Month – November 2015

Portland Vs Dallas: Bold Prediction

At times like this, I feel I am trapped in an alternate reality where Portland doesn’t suck. For the second time in three years, Caleb Porter has the Timbers in the Western Conference finals and Portland is one series shy of playing for MLS Cup. That’s vomiting inducing.

Our series with Dallas was painful, Oscar Pareja is an ass, but I’ll be a big Dallas fan tomorrow. As much as I am pissed at FCD, I can’t stand having Portland in MLS Cup. It’s bad enough that “Soccer for Dummies” Porter has 2 Western Finals appearances in 3 years, but if Portland beats Seattle to the Championship game, and somehow, god forbid, wins it?!, Hell hath no fury.

So much of sport is luck. Key fouls sometimes don’t get called. Key players fall injured at the wrong time. And backups can become studs. Sometimes all the tumblers of the universe click into place for a mad boggling sequence of events. The New York Giants dumbed their way into 2 mediocre Super Bowls because Tom Brady surprisingly withers under a strong pass rush. Schematically New England just doesn’t match up well with New York, and, if not for the wildcard Giants, every Bostonian would still be bragging about 2007’s perfect season.

Portland took their rabbit’s foot on a rainbow-braided, horseshow-paved Golden Stair into the Conference finals. Portland surged into the 3 seed in the West and found themselves matched up with out-of-form 6th seed SKC. Sure, SKC had just beat L.A but heading into Decision Day, the Sporks had only 4 points from their last 5 games and had suffered losses to Houston, San Jose and Colorado(!). If SKC had held on to beat Portland in that wacky, pure-luck, penalty shootout, Portland would’ve been cooked in the knockout round, Seattle would’ve drawn Vancouver and we’d be sitting pretty.

Sure, I am admittedly drinking the sour grape Kool-Aid, but the gap between Dallas and Vancouver was so large. Somehow Vancouver beat Houston on Decision Day, but before that match, the ‘Caps had only 2 points from their previous 5 matches, being outscored 2-8. Dallas themselves had manhandled the ‘Caps in two of those games and yet, on the balance of the season, Vancouver was somehow the second-best team in the West. Sheesh.

Us Seattle fans can wring our hands and decry the cake matchup with a fading Vancouver in the semis following a pure-luck shootout win over SKC in the quarters, but the Timbers are here. Dangerously close to a bile-inducing result.

BOLD PREDICTION: Portland is pretty happy about their 6 game unbeaten streak. The Hoops are streak killers, as we had an 11-game streak going into our second leg with them.

Nagbe in the middle has gotten a lot of press, as it’s coincided with Nagbe on the USMNT. But the most creative player on the pitch will be Dallas #10 Mauro Diaz. Portland has a better chance of containing him Chara than we did with Rose, and Portland does have speed on the outside. But Portland isn’t an ironclad defense, and Dallas will score an away goal: 1-1 Draw.

 

Seattle Sounders: Back to the Future

2015 is a wrap and the Seattle Sounders look only to the future now.

A flurry of events immediately after the shocking loss to Dallas kept the Sounders news cycle afloat temporarily (racist Joe Roth, the ascension of Adrian Hanauer and the retention of Sigi Schmid). But honestly us Sounders fans don’t have much to look forward to news-wise until the roster starts shaking.

The roster churn here in Soundersland may be seismic. Allegedly Ozzie is being shopped, Lamar Neagle, who couldn’t find his way onto a depleted roster in the key playoff series, is probably gone-zo too, as is Gonzo. Well, both Gonzos: Leo and Pineda. Some big names and familiar faces will join the departed, but hopefully Seattle makes one huge addition. Jordan Morris might-just-maybe-actually-this-time sign with the Sounders. That will be a newsday to look forward too.

Other key offseason events: the 2016 Superdraft is January 14. The Desert Diamond Cup (if the Sounders participate again) will be in mid-February and then the season starts the first weekend in March. Then the quest for that white whale, MLS Cup, can begin. Again.

The posts at Ravinggreen will slow down. Though, like the Spanish Inquisition, you won’t be able to predict when I post. I’ll take to the keyboard whenever fancy catches a whim.

Eternal Blue. Forever Green. Go Sounders,

-Brent

Seattle Sounders Penalty Study

Sigi Schmid, embattled coach of the Seattle Sounders, saw his team exit the playoffs early for the 7th straight season. I’ve already shared my thoughts about his gameplan in Frisco (and I realize this news is getting stinky like leftover salmon), but I have a quick addendum to my previous #SigiIn/Out post. Whatever your opinion of Sigi’s performance at Dallas during regulation and extra time, his choice of penalty takers was just poor.

When extra time started, I was terrified. We were gassed, Dallas had the momentum, and Roldan was playing leftback FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HIS CAREER! Things were grim and I was desperately hoping for us to battle through ‘til penalties. PKs are pretty much a crapshoot. Too often in a shootout, a result is decided by nothing but pure, dumb luck (I am looking at you Portland). But after a grueling match, the Sounders needed a chance, as the run of play greatly favored Dallas. And we had experience.

A roster chock full of cold-blooded veterans of European campaigns should be heavily favored in a penalty shootout against youngsters, right? Valdez and Friberg were already subbed off and Brad “I’ve never missed a PK, ever” Evans wasn’t healthy, but the hydra has many heads. Dempsey, Ivanschitz and Oba were all a strong bet to ice their takes. And that’s what makes Sigi penalty decision so odd.

Sigi choose Deuce, Ivanschitz, Barrett and Rose as his first 4 takers. We’ll never know who was slated 5th (but can only hope for sanity’s sake it was Oba). Let that sink in again.

Chad Barrett and Andy Rose were selected above Oba (don’t give me that “saving best for last crap”, remember Ronaldo against Barcelona back in 2012?). Hell, Rose and Barrett were selected above Mr. Cheeky Himself, Marco Pappa.

Carl Bialik, of The Wall Street Journal, researched the science of Penalty Shootouts following that Ronaldo incident:

Greg Wood, a researcher in performance psychology at the University of Exeter said, “Therefore, these kicks have a great deal of added pressure for which your best kickers should feel most confident in handling.”

Wood, who co-wrote a study finding that anxiety had a huge negative influence on university-level players, also coaches a local youth team. When its games go to PKs, he typically has his best kicker shoot fourth. Only the first three are guaranteed to get a chance in best-of-five penalty shootouts, but if the best kicker is placed third in the order, “then if he scores, then someone (not your best taker) will definitely go after him,” Wood says. (That assumes the kick by the third man in the lineup didn’t clinch a 3-0 win.)

Two big takeaways from Wood’s research: only your first three kickers are guaranteed the opportunity to kick, and the fourth taker should be your best. Sigi choose Deuce, Ivanschitz, Barrett, then Rose. I am completely fine with Deuce and Ivanscitz as the first two.

Deuce iced his and Ivanscitz, uncharacteristically, missed. Dempsey had the nerves and quality needed to convert his chance. According to Transfermrkt.com, Dempsey was 11/15 on penalties in his career going into the FCD shootout. He was experienced and in form, as his last made PK was just this past July in the Gold Cup. Ivanschitz was another stellar choice, and not just because of his nickname. Ivanschitz was a staggering 13/14 on penalties in his career. And he was, very recently, taking penalties for his team, as he last converted a PK in December 2014 for Levante. It is a shame his second miss, ever, was in Rave Green.

The selection of Barrett and Rose is where it got weird. Chad Barrett did have a 100% conversion rate, as he was 2-0 on penalties. However. 2 PKs in an 11-year career belies little experience and shows your team doesn’t often trust you. How in-form were Barrett’s penalty skills? His last PK attempted was July 2008 in the US Open Cup. Yep. Dude hadn’t even attempted a penalty in over 7 years! And Barrett has never been wildly technical or talented with his feet. He’s a work-rate, hustle and opportune-timing type striker. Little surprise the odds weren’t in his favor.

Lastly, Sigi trotted out Andy Rose in the 4 spot, the supposed cleanup hitter. Andy Rose, had never attempted a penalty in his entire pro career. Ever. And in 4 years with the Sounders career, he’s scored just 5 goals (most with his head), so not exactly your “best kicker” best equipped to deal with the anxiety of the moment. Rose converting his kick was, to say the least, an outlier.

Maybe I am splitting hairs. Dallas’s keeper was on fire. Ivanschitz missed. It was all chaos and random chance at that point anyway. It’s just the Sounders’ season ended so abruptly and so inexplicably. Now we have to go, at least, another 16 months without MLS Cup.

Sigi Schmid and Another Seattle Sounders Early Exit

This week’s local weather has surely matched the attitude of every Seattle Sounders fan: grey and gloomy.

The season’s been over for not even a week yet, but it already feels long dead. Rigor mortis has set in on 2015, even with the Sounders busy making news. The biggest news, though not the biggest surprise, was Sigi being officially retained as coach for the 2016 season. This is almost, almost, a moot point, as the #Sigiout crowd really had no leverage throughout the season. Until, of course, the year was suddenly and inexplicably over. The #Sigiout argument is mostly weak (we need a new coach ‘cause that might help!), though Seattle’s 2015 swan song did provide legitimate fodder to the case for firing Sigi.

The Sounders, for the first time in their MLS history, won the first game of a two-legged series. They flew to Frisco with a 2-1 lead and, with the way the playoffs were shaping up, their odds-on best chance of winning MLS Cup. Sure we had some injuries, but we also had a gamut of veteran, talented attacking players. We’d scored 8 goals in our last 3 games and carried an 11-game unbeaten streak to Texas. But Sigi decided to play conservative.

Our game plan in Frisco appeared to be defend-and-counter. We ceded possession almost entirely to Dallas and played for the opportune foray. This, on the surface, was a solid plan. We were playing with the lead and a draw saw us through. I remember two specific chances where we quickly countered and almost had a goal. One key pass was definitely Ivanschitz, the other I don’t recall, and both found themselves dangerously at Oba’s feet in the goalmouth. Unfortunately Oba whiffed both.

But when Roldan replaced Valdez in the 76th minute, the Sounders abandoned defend-and-counter and just straight up parked the bus. Dallas attempted 196 passes in our final third, out-possessed 60-40, and laid siege to our goal for long stretches of the game. On the balance of the game, Seattle only attempted 10 shots to Dallas’s 25 in 120 minutes plus stoppage. Of course, it almost worked. And the exact same game plan did work last year in the semis against Dallas. With only a slight edge in 2014 (merely an away goal vs. this year’s goal advantage), we played to zero at home to advance. This year, if we had survived a mere six more minutes plus stoppage, we’d all be lauding Sigi’s decision again.

However.

The Sounders were decimated on defense. All of our injuries were to key defensive players: Ozzie, the best CDM in the league; Brad, the most versatile defender in the league; and Leo, until very recently, arguably one of the better leftback in the league. I know it sounds as if I’m heaping on the superlatives, but all of the above is true. So tell me, if you have a team beset by injuries on one side of the ball, why craft a game plan built on using only that side of the ball? When you select Dempsey, Oba, Ivanschitz, Valdez, and Friberg, you have some serious guns. Why choose not to fire them?

And playing to zero in Frisco is not the same as doing so at home. Last year Mauro Diaz was making his start back from injury and wasn’t the in-form dangerman he’s been the last few months. Hoping to contain him and his speedy teammates for the entire game was seriously tempting fate. When Dallas did finally break through, as odds would have it, it was almost too late, and some of our best attackers were off the pitch. Whereas, if Dallas had scored in the 40th minute, or whatever, the game would have opened up much earlier than the last 6 minutes. Frankly I’d have liked Seattle’s chances in a wide-open game much, much better than a nail-biter. Maybe this is all crazy, hindsight talk, but we’d been scoring goals and winning wild ones. There was no need to go against form.

Sigi’s greatest sin from last weekend was playing his idea instead of his players. Sure the idea of playing to zero with the timely counter was a sound one in theory. But with the players at, and not at, his disposal, Sigi got the result he deserved.

 

Sounders Season… Still Over

Hi Raving Readers. I haven’t found the strength to revisit last week’s game and the end of a very promising Sounders season. I will, it’s just, I am still in shock. Kinda numb that’s all over. I am sure most of you feel the same.

Seattle Sounders: The End

The Seattle lost 2-1, and bowed out of the MLS Playoffs 3-3 (4-2) last night in Frisco.

All credit to FC Dallas, they played us off the pitch. Seattle was sturdy in the back and almost walked that tightrope, but the constant pressure proved too much. Even with Frei playing lights out, with no Brad, no Leo and no Ozzie, leaving Frisco with a clean sheet was just too much of an ask.

Chad Marshall and Zach Scott were studs last night. So were Friberg and Valdez. Deuce was dangerous at times, but too many players weren’t their best selves when we really needed it. Oba saw two gorgeous chances pass him by. Rose was not enough to even slow down Diaz. And Fisher was out of his league at left back. It is going to be a long offseason.

I am not emotionally prepared for the season to be over. Two years in a row now, Seattle has been the belle of the ball and been found wanting. We are snake bit in the playoffs. We always enter the playoffs with injuries to key players and it costs us. I don’t care if the cast features Blaise and Fredie, Mauro and Eddie, Deuce and Oba or Valdez and Ivanschitz. The Sounders can’t seem to get it done when it counts. I am pissed. I am spent.

 

Seattle Sounders at FC Dallas: Bold Prediction

Today sees another make-or-break game for the Seattle Sounders. Seattle’s season could either end dismally, or start a trajectory towards Cascadian history. On the pitch in Frisco at 4:30pm, the Sounders season turns.

Seattle is unbeaten in their last 11 matches across all competitions, and if that streak holds, the Sounders will punch their ticket to the Western Conference finals for the 3rd time in 4 years. Their opponents in the Finals will either be a very beatable Vancouver Whitecaps or Portland Timbers side, and then a very beatable Eastern Conference team awaits them in MLS Cup. Not to look ahead, but I am very high on this team’s chances to break Seattle’s Cup-less streak. Yet FC Dallas may have a little something to say about that.

FC Dallas has held a fine form over their last 11 as well, going 7-3-1, and earning only 3 points less than Seattle (7-0-4) in that span. Dallas will not go quietly, and an injury-depleted Seattle side needs to stay disciplined and hungry, or find themselves on the receiving end of another playoff heartbreak.

BOLD PREDICTION: Your humble blogger also has a streak to protect. I’ve aced my last three Bold Predictions: FCD, LA and RSL. I feel a lot of pressure because with great power comes great responsibility.

Dallas will score at home. I do not see Seattle keeping a clean sheet with Scott at CB. He is a gamer, but always good for a few cockups. Dallas will play on the front foot, because a draw sinks them. The Sounders, though looking to defend and counter, will also score.

Sometimes late, but always timely, Seattle will find the back of the net. The Sounders attack is too multi-faceted and the hydra has regained its many heads. Deuce switching with Valdez is a nightmare for any backline and with Oba commanding so much attention, space will be found for Sounders attackers

So the question is, who wins the shootout? Neither team, as the match ends in a 2-2 draw and Seattle advances. See you in Sodo next weekend, boys.

 

Seattle Sounders at FC Dallas Preview

The Seattle Sounders fly to Dallas with destiny in their hands (at their feet?). Tomorrow’s second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals pits Seattle, holding a 1-goal lead, against FC Dallas, currently holding an away-goal tiebreaker.

As stated earlier, Dallas is deadly at home. They only dropped points in 4 of 17 matches in Frisco. Their style of fast, attacking soccer, centered around Diaz pulling the strings from anywhere on the pitch and hitting a streaking Castillo or Barrios works best when Dallas plays on the front foot. Hence the disparity in their home/away results. It is a tall, tall order for Seattle to win in Frisco but, thing is, Seattle doesn’t need much to advance.

The Sounders are wining when it matters. They pulled a Keyser Soze on the rest of MLS. In an L.A./Houston-style, Seattle loafed through the summer before surging into the postseason. No one needed to be afraid of the big, bad Sounders: they were cooked, too old and depleted. Now, unbeaten in 10 with 6 wins, Seattle is Seattle again. And the Columbia is rolling.

Keyser Dempsey

Keyser Dempsey

The Seattle Sounders’ Narrative Arc

The Seattle Sounders have been putting on a show lately. The high drama of their 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy and 2-1 come-from-behind victory over FC Dallas in the MLS Playoffs has been riveting.

Though this is the performance Sounders fans have been waiting for all season, Seattle hasn’t exactly had a “storybook” season. Seattle could, however, make a movie. In screenwriting, must scripts are broken into three acts: exposition, antagonism, and resolution.

Act 1, Exposition: This act establishes the main characters, their relationships and the world they live in.

From March to June, we were reintroduced to the Rave Green. We reestablished the characters we knew and loved from last season (Oba, Deuce, Ozzie, Pappa), and we got to know the new guy (Mears). Coming off a wildly successful 2014, the Sounders just kept rolling: Seattle got 11 results in their first 14 games (9 wins). Everything seemed like the land of perfect day on June 13th when we beat Dallas 3-1 to claim sole position atop the Supporters’ Shield race.

Act 2, Antagonism: The protagonists find themselves in ever worsening situations. Part of the reason the protagonists seem unable to resolve their problems is because they do not yet have the skills to deal with the forces of antagonism that confront them. They must not only learn new skills but arrive at a higher sense of awareness of who they are and what they are capable of, in order to deal with their predicament, which in turn changes who they are.

From June to late August, catastrophe befell Seattle. The Sounders were reduced to a shell of themselves as Deuce, Evans and Pappa were called into international duty. Then Oba was injured and Ozzie reaggravated his injury. Finally, insult to injury, Deuce and Pappa were both suspended for embarrassing reasons. Lacking the skill to deal with the forces of antagonism, Seattle failed to get a result in 9 of their 11 matches. The low points include losing to the Timbers twice in two weeks at a 7-2 aggregate, and getting destroyed 3-nil, at home!, to the Whitecaps. A scrappy team of backups never scored more than 1 goal (and shut out 7 times), and tumbled down the table to the 6th and final playoff spot.

Act 3, Resolution: The story resolves. The climax is the scene or sequence in which the main tensions of the story are brought to their most intense point and the dramatic question answered, leaving the protagonist and other characters with a new sense of who they really are

From August 30th until now, the Sounders have been on a 10-game unbeaten streak (with 6 wins). Things were bleak, but the Sounders pulled themselves from the pits with a 2-1 win over Portland. The trouble that most antagonized the team for most of the summer, missing quality players, resolved, as our stars returned and new ones joined. The names we so dearly missed like Oba, Alonso and Dempsey joined new ones like Valdez, Ivanschitz and Friberg and started crowding the box score. Seattle got back to winning silverware: first the Cascadia Cup and then advancement in the CONCACAF Champions League. They clinched the playoffs with a strong showing against RSL and vanquished last year’s villain, the Los Angeles Galaxy, to set the stage for a triumphant return to the Western Conference Finals.

Sunday in Frisco, the show must go on. And the script demands to know: do the Sounders finally have a sense of who they really are, do they recognize themselves as champions?

 

Seattle Sounders: Older, Wiser, Winners

Your Seattle Sounders came back in thrilling fashion to beat FC Dallas 2-1 last night in a packed house in Sodo.

The Sounders are making a habit of winning dangerously, with late goals to take their last two games. Sunday night’s was even more dramatic as the Sounders were chasing the game for over an hour. But the boys never lost their heads (despite the piss poor and inconsistent referring of Kevin Stott) or their heart. Not an easy task for old legs playing their third “make-or-break” game in 8 days.

The easy narrative for this series is youth (Dallas) versus experience (Seattle). Dallas was who we thought they were: fast and goal-dangerous. Fabian Castillo’s quick-as-snakes counter in the 18th minute exemplified that. And for much of the first half, Dallas’s pace was terrifying. When even our youngest (and arguably fastest) player on the pitch, leftback Oniel Fisher, was being torched by Barrios’s screaming runs, it looked like youth would be served.

But the Sounders’ boatloads (yacht-loads?) of veteran experience was apparent in both Ivanschitz’s “I will take this ball, dribble 30 yards up field and finish. All. By. Myself.” strike and Dempsey’s superlative technique on his free kick goal. Those two men have played soccer at the highest levels for a very long time. When they needed to make the game bend to their will, they did. No stage is too big for them.

Next week is huge in Frisco. We gave up an away goal, but we’re carrying a lead. All we need is a result, and we’ll be in the all-Cascadia Western Conference Finals.

 

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