Month – March 2016

Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City and the Crime of Luck

The Seattle Sounders kick off 2016 tomorrow against Sporting Kansas City, aka that other team we hate.

This match is cruel and unusual punishment from the MLS schedulers. 2016 already promises to be excruciating for Seattle fans. We must now accept the fact that the Portland Timbers are the current champions and will forever wear a star above their crest. Cripes. But this matchup forces us to remember shootouts, SKC and the ignoble end to the 2015 Playoffs.

It is a fact among the Sounders cognoscenti that Portland only advanced on a SKC fluke double post PK miss. Kansas City’s loss in the Knockout Round was a bizarre mirror of ours in the semis: late winners countered with even later equalizers and a cruel shootout. Both teams went through and incredible 11 shooters, the final being the goalies, and of course there was that insane double post.

The margin for victory in that game was infinitesimal for the Timbers, more so than our loss to Dallas. And yet that is the difference between the star above Portland’s crest and our continued odyssey. I hate Sporting. But I hate them even more because they couldn’t ice the Timbers on PKs.

SKC has always been disgustingly lucky in penalty shootouts. Just last year SKC won the US Open Cup against Philly after going through 8 shooters in a 6-7 shootout. And, of course, they beat us in a shootout for the 2012 Open Cup (remember: that shootout was tied at 2-2 after Gspurning stopped Nagamura’s attempt. Then Salazar inexplicably called Gspurning off his line and Nagamura buried his second shot and Eddie Johnsons skied his and…yeah) And SKC won their recent MSL Cup in a shootout against RSL, winning 7-6 and, again, went through 10 shooters.

This success in shootouts has given SKC a claim as our only contemporary rival in Open Cup dominance and an MLS Cup. And yet…. when Seattle could’ve benefited most from SKC’s magic touch, it dried up and Portland went all the way.

Bold Prediction: SKC sold Krisztian Nemeth to Qatar, but reloaded in a major way. An already dominant midfield added a still dangerous Brad Davis and the incredibly underrated Justin Mapp. This midfield now includes Zusi, Feilhaber, Espinoza, Nagamura, Davis and Mapp. One more time: Brad Davis is 5th on the depth chart and Mapp 6th. That’s crazy

The Sporks will attempt to use this midfield control the game. Their backline is suspect and their attack is nigh non-existent. Their best striker behind perennial MVP candidate Dom Dwyer is Jacob Peterson. It made $sen$e to sell Nemeth, but sheesh. This team needs finishers.

Seattle may be without Friberg and thus we’ll cede even more agency in the middle third. I bet Sigi looks for more direct routes to goal. I see Deuce dropping more to join Ivanschitz springing key passes to Valdez and J-Mo Smooth. An Evans long ball or two to the strikers will work. We’ll have a solid D this season, but not yet. Sounders, 2-1.

Seattle Sounders Bow Out of CCL at Azteca

Not their most inspiring performance, as the Seattle Sounders fell 3-1 to Club America. Lordy I hate when I predict these losses (though I feel duty-bound by the code of bloggers to do my damnedest to boldly predict), and thus Seattle’s shot at CCL glory ends at 5-3 on aggregate in storied Estadio Azteca. Ugh.

You have to tip your hat to America, they are a fine tuned soccer machine. After fighting and scrapping to stay level, we took first blood. We had popped Goliath and could take command of the game, but America responded definitively. They pushed the ball upfield at lighting speed and clinically finished. Again. Their ability to quickly transition is the difference between Liga MX and MLS. America was quicksilver last night. Their last goal, Aguilar crossing past three defenders and Andrade one-timing it past the keeper?, sheesh. Tip your cap and move along.

And so the 2015/16 CCL campaign ends with a whimper for the boys. Though I am grateful we got this far. In the middle of The Drought last summer, in a helluva dogfight in our group, we were not guaranteed to advance. We persevered and earned this #1 vs #8 matchup. We acquitted ourselves well, putting three up on a powerhouse and keeping the scorelines respectable. We had the best showing of any of the MSL sides, a draw and a loss, with goals in both games. And hell, it was great to play at Azteca, one of the churches of American soccer.

Quick takes:

  • Jordan Morris looked kind a like a player to get excited about. He was fast and smart and on the whole, very goal dangerous.
  • Dempsey was effectively taken out of the game. Bogged by three America defenders, he had no time to create.
  • Ozzie is back baby!! He was destroying the midfield and cycling the attack with 95% passing. If only he can stay healthy into November.
  • Friberg didn’t have his best night, some heavy touches and a lack of vision at times.
  • Sigi seems damned and determined to rotate Kovar in regularly. This is a big ask of the young gun and we’ll see in 2016 if he is ready for prime time.

The Sounders now have no more distractions before kicking off the MSL season against SKC Sunday night in primetime. See you on the terraces.

 

Seattle Sounders at Club America: Reach for New Heights

The Seattle Sounders play at historic Estadio Azteca tonight in the final leg of their quarterfinal series with Liga MX titan Club America.

Last week’s 2-2 draw, through a hellluva thrilling game, puts us in quite the pickle. As Sigi said, win and we’re through. But winning at Azteca is hard.

Estadio Azteca, the only stadium to host two World Cup Finals, is the 3rd largest in the world. It swells to nearly 100,000 passionate fans who support their clubs with “gusto.” Outside magazine explored the unique experience of playing at Azteca back in 2012 after the USMNT’s first win there:

Azteca’s fans have been know to launch beers, bags of vomit, and ziplocs of urine at players. For their own safety, Mexican police routinely escort American fans out of the stadium. It’s rare for American broadcasters to leave Azteca not covered in alcohol.

Aside from the psychological and emotional toll of playing in such a crucible comes the physical crush of playing at altitude. At an elevation of 7,349 feet, Estadio Azteca tests the fittest athletes. Us Americans crow about Denver and Mile High Stadium at its mere altitude of 5,280. Azteca is up another 2,000 feet and the increase starts to make an exponential difference. Again from Outside:

As anyone who’s ever gone from sea level to a couple thousand feet up knows, it’s kind of a shocking adjustment. It’s harder to get oxygen into your lungs, making it harder to breathe and even harder to catch your breath. And that’s when you’re just walking around, not playing a high-level soccer game for an hour-and-a-half.

It takes about a week to acclimatize to high altitude, getting over any initial illness/shock. And that’s usually the most training-time visiting teams get before playing. But it requires something like 104-times that to actually get to your regular-functioning level.

“It takes usually about two years of living in altitude to become accustomed to it,” Baysden said, “while the Mexican athletes don’t know any different.” Real, scientific home-field advantage.

I have spent time in Peru at high altitude. Cusco and Puno are at the absurd elevations of 11,152 feet and 12,556 feet, respectively. My first time in Cusco, I was not acclimated at all, flying straight form Lima’s sea-level to the Incan capital and the first few days I was wrecked: pounding headaches, insomnia, heaving. I was much better on my second visit and even Puno didn’t bother me, though Mrs. Raving Green was laid out in bed and even needed an oxygen machine (though she looked so cute with the little plastic nose tubes). Hiking in Arequipa, at 7,740 feet elevation, comparable to Azteca, kicked my butt. I can barely begin to understand how difficult it will be for a preseason-form Seattle to go the full 90.

Long story short: The Sounders are in for a doozy.

Bold Prediction: Bad news here, Club America is looking to field a much stronger lineup than what we saw in Sodo. Starting Keeper Moises Munoz is getting healthy and aDario Benedetto is finally healthy and could replace Quintero up top. And even though assists master Rubens Sambueza dislocated his shoulder, he may very well go too.

Last week was probably the only CCL Knockout game in Sodo for 5 years. I was in the stands back in April 2013 for the semifinals against Santos Laguna, and since we didn’t qualify for CCL Group Stage last season, the next time we could play in the knockout round is 2018. That’s why despite tangling with this dreaded forever cold, I attended last week’s game. If you live in Seattle and have caught the upper-respiratory-and-general-feeling-like-crappiness bug, I empathize. But throbbing congestion and all, I wasn’t missing a CCL Knockout game. The chances at Knockout games are few and far between for parity-riddled MLS clubs, even one as consistent as Seattle. Unfortunately, the ride ends here.

It is huge for this club just to play at Azteca. We are further composing the legend of the Sounders with matches like tonight’s. We do not need a victory, just a respectable showing. Do I want a victory? Sure, but realistically… I see a 3-1 America win with Dempsey scoring another set piece poem. The Rave Green playing well at Azteca is huge for this club as it continue its ascent as a power in the Americas.

Seattle Sounders Season Preview Part 2: Centerback

Seattle Sounders Season Preview Part 2: Defense

 

Much like yesterday’s exploration of goalkeepers, we’ll continue to explore the 2016 roster by mostly drilling into the depth and the change of guard. To continue the season preview, today we look at centerback.

It’s funny because here in Seattle we’ve been accustomed to some subpar centerback paly. We didn’t have Jeff Parke long enough, Djimi was old, Tyrone Marshall own-goaled us in his short tenure, only Ianni’s mullet was memorable and Hurtado… Jhon Kennedy Hurtado… when he was good, he was great. But 95% of the time he was the hottest garbage. Hurtado was one of the few Sounders that I absolutely wanted the door to hit on the way out.

I love the man, the myth, the legend, Zach Scott, but when a plucky but undersized scrapper is your best option year in and year out, you know you’ve had rough luck. But then for one brief moment last summer, Seattle finally had two centerbacks to reckon with. Towering Roman Torres lined up next to future hall of famer Chad Marshall and the Sounders had a wall. Then of course Torres popped his ACL going for a loose ball in only his fourth game in green, and the position was once again precarious.

Position: Centerback

TLDR: The starters are great, depth is a problem, and Roman Torres’s health is key.

With the recent release of wannabe Sounder Roberto Chen and the aforementioned injury to Torres, the only backups to current starters Brad Evans and Chad Marshall is Jimmy Ockford and the aging wonder Zach Scott.

The pride of Yardley, PA, Jimmy Ockford, has only one start for the boys in Rave Green. Last summer during The Drought, Ockford went the full 90 in that embarrassing 1-nil loss in Philly. Ockford didn’t exactly “earn” the start, but was rather another warm body in a lineup including Neagle up top, supported by Kovar, Pappa and Roldan, with Azira and Pineda in front of Fisher, Ockford, Scott and Remick. Woof. Ockford had a nice run with the Cosmos on loan in 2014, but how much he can realistically contribute is very much in question.

Scott could very well quote the black knight from Monty Python because he is not quite dead yet. He has retired and unretired maybe as many times as Brett Favre and the theory is that he may not even finish the season this year. Scott may have delayed hisreturn home to Haiku, HI, to play band-aid until Torres heals up.

Finally, Damion Lowe is maybe in the mix but he is currently on trial with Minnesota United of the USL. It doesn’t appear he’s in any gameday plans soon.

Unless the Sounders plan on bringing in a backup or a body, this is the depth they’ll have until big Roman returns to dominating the position. Torres is doing light training with the team and looking stoked to be a Sounder (who didn’t love that photo of him and the crew chilling in Tucson?). Torres is one of the biggest ifs going into 2016 for Seattle. IF Torres can return to his previous level of play this summer, we have a very real shot at MLS Cup.

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