Month – February 2016

Seattle Sounders Season Preview Part 1: Goalkeeper

Seattle Sounders Season Preview Part 1: Goalkeeper

With our team, we know what we can do. We were seconds away from making it to the conference final. Portland was two posts away from not even making it to the conference semifinals, then they go on and win (MLS Cup). What can you do? We can get pissed off, and we can take that to heart and come out flying the next year.

-Brad Evans, an interview with the Seattle Times 2/15/16

The Seattle Sounders are on a mission in 2016. The same mission they’ve had every season: to win MLS Cup. But now we got extra vinegar in our piss ‘cause the hated archrival Portland Timbers somehow dumbed their way to the championship.

Granted we are currently in the 2016 preamble, with our current home-and-home against Club America in the CONCACAF Champions League, but the MLS season starts this Sunday at home against Sporting Kansas City. And the sooner 2016 starts, the sooner we can dethrone the Timbers.

Not only did the 2015 season leave Seattle sour, but it was followed by a turbulent offseason. Any momentum Seattle built at the end of last year with the additions of Eric Friberg, Nelson Valdez, Roman Torres and Andreas Ivanschitz was stymied by the departure of Obafemi Martins in addition to a massive overhaul of the depth on the roster.

In addition to Oba being Oba and bailing for China, the Sounders also bid adieu to Marco Pappa, Leo Gonzalez, Gonzalo Pineda, Lamar Neagle, Chad Barrett and Andy Rose among others. Though the starting 11 looks mighty similar to the team that bowed out in Frisco, the Sounders just endured their biggest roster purge since 2013.

The good news? We acquired potential stud left back Joevin Jones and the once and future boy king Jordan Morris. Morris, as you all already know, is not only an off-the-books HGP but a potential league superstar.

With such significant turnover to the roster, I am using my First Kick Prveiew Week to explore the new-look Sounders roster. Today I dive into Goalkeeper.

Position: Goalkeeper

TLDR: Situation normal to the naked eye, but 2016 sees a tectonic overhaul to the position.

With 2/3 of the position overturned, goalkeeper has seen the most churn on the team. Sure ol’ reliable Stefan Frei is still the starter but newcomers Tyler Miller and Charlie Lyon now back him up.

Frei has flashy tattoos and solid moves. In 2015, he had the breakout performance that Sigi and co. hoped for when they took a flyer on him before 2014. After years of underwhelming, Frei finally looked like the player everyone hoped for when he first signed with Toronto. Frei’s 77% save % was tops for any keeper with over 12 starts and his 1.06 GAA tied David Ousted for tops in the league.

Behind Frei, the Sounders have committed to a major philosophical shift at this position. Since their MLS inception, Seattle has always doubled-down on stud veterans. But GM Garth Lagerwey has shaken things up, as we no longer have a venerable Marcus Hahnemann or Troy Perkins for depth but youngins’ Miller and Lyon.

Miller was much ballyhooed coming into the league when the Sounders drafted him in the 2nd round of last year’s draft. However he had made it obvious he was going to Germany, and thus many MLS clubs stayed away. It appeared like an ambitious but wasted pick when Miller indeed signed in Germany. But before the end of a topsy-turvy season in the German 4th division, Miller came home and signed with S2. His promotion to the first team in December is making the Sounders brain trust look pretty prescient right now. He is Frei’s backup and hopefully he can live up to his potential. If he does, he could very well be the Sounders keeper of the future.

Lyon was solid for S2 last season. He recorded 80 saves and 4 shutouts, and back-to-back USL Player of the Week awards earned late in the season earned him the call up to the big boys. As the third keeper he won’t often see the pitch but can train continue to develop with the first team.

That’s all for the men between the pipes. Tomorrow we explore the wonderful world of defenders.

Seattle Sounders Draw Club America

Well that could’ve been better for your Seattle Sounders. Playing to a 2-2 home draw with Club America has dealt a hefty blow to our CCL hopes.

Being honest, we shouldn’t have expected to dominate this matchup for all the reasons I laid out yesterday: new team, preseason form, etc. etc. But like Sigi said, “you’re in it to win it.” Tigres could’ve happened again last night (and hell it still could at Azteca), but we need to play much, much better. I don’t know if seven days is enough for our boys to work the kinks out.

All the context and excuses of “where we are in our season” and “despite our fitness” tell the truth: we aren’t good enough a team to win, yet. The Sounders looked great last night. Our set pieces were lethal. Our defense held shape, mostly, against a very talented attacking squad, and we possessed the ball effectively (outside of the last ten minutes when we were gassed and America played keep-away). Hell, we won possession 54% – 46%. Against America, that’s’ damn impressive

But the new squad needs to practice more. Sigi mentioned this many times postgame when discussing the two goals conceded, “That’s cohesion and learning, okay, who’s this guy gonna cover” and “It’s us just acclimating. It’s more games, those situations don’t occur enough in practice per se.”

The new guys need to learn to play together. Brad Evans and Sigi not so subtly laid the blame for the first goal at Joevin Jones’s feet, for pushing up too far though there were less than 90 seconds left in the half. Though he was chiefly responsible for America’s first goal, for the most part Jones impressed. He has pace and is a solid 1v1 defender.

Jordan Morris sometimes flashed as the player we’ve seen in red, white and blue, but at times underwhelmed. He had a heavy touch and wasn’t always seeing the game. Last night was his first professional game. Ever. This isn’t coming on late for the Yanks in a friendly or trouncing Oregon State in Palo Alto. This is Quintero and Peralta and the bullies of the continent. I plan on writing a longer piece on Morris soon, but hopefully the butterflies soon settle.

Maybe we have to kiss our CCL hopes good bye, but if this team keeps developing, MLS better watch out.

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Alright Raving Green fans, I am getting back in the saddle again. I’ll be officially launching the third season of the blog on Monday the 29th. Aside form the America game, I’ll have preview articles leading up to First Kick against Sporting Kansas City. So stay tuned and get ready for another year of idiosyncratic insight from yours truly.

Club America at Seattle Sounders: CCL Quarterfinal Preview

Finally Seattle Sounders soccer is here. The Sounders kick off 2016 against Club America tonight in the CCL quarterfinals in Sodo.

Finally a game that means something, not a swim meet in L.A., or a kick-about in Tucson. This one is at home and matters.

Sure, I’d love to knock off America and make a run in CCL this year (especially considering we’re out of CCL, again, this season), but this is super a tough matchup. America is good. Scary good.

Surviving our difficult draw in the Group Stage got us seeded 8th and thus going against the Bullies of North America. America is a team that just two months ago played in the Club World Cup. Luckily America is off to a rocky start in league play, going 3-3-1, with injuries and suspensions.

Sigi is going into this matchup clear-eyed, saying, “The most important thing for sure is to keep a clean sheet. If we can go down there not having given up an away goal here I think that’s important for our team.” Play to win, but play for a clean sheet above all. Against a team as dynamic and experienced as America, this is sound logic.

Sigi’s been lambasted for this seemingly cynical tactic before, as his record in two-legged series might indicate, but let’s be honest. We are the 8 seed, they are the 1. They are 7 games in and we are playing our first with a wildly turned-over roster. Minimizing goals scored, especially away-goals, is key.

This game is still an opportunity for the Sounders to learn to play together. If this was our first match of 2015, where we returned 10 of 11 starters (and Mears for Yedlin wasn’t exactly a step down in quality) to a Supporters’ Shield-winning side, I’d be hung-ho for taking the game to America.

But 2016 sees a whole new team in Rave Green: 50% turnover in the starting field players and a new formation that, due to Oba’s sudden departure, is still congealing.

BOLD PREDICTION: America takes it easy in leg one. Their recent red cards allow Peralta and Qunitero to play ‘cause they can’t go this weekend, but with injuries and a mediocre start to their season, I don’t see a crazy push by America to travel a tough squad 2800 miles for Tuesday-nighter in the Northwest. America respects this competition and expects to advance, but they’ll look forward to a big win at home.

Seattle should select a top-choice lineup, if only to better integrate the players. A+ lineups are not a given in the CCL knockout round, as Sigi has fielded some odd rosters before. Remember Shalrie Joseph, Alex Caskey and Sammy Ochoa starting against Santos in 2013? Unfortunately I do.

Seattle will score goals. Deuce, JMo-Smooth, Valdez and Ivanschitz have the Hydra roaring, but defense is key in this matchup and we fall short. Miscommunications from a team still gelling allow America to take one home. Sounders 2-1.

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