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.
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.