Month – March 2017

Bold Prediction: Seattle Sounders vs. New York Red Bulls

Your MLS Cup Champion Seattle Sounders finally open at home, hosting the New York Red Bulls today in Sodo.

The Sounders want to celebrate last year’s Cup win in style: a large crowd, glorious tifo and finally bagging three big points. Being at 4 after 3 is way different than 2 or, god forbid, 1 after 3. Though we learned last year that early results don’t indicate late success, it still feels weird that the Sounders have yet to “click” this season. And today’s game won’t be cake.

New York are good. Jesse Marsch coaches a smart, aggressive team that always finds goals. He has averaged 1.7 ppg in his two years at the helm in New York, and also has a Supporter’s Shield, and 2 #1 finishes in the East on his resume. Unfortunately, he also has two playoff flameouts. Though Marsch is a solid coach, he hasn’t helped the Red Bulls shed their paper tiger reputation.

The Red Bulls are, arguably, fighting the same label Seattle did for years after their elevation to the top flight: as an ambitious, big money team that wins, but never when it matters. Seattle finally shed their label with last year’s championship; New York still only has bitter memories. Unlike Seattle, who moved from Sigi to Schmetzer to get off the schneid, the Red Bulls seem cursed.

Even before Marsch, Mike Petke coached NYRB to a Supporter’s Shield and an Eastern Conference Final, but after his seasons also ended with playoff whimpers, he was unceremoniously fired. We may want to see Seattle humming at full throttle again, but we know regular season success doesn’t mean squat. At least we’ve been to the mountain top.

Bold Prediction: New York’s decorated strikers exploit raw CB Tony Alfaro for some goals, but, with Bruin starting up top, the creative interchange between Nico, Deuce and J-Mo is on. Hydra is reborn, as Seattle smashes New York 3-2 in a thriller.

Seattle Sounders: Free J-Mo!

The Seattle Sounders sit at a lone point going into their home opener Sunday against the New York Red Bulls.

The causal fan can see that the Sounders have much to tidy up: keeping possession, cleaning up their marking, involving Nico more, getting Roman to focus. But what Seattle most needs to revamp is their attack.

Seattle has always sported a stingy defense, and it won them the Cup last year. But returning Deuce to an already talented attacking front requires the Sounders to play like the Hydra of yore.

It is hard to adequately judge Seattle’s attack because they’ve spotted their opponent a two-goal lead twice in two weeks. Both Houston and Montreal were then comfortable sitting back, countering and stewarding a lead to a win. These game states open up possession and shots for a chasing Seattle, allowing sound stats such as:

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 1.40.12 AMDespite these numbers, our attack is cold. For a quick second, during that J-Mo and Deuce interchange that lead to a called-off goal for an erroneous handball call, I was reminded of Oba-Deuce in their 2014 heyday. But outside of that: cold. Nico has seemed a shell of himself, Deuce is still working off the rust and J-Mo… well, I got an idea for him.

A modest proposal: Will Bruin starts up top.

When Brian Schmetzer took over as head coach late last season, he standardized the 4-2-3-1 as Seattle’s formation. And he started Nelson Valdez as his target forward. Valdez had been infamously dry all season, but Schmetzer rewarded his work rate and hustle with constant selection.

Valdez didn’t put up stats (until, of course, those glorious two playoff goals), but he know his role, performed it, grunt work and all, and that allowed the rest of the formation to click. Valdez moving up top was the catalyst for J-Mo to blossom as an lethal attacker.

Morris is deceptively fast. He can embarrass defenders when he dribbles right at, and often past, them. He is ferocious and technical with the ball at his feet and a full head of steam. Look at his productive 2016 stats: 12 goals and 4 assists on 71 shots. Know that he more than padded his account after the coaching change. He notched the majority of his number under Schmetzer: 7 and 4 on 37. He thrived on the wings in the band of three behind Valdez.

But this season Schmetzer has been playing J-Mo in Valdez’s old #9 spot. And frankly, that’s the problem with the Sounders’ offense. The ball gets in the advanced third and… dies. Think of the sequence that led to Montreal’s second goal. Nico was stranded on the right needing an outlet on the wing, but the Sounders had no width. He was soon dispossessed and Piatti ran, and Roman backpedal and… goal.

Seattle needs better hold up play. Seattle needs Morris attacking with speed.

Now granted, Bruin may not be one of the best 11 players on the roster. But him playing the Valdez role allows Morris to go from a threat to a terror. Who’d you rather have on the pitch: a fallow J-Mo with a Shipp or Flacco or a rockstar J-Mo with Bruin? Easy peasy. Bruin makes the 11 better.

It doesn’t hurt that Bruin can both adequately play the target forward role, but he can also put the ball in the net. Bruin just has that knack, as he’s made a career of being stone cold comfortable in the 6-yard box. The ball looks for him and he finishes.

A coach’s job is to mostly to put people in a position to succeed. Schmetzer could better harness the talent on his roster with Bruin up top and Morris out wide.

No Fluke: Seattle Sounders Rock the Crown

The Seattle Sounders get a take 2 to start their MLS Cup Championship defense tomorrow in frigid Montreal.

I am glad the away locker room was quiet and frustrated in Houston last week (I hoped to get a midweek post up but, much like our boys in Rave Green, I am starting the season slow). The Sounders lost a very winnable match and seem eager to get off the schneid and start rocking the crown with swagger.

Too much smack has been talked about the Sounders this past offseason. I am seriously done of reading about their “Fluke Win.” Honestly, Portland didn’t put up with this crap. Neither did Colorado or RSL on their miracle Cup runs.

The idea that absolute minnows can win MLS Cup, the stereotype being lobbed at Seattle, is a shaky premise. Maybe it was true, once upon a time, but MLS in 2017 is not the same animal as MLS in 2007. Let’s break this down a second. For the sake of argument, let’s start the “modern era” with 2009 (we’re all Sounders fans here).

The strongest argument for the minnow-to-champs theory is that an outta-nowhere RSL, then Colorado, won in ‘09 and ‘10. And that arguably, arguably!, that feat was just repeated by Portland and Seattle.

Back when RSL and Colorado won it all, Western sides could still go through the East’s bracket, and vice-versa. This dramatically unbalanced the already chaotic playoffs (see my previous post about Western dominance in the MLS Cup Championships).

However. For the most part, one of the best teams has won MSL Cup every year. A dominant L.A. owned the seasons between 10 and 15, with an equally strong SKC knocking off RSL in the only outlier. That RSL squad that came out of nowhere in 2009? They were a young team ascending that entrenched itself among the elite.

So only the Rapids truly came outta nowhere and returned to nowhere after their Cup win (though Dallas, the squad they beat, also came out of nowhere; to be fair, Dallas has a strong culture and academy and just needed a proven coach in Oscar Pareja to harness that potential). So with RSL identified as not a fluke champion, only Portland and Seattle remain under scrutiny.

no fluke

Expect more of this

Was Portland’s Cup a fluke win? Well…. as much as I want to say yes, the Timbers have been competitive since Caleb Porter brought Soccer For Dummies to Pee Town. Though in only 2013 were they an elite team, back when Porterball was new and the rest of the league hadn’t read the Sparknotes.’15 was their Cup year and ‘14 and ‘16 were their “just under the thin red line” years.

A quick aside: For those new to the site, I am a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Back in the ol’ heyday of Andy Reid, the Eagles were a team that positioned themselves as a perennially title contender. The Birds were regular NFC champs who went deep in the playoffs year after year, but could never cash in any of that success (ask Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s. All you can rally control is your positioning for the playoffs, after that it’s a crapshoot).

Portland has positioned themselves as merely a pesk in the West. You are who your record says you are, (to quote the Big Tuna) and Portland is regularly the 6th/7th-best team in the conference, always just within spitting distance of the playoffs. That is, to be fair, a formula that works in league like MLS. Portland seems content to buy a wildcard lottery ticket every season. As long as Porter has the Timbers close to the mix every season, all they need is a double-posted PK to become a serious threat.

The Sounders, on the other hand, are like those 2000s Eagles: a team built to perennially contend. Seattle regularly finishes close to the top of the West and wins silverware. Regardless of past seasons’ failures, Seattle was always considered a major contender in the West and for the Cup.

In reality, the odds just finally regressed to the mean. Last season was a “fluke win” as much as ’14, ’11 and ’12 were “fluke losses.” In those seasons the Sounders were legit contenders who unluckily stumbled in the playoffs. I see absolutely no reason why ’17 will be any different.

The Sounders will play well. The Sounders will finish near the top of the West. The Sounders will make noise in the playoffs. Will they win it all again. Who knows. It’s always a crapshoot.

****

BOLD PREDICTION: Tomorrow in Montreal, inside a dome, the Sounders will draw 2-2. Last week’s showed the defense weaknesses yet at 100%, but the Sounders can and will score. Nico and Deuce continue to work together and we’re all in for a fun ride.

2017 Seattle Sounders: Let’s Get this Party Started

Happy New Year, Seattle Sounders fans! How’s it feel to support, unquestionably, the best team in MLS?

After a short layoff, and a lightning offseason, the Champs (I looove writing that) start their title defense tonight in Houston. And frankly: the sooner the better.

Though the Sounders finally claimed MLS Cup they’ve always sought, many are not considering Seattle as the best club in MLS. The trolls are out in force and writing Seattle off as flash-in-the-pan, paper champs. As Taylor Swift so aptly put it, “Haters gonna hate. Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate.”

The Sounders have always been hated, and when the ECS sings, “No one likes us, we don’t care,” they actually mean it. This hate of the Champs is everywhere from the paid talking heads to the neckbeards at message boards from SB Nation to MLS.com to ESPN FC. Though Seattle has been a perennial contender every year of their existence, their down-year-turned-championship-season is allegedly fuel for the “MLS is a terrible parity league” argument.

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The Dawn of a New Season

Last year may have been shaky, but don’t call it a comeback. The Sounders have been here for years. When we were winning Open Cups and demanding respect like a big boy, we were laughed at. When we won the Double in ‘14 and came thisclose to MLS Cup, we were shut down as whiners.

But oh how the tune changes when Seattle is the Johnny-Come-Lately who wins it all. It is like Seattle *invented* the wildcard to winner MLS parity model. Oh, the irony.

So, yeah. I am hungry to see Dempsey join the champs. I am hungry to see a full season of Nico and Deuce. I am hungry to see Jorstian Mordan continue to develop as two of the best young players in the league. I am hungry to see Stefan Frei finally get the respect he deserves as a top keeper in the league.

I am hungry. The first championship doesn’t change anything. Sounders ‘til I Die.

And, oh yeah:

BOLD PREDICTION: Like most, I am little in the dark here. Who knows who’s gonan win this matchup? In Houston, where we’ve never won, not even with Nico late last year, and a new lineup (hello Harry Shipp and Will Bruin, goodbye Ivanschitz and Nelson) against a first year coach who’s supposed to finally unleash Cubo Torres… I’ll be wild and say: Sounders win 2-1. ‘Cause that’s Sounders do, we beat the odds.

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