Month – March 2016

USMNT vs. Guatemala: Do or Die

The USMNT faces Guatemala in a must-win game today in Columbus, Ohio. Currently the US sits at third place in Group C in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. They sit behind Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala. I repeat: they sit behind Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala. If the Stars and Stripes can win today, they’ll be sitting pretty and looking to advance to the Hex, if they lose…. they are almost mathematically eliminated. How did we get to this point of desperation?

The USMNT has been in a wild funk lately. Remember rocking Ghana in Brazil? Remember Tim Howard standing on his head in an inspiring performance against Belgium? Remember when you felt good about the USMNT? I sure don’t.

Since demolishing Cuba 6-0 in the Quarterfinals of the Gold Cup last summer, the United States has been a sinking ship.

The USMNT is 1-4-1 since, with our only win over lowly St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We’ve lost some clunkers: to Jamaica in the Gold Cup semis, our first loss to them on US soil; and last Friday’s 2-0 defeat to Guatemala, our first loss in a 21-match unbeaten streak against Los Chapines). We’re also conceding the first goal in 9 of our 11 last matches.

One of those matches being the CONCACAF Cup at the Rose Bowl. That dispirited exercise resulting in a 3-2 to Mexico. The numbers are nicer to the game than it deserves, anyone who watched that game saw a listless American side thoroughly outplayed by El Tri. A win then would’ve expunged the poor Gold Cup performance and punched our ticket to the 2017 Confederations Cup (a tournament that we took silver in back in 2009). Instead we still wallow in eau de loser.

Today, the USMNT needs to beat Guatemala. We can beat Guatemala, but you just can’t take a US win to the bank anymore. In my entire conscious life as a soccer fan, the US has been dependable. Not great, but consistent. I was 4 the last time we missed a world cup (1986), and in the last 10 years we’ve been a power of CONCACAF.

The US made the semis in the 2002 World Cup and the Knockout Round in both 2010 and 2014. We’ve won 4 of the last 8 Gold Cups and qualified for 3 of the last 6 Confederations Cups. And yet now all that stands in jeopardy because of Jurgen Klinsmann.

Klinsmann has captained the ship like a drunk for almost 8 months now. His odd lineups and poor excuses keep piling up. Let’s hope we don’t have to suffer either this afternoon. A shame that. We have to rely on hope to beat Guatemala.

An Open Letter to Jurgen Klinsmann, Again

Good morning soccer fans. Welcome to the new reality, same as the old reality. The United States Men’s National Team is the joke of CONCACAF.

With the Stars and Stripes 2-0 loss last night to Guatemala, you may expect to see Tab soda, teased hair, VCRs and Pee Wee Herman. US Soccer hasn’t been this consistently awful since the 80s.

To better enumerate my feelings on the subject of Jurgen Klinsmann and the fate of the USMNT, I’d like to reacquaint you with a post I write almost two years.

Enjoy, An Open Letter to Jurgen Klinsmann.

Seattle Sounders Steep in Bitter Start

The Seattle Sounders steep in their bitter start for the next two weeks. All the training and regen will be haunted by Geiger’s whistle, Sunny’s somersault, Coelho’s gangly strike, and Geiger’s other whistle. Excuse me while I vomit in my mouth a little.

Let’s flashback to moments after Seattle was doomed to their first 0-3 start ever. A dimming electric range of an evening: the orange just wisping out of the Olympics across the Sound, the city bright, I jostled out amongst the throng of Sounders supporters and muttered to my wife, “Now we have 2 weeks to choke on this start.”

Sports psychology is an interest of mine (being a majority Philly fan, it’s a survival necessity). I think of how the Sounders, as individuals, as people, are going to respond to these losses. Sigi has a tall order and he knows it. He needs to keep his men invested in the process, even with crappy results.

Sure professional sports are a “results-based business” but results only come through the process. You need the positive affirmation a good result brings to reinforce the process that gets you there. Sigi alluded to this saying, “At some point, you need those results for your confidence and your belief in what you’re doing.”

Sigi also spoke of a creeping feeling of uselessness and apathy that can set in during a slump: “You can’t keep hitting yourself against a wall because eventually you start bleeding and you won’t accomplish anything… you’ve got to stay strong in our endeavor and our belief with each other.”

I don’t even care about formation switches or signing new players, the Sounders’ chief concern right now is the players’ attitudes. Sigi needs to man-manage the hell out of this club.

Clint Dempsey is not a vocal leader. He’ll tell you that. But he is a professional and he understands the spotlight and the ups and downs of an athlete’s life. He seems to have a healthy grasp on this psychologically, and that’s great for him.

But Jordan Morris is a young man. A young man with lots of hype. He isn’t Yedlin coming out of nowhere and free to just ball. Morris is under a lot of pressure, locally, nationally, and hell even some from Germany. You can’t tell me he doesn’t carry that. Nurturing J-Mo’s attitude is key to his development, and the Sounders need to be sure he rises to the pressure more like LeBron than Ryan Leaf. Dempsey, despite what he thinks, needs to be involved here. His input could be priceless.

I am also worried about Nelson Valdez and Andreas Ivanschitz. Both men are hustling hard for Seattle, and yet are late-career soccer mercenaries.

Valdez awes me, a decorated, veteran player, who’s earned stripes in all theatres of world football, hustling hard for the Rave Green. But when is he gonna get sick of the non-calls, the bruised calves, all the effort for little recognition or even fairness? Ivanschitz has clearly had enough of MLS officiating. He has two yellows for dissent in just 3 games. Here’s a vet who can’t keep his head.

What if these two major cogs of our attack check out? Do they look towards Oba’s departure and see a sinking ship or do they keep their booking on the SS rebuild?

Don’t get me wrong, I do not doubt the effort and commitment of any of these men, but the human animal is a mixed bag of emotions. Doubt creeps in. We don’t really know what exactly made Valdez, Ivanschitz, and to a lesser extent, J-Mo, sign with the Sounders.

During the next two weeks, the scrimmages, the regen, the study, Sigi needs to hit his message hard: “stay strong in our endeavor and our belief with each other.”

Seattle Sounders Fall to Flopping ‘Caps

The Seattle Sounders got jobbed by the Vancouver Whitecaps and Referee Mark Geiger 2-1 on Saturday night.

As a fan I trend to the mammal brain. I yell loudly in the stadium (oftentimes direct invectives at refs or opposing players (usually embarrassing my wife)), I embrace unbridled hate for my rivals and I relish, with a deep soul rattling release, a victory.

As a blogger I try to be bit more objective. I try not to truck in conspiracy or pettiness. I certainly represent a Seattle perspective, but I am a journalist of sorts. I have a sacred duty of reportage to uphold.

However.

Saturday night’s loss has me livid. Vancouver played the most cynical game of soccer that I’ve ever seen. Both teams were hungry, but Vancouver resorted to outright thuggery. The called fouls, 20-14, look only slightly lopsided but don’t tell the story. Vancouver often got away with murder.

This wasn’t a foul:

This wasn’t a yellow:

This wasn’t a red:

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And Vancouver flopped early and flopped often. This worked to even the tally. There were four goal kicks in a row late in the second half where Ousted would boot it for Blas Perez, Perez would hop and flop and Geiger would whistle the spot. It was like clockwork, Ousted to Perez to grass to whistle. Wham-bam.

All of this could be chalked up to a sloppy game and a bad ref, but what really chaffs my craw is what Vancouver coach Carl Robinson said postgame:

We showed a bit of grit and determination. They’re knockered a bit and they’ve got ice packs all over them, and that’s what you need to do in this game.

That is disgusting and cynical. Robinson coached his team to foul. He coached his time to punch, grab, tackle and “knocker” us, because “that what you need to do.” That is straight out of the Vermes book of coaching.

Robinsons is probably still salty after limping out of the playoffs last season, but c’mon man. I actually kinda used to respect the ‘Caps as one of the teams that did it right. Now they are just another disciple to the art of flopoonery.

Say what you want about the Sounders, but they take the pitch to play soccer. Not to play hurt.  You can’t say the same thing about Vancouver.

Bold Prediction: Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

Seattle Sounders Matchday! Hopefully today’s the day we get off the schneid, though the Vancouver Whitecaps are equally eager to grab 3 points.

I apologize for my absence from the blogosphere as of late. I have been tussling with another bout of forever cold. I’ve only had the strength to sleep, cough and binge Agents of Shield. I’m finally getting my strength up and Mrs. Ravinggreen and I will be in Sodo this evening looking for Seattle’s first win.

It is a big game for Seattle. Much has been made about how both clubs are desperate, but I’d argue the Sounders are hungrier for points. We’ve lost to two Western Conference foes (and those are, even in March, always 6 pointers). The ‘Caps loss to Montreal may sting, but won’t further affect the playoff race. Though Who wants it more? never means anything, much to the chagrin of the neo-Platonists. This game, like most, will be won by the team that plays better and gets the lucky bounce.

Both teams have been sloppy this year. Vancouver’s given up a crap ton of goals. The ‘Caps should have a terrific defense with Watson and Parker always in the thick of things, but they’ve hemorrhaged 5 goals in only two games. Chances are Seattle should finally find some joy after scoring just a single goal so far.

Bold Prediction: The Cascadia Cup rivalry starts early and Seattle looks to defend their only silverware from 2015.

Spoiler alert: Vancouver has long won with the counter. The Sounders have always struggled against the counter.

Vancouver has fallen behind 2-0 before the 42nd minute in both of their games this year. They are not built to win that way. The ‘Caps want their defense to keep them even and then pounce when their opponent overextends to attack. When the ‘Caps fall behind by a significant margin, their opponent can tighten up and strangle the counter.

Looking to establish their identity, Seattle will attack the ‘Caps. Unfortunately this plays to Vancouver’s strengths. The Sounders are again weak up the gut, missing Evans and Friberg. Zach Scott and his lack of fleet feet terrifies me against a team hungry to counter.

I want to call a win, I really do. But Seattle hasn’t shown me they’ve put it all together yet. Sounders and ‘Caps draw 1-1.

Seattle Sounders Cellar Dwellers

The Seattle Sounders took another gut punch, this one on the Wasatch Front, and fell 2-1 at RSL. After two weeks, the Sounders find themselves cellar dwellers in the Western Conference.

You could argue Seattle deserves better. SKC had a man advantage for nearly an hour and needed a fluke volley from a centerback for the winner. RSL won with a veteran centerback taking a controversial advantage against a callow keeper. But frankly… Seattle hasn’t looked very good.

We can complain about gut punches and lucky goals, but Seattle isn’t playing well right now. At times we look great but our inconsistency is maddening. We’ve only been consistent with shaky defense, as we’re averaging 2 goals against per game.

Drilling deeper, Seattle is developing (or reigniting) dangerous habits. The Sounders have given up 8 goals this season and 5 have come in the last 5 minutes (or stoppage time) of a half. 4 of which came at the end of the first half. On its own, these are odd stats and the small sample size probably doesn’t carry much meaning. But if we wanted to extrapolate, we could argue that either Seattle is physically unfit or mentally lazy.

The Sounders have usually been a very fit team. And four goals allowed around the 45th minute doesn’t support overall fatigue. I doubt the players are tiring more at the end of the first half than the second, so let’s run with the “Sounders are checking out early” theory.

RSL scored both their goals by exploiting Seattle’s 2015 bugaboo, set piece defending. Both set pieces happened to come at the end of a half. So 2016’s habit of flaking before a break just happened to coincide with the ghost of yesteryear. yes it’s early, but this potent cocktail of mental mistakes could derail a season. The Sounders have to stay confident and focus.

It’s disconcerting that a team with veteran leadership (coach included) suffers stupid mental lapses this early in the season. Because even if there is no solid argument here, and the Sounders have just suffered some raw luck, other teams are going to take notice. Seattle has to double their focus before breaks or opponents will try to really to punish the Sounders.

We don’t even have Lamar Neagle to blame anymore for lazy marking. Worse? We don’t have his energy off the bench either. A team known for fireworks, a team that invested a lot of money in Dempsey, Valdez, Ivanschitz and Morris, hasn’t been lighting it up. Seattle has one goal on the MLS season, and it’s not from one of the well-paid luminaries mentioned above. It’s from Ozzie, a man paid mostly to stop goals. If you don’t score goals, you don’t win games.

 

Preview: Seattle Sounders Seek Result At RSL

The Seattle Sounders play venerable Western Conference foe RSL tomorrow and both teams are hungry.

RSL, like Seattle, had every reason to be a disappointed with their showing last week. Holding a strong 2-nil lead going into stoppage time, RSL coughed up two goals (last year’s ROY Cyle Larin had a foot in both) in 60 seconds and left Orlando with the draw.

(A quick aside: you figure both Seattle and Salt Lake should’ve had a fitness edge over their opponents due the CCL matches. You figure two game against legit Liga MX opponents should get your starting 11 gelling. Instead both SKC and OCSC pounced on sloppy discipline and flagging fitness, respectively. Maybe there was a bit of a CCL hangover, as only L.A., of all CCL teams, won their game last weekend. And oddly enough it was over DC United, the other CCL contestant. Curious, no?)

This is not yesterday’s RSL. I’ve gotten to see a bit of the new RSL and they are a fun team to watch. Jason Kreis’s diamond was abandoned last year for a 4-3-3 hybrid. Jeff Cassar’s boy’s don’t play a simple 4-3-3, as sometimes the formation morphs into a 4-3-2-1 or even a 4-2-1-3. The midfield, like SKC, is stacked.

The old guard on the Wasatch Front, Rimando, Morales, Beltran and Beckerman, are joined by reinforcements: Burrito Martinez, Luke Mulholland and of course, Joao Plata. Martinez is slick as grease, Mulholland is pesky and Plata is one of the league’s best finishers (and dancers). But it is Yura Movsisyan, the once and future Lion, who probably scares me the most. Movsisyan is a proven goal scorer, a cold-blooded striker who provides the razor edge to the creative midfield.

Bold Prediction: Last season was a serious slump for RSL, as they failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Maybe that is indicative of the loss of Kries and Seattle’s President of Soccer, Garth Lagerwey. But I don’t think RSL will continue to fade. The West is stacked, but RSL, with all the additions and innovations mentioned above, will be in the thick of things.

I’d like to predict we win, in a gritty, vindictive style. But it is hard to win at the Riot. RSL have won the last 4 matchups in Utah (going back to May 2011). Seattle really wants a result, so I don’t think a resurgent RSL will stand in the way. I see a classic Seattle-RSL standoff, 1-1.

Seattle Sounders Roster Part 3: Fullbacks

Seattle Sounders Season Preview Part 2: Fullbacks

Garth Lagerwey is actively shaping the Sounders roster. And here I am desperately trying to finish my roster breakdowns before their rendered obsolete.

I’ve only explored keepers and centerbacks and already my series is old news, as Ockford joins Lowe on loan and Garth just signed the recently drafted Tony Alfaro. Alfaro was barely on my radar last week when I posted my centerbacks preview and now may be the in the 18 as the #3 centerback.

Today we discuss the hot button position from Sunday’s loss: fullback.

Position: Fullback

TLDR: Red card aside, Fullback might be challenging Forward as the deepest position group on the roster.

The Sounders are stacked at fullback. Joevin Jones is the real deal. He looked goal-dangerous against America and was a rock Sunday against SKC. On first glance, he reminds me of DeAndre Yedlin, fast enough to get back in position after bombing up the flank. On closer inspection though, he plays with more discipline (except for those 90 seconds before halftime in the first leg of the CCL series) than Yedlin ever did in Rave Green. SKC rarely tested his side on the field on Sunday.

Jones joins consummate pro Tyrone Mears to give Seattle their best pair of starting fullbacks in a while (sorry Leo, you were just too old when paired with Yedlinny). Hopefully this pair starts a league game together sometime soon. Mears, after suffering through injury problems for the past few years in the EPL, was a horse last year. He played 33 out of 34 games and went the full 90 in 32 of them! Unfortunately the injury bug is back, as Mears quad train has him questionable for RSL.

Starting for Mears last week was the star-crossed Oniel Fisher…oh boy. Fisher was, arguably, the man of the match until his red card. His tackle was a textbook red card according to the new officiating focus this season, fair enough. Hopefully the MLS refs clal that tight all season. I am all for a cleaner game. Fisher was a real bright spot for the team last season after he wrested the starting gig from Dylan Remick. But with Sunday as evidence, he still needs to smooth out the rough spots in his game.

Fisher can’t go Saturday, and if Mears quad keeps him out, Dylan Remick will presumably start. Like Fisher, Remick was an effective starter at times last year. When you scrape the bottom of the barrel and find a third year pro with 26 starts and potential, you thank the President of Soccer. And fi you thought this position couldn’t get deeper, oh yeah, we also have USMNT RB Brad Evans on the roster. You know, in the odd case we needed, you know, more depth at this position.

Seattle may have the best fullbacks in all of MLS. All of these players, especially Jones, fits the modern fullback archetype: adept at both defense and the attack. This versatility will be key in supporting the new 4-3-3 formation Seattle’s trying this year. Already we’ve seen opponents test the unbalanced lineup as SKC were in Fisher’s grill all day and Club America attacked Jones. This position will be tested often in 2016, espcially Saturday at RSL.

Seattle Sounders Bruised Not Broken

The Seattle Sounders are settling in for a rebuilding season.
Jordan Morris is terribly overrated.
The Sounders, just beat by an underhanded SKC at home, will underwhelm and disappoint for the 8th straight season.

Or so say some the crackpots and prognosticators of the soccer blabbersphere. Since we lost to SKC on Soccer Sunday, and in today’s era of hot takes and instant analysis, Seattle better pack it in and call it a year already.

But one game doesn’t mean too much, people. I teach writing for a living and am always going on about analysis and synthesis and whys and hows and aboutness. Believe me, there is no such thing as “instant” analysis, only hamheaded yapping.

Sure the Sounders flubbed their chance to start the season strong. But I think we can safely deduce that Sounders always struggle against the thugs of MLS. Kansas City and San Jose have always been difficult results. Thankfully the ranks of coach/enforcer have been purged by GMs and owners who want to see a quality product on the pitch. Peter Vermes, and his New Jersey chin, is the last of an ignoble line of American soccer coaches who put the football in football.

Every time we play SKC, we see the same physical play. Vermes has his Sporks groping and grabbing and tackling and pushing their opponent every chance they get. It’s little things like tugging a jersey and bigger things like dragging your feet through on a tackle or a sly elbow in the air (thanks Dom Dwyer!). The final statline shows SKC with 19 fouls to our 9, more than double. And you figured the team down a man and fighting for the clean sheet might be more prone to physical play.

I take a strange pride in the act that Seattle struggles against the boorish teams (now, team) in the league. It shows we’re playing right. And really, for the first 40 minutes on Sunday, we looked stellar. The Sounders were dominating possession and had some devilishly quality chances. The real irony was that we were the team harshly disciplined, especially since we have the bruises and dislocations that tell a different story.

Hopefully the hack-a-Sounder tactic is limited to Vermes. Pretty soccer should be on the docket the next couple weeks against RSL and Vancouver. And the Sounders do pretty soccer pretty well.

****

The President of Soccer is wheeling and dealing again. Garth Lagerwey has pulled the trigger on a deal with Toronto that sends General Allocation Money in exchange for Targeted Allocation Money and an international roster spot. It seems we may have TFC by the short hairs as they need the GAM to set their budget straight for the season. I eagerly look forward to watch the Prez is cooking up.

****

Lastly, a birthday shoutout to regular reader and, sometime, commenter Friar Tuck. Happy Birthday, brother.

Seattle Sounders Lose Opener to Sporting Kansas City

Not the best way for the Seattle Sounders to kick off the new season. Losing at home 1-nil down a man on a freak goal from a centerback sure seems inauspicious.

I’ll have more later in the day, it was Mrs. Ravinggreen’s birthday and I’d rather eat cake and sing than dwell on that ludicrous display.

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