before Jaime finished it for the killing blow.

I hate the argument “the other team wanted it more”, but… it sure as hell seemed Salt Lake wanted it more. The only Sounders who showed up to play were Friberg, Valdez and Kovar. Those three provided what little offensive spark Seattle enjoyed on the night. Unfortunately Valdez got frustrated and seemed mentally out of it before he was subbed off (he must adapt to MLS’s physical play, as Ross and Kasey noted). Otherwise, the whole team played listless, uninspired boot-and-chase.

After Wednesday night’s righteous result, the Sounders leave us bitter. Even in 2013, the playoffs were almost always a given. Now? Not so much. Since June 13th, Seattle’s banked all of 6 points and time is running out. For better or worse, the #Sigiout crowd has returned full-throated. I think such beliefs are a little premature, but if we can’t beat the teams “worse” than us us, how the hell do we expect to make the playoffs?

 

Bold Prediction: Seattle Sounders at Real Salt Lake

The Seattle Sounders play Real Salt Lake today. Seattle needs points in the West if they want to slowly sidle away from the razor’s edge of a postseasonlessness. RSL just hopes to be relevant again.

Salt Lake is finally getting the band back together. After yet another successful campaign in 2014, hard times have hit RSL… well… hard. This weekend, for the first time in a long time, Salt Lake almost has an ideal eleven. Chris Schuler is cleared to play, but isn’t expected to contribute heavily. Like Seattle, RSL has battled through injuries and absences all season. Like Seattle, they’ve fortified their core players with midseason signings, and like Seattle they have a playoffs streak to defend. Unlike Seattle, RSL’s run is probably done.

RSL has the longest active playoffs streak in MLS at 7 years, beginning in 2008. L.A. and Seattle are tied at second with 6. Coincidentally Garth Lagerwey was signed as RSL’s GM in 2008 when RSL became RSL. It was a proud era on the Wasatch front as trophies were won and CCL glory tilted for. But all good things must come to an end. The Jeff Cassar-led squad has abandoned the diamond formation and some old stalwarts, as the expanding wealth and resources of the league are starting to pinch a classically small market, moneyball team.

Bold Prediction: RSL will field a top-choice lineup, but expect Sigi to use a similar lineup to the one he employed with great effect against Orlando City.

Trouble is, that lineup was still far from star-studded. Pappa is finally training with the team again and Clint Dempsey and Ozzie are still injured (Klinsmann!). New signing Ivanschitz is working through a thigh issue, still. Which is curious because upon signing him, Lagerwey said Ivanschitz would be the first new Sounder we’d probably see (as Valdez was supposed to be rusty and Torres exhausted). Both should play today and still no sign of Ivanschitz.

We’ll still have a dangerous lineup. The backline is now stacked and the strike force of Oba and H. Valdez has instant chemistry. It’s the midfield that is still gelling, though Friberg working with Angry Brad in the middle has been a revelation. The wide mids today will be some collection of Neagle, Rose, Roldan, or Thomas. Not great, but serviceable when they don’t need to be relied upon for offensive flow or goals.

RSL can defend. They still have Rimando and are no longer playing with 5th-string CBs. It won’t be enough. In a sad end to the RSL era, Sigi’s boys outmuscle Cassar’s: 2-0 Sounders.

 

Seattle Sounders RSL preview

The Seattle Sounders face Real Salt Lake tomorrow in a battle for the thin red line. Or at least that’s how the hype-masters are selling the game at Rio Tinto.

Realistically, RSL is cooked. Salt Lake has only won 3 games since May 24th and are sitting on only 29 points in 25 games following a heartbreaking loss to Nat “turncoat” Borchers and TPFC. Granted Seattle’s recent form is worse, but that shouldn’t be situation normal for long.

Seattle has gotten its groove back. The Sounders will make the playoffs if they play , at least, equal to San Jose. The Quakes and Houston both have a game-in-hand on Seattle, but a slightly worse ppg. And neither team can claim a clearly delineated context for their form over the season. Despite some sexy acquisitions (Godoy for SJ and Cubo for Houston), the Dynamo and Quakes are what they are and we shouldn’t really expect any deviation from their 1.3 ppg pace. Whereas Seattle has had a geologic shift in form over the 2015 season: 9 wins (11 results) in their first 15 games, with Oba and Clint and company, versus 8 losses in their last 10 with the junior varsity.

The only potential complication this weekend for Seattle is the aforementioned fixture congestion. The Sounders travel to Sandy days before Tegucigalpa and then hosting the Timbers. We are playing our third match of 5 in 14 days. Fatigue and a lack of chemistry is the thing to worry most about in the Rockies.

However the packed slate does blood the new guys sooner and faster. Hell, Roman Torres has already clocked in twice in Rave Green and been instrumental in Ws. I am still waiting to see Ivanschitz who may be rusty, but is allegedly fit. Also the old Sounders need to learn to play with the new guys. Pappa is training with the team again and Clint should (big should) be fit soon.

Creating chemistry and an identity now will go along way to being dangerous come October. RSL is essentially a preseason opponent for a strengthening Sounders side eyeing the postseason.

 

Seattle Sounders vs CD Olimpia: Poetic Justice

The Seattle Sounders won a wild one last night against CD Olimpia, 2-1, in last-minute stoppage-time drama and controversy. Last night’s victory was a narrative as crafted by a master storyteller.

Poetically, it was mostly the boys of summer, the dirty eleven who limped through June and July losing 8 of 9, who took the pitch and the victory last night. A key victory in a CCL campaign that could’ve died a very premature death. For most of the night, Like June and July, the Sounders couldn’t buy a goal. Kovar hit the post (TWICE!), Pineda just skied a dangerous free kick, Neagle was a hair off sides and other juicy chances were left wanting.

And on top of that unfortunately familiar frustration was all the elements of farce. The game was so CONCACAF. Mercurial ref? Check. Wild flopping? Check? Dirty fouls? Check. Bench clearing melee? Check. And despite all of that, the Sounders showed their character and gritted out a victory. Sure “grit” and “character” are neo-Platonic bullcrap that can’t be quantified (and in 21st century tech-addicted America if it isn’t objective, it doesn’t exist), but they were clearly on display in Sodo.

Soccer is postmodern. The game leaves a lot of the big decisions up to a single referee: the amount of stoppage time, the severity of a foul, offsides, etc. With no instant replay, one official stands on the pitch and calls it how he, inevitably subjectively, sees it.

That is one thing I love about soccer. The human animal craves patterns and context and causality. But, like a Kurt Vonnegut novel, those things rarely exist in real life. Life is chaos and random and mostly meaningless. But sometimes life clicks like tumblers in a lock. And when it does, everything feels sooo right.

Standing in the cheap seats last night, I witnessed the most perfectly woven narrative I have ever seen contained in a sporting event. Sounders vs. Olimpia was storytelling at its best. The game had it all: good versus evil, rising action, redemption and catharsis all at once. The game was a Shakespearian comedy, having all the elements of tragedy, but with a happy ending.

Now it’s tempting to say “team of destiny,” but that really doesn’t mean anything. Unless you think Captain Brad Evans icing a cold-blooded penalty to take all 3 points mere days after again being demoted from a preferred position is poetry.

I sure as hell do.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

-Walt Whitman

 

CCL Gameday: Seattle Sounders vs CD Olimpia

Tonight the Seattle Sounders play their second game of the CONCACAF Champions League Group F against CD Olimpia.

Olimpia is the Yankees of Honduras. Last season, they won the Honduran LigaNacional Clasura title and the Copa Presidente (the recently reintroduced Honduran equivalent of the Open Cup). Olimpia is over 100 years old and the most decorated team in Honduras. They are a proud franchise (lion joke!).

Group F is the CCL’s “Group of Death”. Most CCL groups feature at least one lightweight, if not two. Look at the other MLS teams’ groups: L.A plays two against Trinidad and Tobago’s Central (a 3 year-old side making their first CCL); D.C. plays against Jamaica’s Montego Bay (another debutante side that only qualified by taking 3rd place in the Caribbean Club Championship.) Not Group F.

Seattle and Olimpia are CCL elite. They both regularly make the Group Stage and have both advanced to the knockout stage multiple times in the current format. The ‘Caps are the debutante to the ball, but they are on such a tear in MLS that they must be reckoned with. Seattle will not have an easy time advancing from this group. In fact, Lamar Neagle’s equalizer at BC Place may be the most important, but forgotten, goal during Seattle’s recent slide. Earning that result on the road was huge.

So what should we expect tonight? Oddly despite their pedigree, Olimpia is currently stinking up the Honduran table. The LigaNacional has just started up and Olimpia’s lost their first 3 games with a -5 goal differential. The Sounders, of course, are also a proud franchise who’s hit the skids as of late, but maybe Seattle can catch a squad still shaking off the early-season rust.

BOLD PREDICTION: It will be an interesting game, as both teams will probably field B lineups featuring backups and subs. The Sounders, of course, are fixture-swamped in August and probably look forward to resting guys. This may mean that recent regulars like Pineda and Roldan see significant time.

However Sigi may want to ice these 3 points at home. Starting a killer lineup tonight and waxing Olimpia give us leeway in the rematch down in Tegucigalpa. Seattle, as you remember, has to fly down to Honduras four days before a big Western 6-pointer, Cascadian blood derby against Portland.

Goal differential is the first tiebreaker in the Group Stage (look at L.A.’s result from last night). The Sounders are incentivized to pound CCL opponents at home. I am thinking Olimpia is rough from travel and still rusty, and Sigi, smelling blood and a plus goal-differential, fields a strongish lineup dotted with stars: 3-1 Sounders.

 

Seattle Sounders Start Their March to The Sea

The Seattle Sounders finally got off the schneid! And they did so with style, logging their biggest win of the 2015 campaign, 4-0 over Orlando City SC.

Alrighty folks: exhale. The Sounders are back. Let’s be honest, all of us have been fantasizing, waiting for the day the Sounders become THE Sounders again. We’ve suffered for two long dreary months for Seattle to start their march to the sea and win every game by an absurd scoreline of 3-nil and 5-nil. Well hell people. Dream no longer, that day is finally here!

Yesterday the switch was flipped, as the Sounders looked confident and creative all afternoon. Seattle had 21 shots on goal (21!!) with 12 on target. The recuperated Obafemi Martins was the big man up top and recent signing Erik Friberg was the catalyst in the middle, but nine different Sounder had at least one shot on goal. The Hydra is back baby.

The Rave Green faithful got to enjoy a bumper crop of new Sounders. Shiny new DP Nelson Haedo Valdez slammed home a goal in his Sounders debut making him the first Sounders DP to do so. Fredy Montero had a goal in his first game (Seattle’s inaugural MLS game t’boot), but that was before he re-signed as a DP. Flacco has a goal in his second game in Rave Green, and Oba in his third. Valdez is already squarely in the running for highest-impact DP ever. Frankly, I didn’t know much about him and all the scouting reports said, “ He is a competent scorer, but not a prolific one.” Here’s hoping they’re wrong. Even Roman Torres got in on the box score, feeding Thomas for the cherry-on-top goal.

Hopefully we get used to winning again. We’re sitting on only 35 points (just 1.4 ppg), and models have us finishing with only 45 points and missing the playoffs. Granted that will come to pass if we play our next nine games like we played the previous nine. But yesterday was a rvelation, and we don’t even have Ozzie, Deuce and Ivanschitz in the selection yet. 27 points are sitting there, waiting for us. Take ‘em all.

 

Orlando City at Seattle Sounders

The Seattle Sounders face upstart Orlando City SC and the thin red line is looming.

Orlando and Seattle are both on the razor’s edge of playoff qualification. With only ten games left, both teams need to start winning now. Orlando, especially, is hungry for a win as they are trying to pull a Seattle and make the playoffs in their inaugural year. The Lions would be only the 3rd MLS team (Chicago and Seattle) to do so.

Back in 2009, Seattle, just like OCSC, was eyeing the playoffs this late in the year. We finished strong, beating L.A. in L.A. and ending the season with a 3-game winning streak. Orlando is hoping for such a run.

The 2015 Sounders also need a strong finish. We’ve all been pretty lax in Soundersland over the past 2 months, as the team has tumbled down the table. We’ve contextualized losing, been distractied from losing, and still are above that line. But if we can’t beat an expansion team with all our new guns, maybe another MLS record get set: Seattle missing the playoffs.

BOLD PREDICTION: The real excitement today is seeing all of the new toys Garth bought us: Torres and H. Valdez should start. Maybe Ivanschitz as well. Oba should be back and Captain Brad will, crankily, be in the midfield. The Sounders should­–big should here–should trounce Orlando. The lack of chemistry and rust will be a factor. I’m looking for a gritty, sometimes ugly, 1-0 Seattle win. But those 3 league points will be beautiful.

 

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