Cascadia Cup

Seattle Sounders at Vancouver Whitecaps

The Seattle Sounders don’t win at BC Place.

Obafemi Martins is out with an undisclosed ailment, serious enough to require X-Rays.

The Sounders’s vaunted defense finally fell apart at Columbus.

Lots of doom and gloom going into this weekend’s Cascadia Clash between Seattle and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Bold Prediction: Let’s be real: Vancouver really wants this. They hate us and we really don’t care (and that makes them hate us more). They are top of the West and want to show the league their mettle against the bully of Cascadia. And they are exactly the type of team that unlocks us: a quick-countering, technical club with width.

I have no real reason to be so optimistic here, but I see a 2-2 draw. Can the ‘Caps socre two against us. Hell yeah. They pepper their opponents at home, with 11 of their 14 goals at B.C. Place. Can we score two against the ‘Caps, without Oba? Vancouver has given up only 9 goals, same as us, but in two more games. I am not afraid of their centerbacks, Pa-Modou Kah, anyone?, but Ousted is a rock in goal. He may even be supplanting Rimando as the one MLS goalie who regularly makes me shake my head. This prediction is based on the old cliche that rivalry games and emotions distort numbers (we are working with small sample sizes anyway). I am going with it.

 

Seattle Sounders Need to Stake a Claim

The Seattle Sounders look to reestablish their winning ways this weekend in a Cascadian Clash with the Vancouver Whitecaps. At stake is the early pole position for the Cascadia Cup.

I’ve discussed this before, but Seattle has been the class of Cascadia in the MLS eras and only has 1 Cascadia Cup to show for it. Sure, it isn’t the most important Cup and winning the Portland series always feels more important than the entire Cascadia Cup, but… winning breeds winnings and the Sounders are still #hellagreedy.

Losing the Cup to Vancouver at home last year was a major disappointment. In that charmed season, the Sounders seemed capable of taking any silverware they wanted (the US Open Cup, the Supporters’ Shield). We were in prime position to claim the crown of Cascadia at home, but stumbled. That 1-nil loss at home to the ‘Caps was the first sign of failure from the 2014 Sounders and foreshadowed the losing to L.A. in the Western Conference Finals.

So this weekend the Sounders have a chance to redeem themselves. Which is really what 2015 is all about: closing the deal. A win this weekend will put Seattle in a mighty pretty position in the Cascadia standings.

Here is how the table sits now:

 

he he. portland.

he he. portland.

Let’s say playing in the same time zone complements our boys and they steal three points on the road at BC Place. We’d then have 6 points in 2 games, Vancouver would be at 4 in 3, and lowly Portland at 1 in 3. We’d have a healthy lead and a game in hand on both rivals.

I know I am getting a little ahead of myself here. It is still so early in the season that results don’t seem to matter too much. Plus playing the last game of a tough road trip, ww should be happy just grabbing that lone point away. Also, haven’t fared that well against Vancouver in the MLS era, and that was before they were leading the league.

Seattle is 3-4-4 against the ‘Caps, picking up only 13 of a possible 33 points. Sheesh. Seattle is a team known for offensive fireworks, but the Caps regularly skunk us (4 so far). Only in Vancouver’s inaugural season (when they finished bottom of the Western table) did they fail to record a shutout against us. So maybe grabbing three points north of the border is a little ambitious. That’s okay, I am feeling imperialist.

 

Seattle Beats Portland. Again!

The Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers played gritty in Sodo Sunday night. Renewing their rivalry for the 2015 season, the two teams played a match that was the polar opposite of last season’s barn-burning spectacles. Dempsey’s tap in off a sloppy cover from the Portland keeper totaled the scoring in a 1-nil Seattle win.

It was not pretty soccer. When your opponent is perfecting the art of the square pass while trying his damndest to get a nil-nil draw, it’s tough to hail hydra. Consider: in the 62nd minute Timbers midfielder Dairon Asprilla gave way to Gaston Fernandez for Portland’s first sub of the night. Asprilla (and I need to consult my thesaurus here) trickled off the field. The pace at which Asprilla left is typically suited for a team protecting a lead in the 88th minute, not nursing a draw in the 62nd MINUTE!

Lots of narratives to take away from this game (the steady progress of Captain Brad Evans at centerback; the Yin and Yang of Stefan Frei, great shot stopper, horrible distributor), but the biggest was the apotheosis of Caleb Porter’s cynicism.

What ever happened to playing the right way Porter? Whatever happened to the beautiful game and yadda, yadda, yadda? Caleb Porter used to sneer at long throw-ins, parking the bus, and the 4-4-2. That is all gone, as Porter will do anything for a result these days. Not that there is anything wrong that, professional sports is a results-based business. It just tickles me pink to see him sell-out. Especially when he still loses. Especially when he loses to us.

We are Seattle. We beat Portland.

The Seattle Sounders And My Crisis of Faith

The Seattle Sounders lost a game they have no excuses losing. They were rested. They were at home. They had a fit roster and were playing a lesser opponent. Seattle had everything to play for, but came up short. Friday night’s loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps felt disgusting.

This Sounders team had so far exceeded all expectations. They were playing like a soccer fanboy’s wet dream. To start the season, Seattle looked pretty normal. Some funs wins, some stupid losses. The debacle at the death against Columbus at home, when we left Justin Meram unmarked for the winner was evidence the Sounders were mortal, or worse, mediocre. The very next week, down in Portland, the Sounders were just plain ugly. Then after falling behind 4-2 with over half an hour to play, something clicked. This team turned it up way past eleven and started killing Portland. Then they did it again and again and again. At Dallas and Salt Lake at D.C. and Dallas again. Sure there were hiccups (New England and New L.A.), but when it counted, they delivered. Throughout all those USOC games, all those Portland games, the Sounders persevered… until this past Friday. With precious few games left and the Cascadia Cup on the line, the Sounders failed. Absolutely and utterly, for the first time this season.

We had every reason to be pissed and disappointed in our team. Amongst the Sounders faithful, much wailing and gnashing of teeth followed Friday’s loss. But then come Sunday, L.A. lost at Dallas. Just like that, all is good in the Soundersphere. But it isn’t, nothing is all good. We just got super lucky that L.A. stumbled. That doesn’t change the fact that this team isn’t the team we thought they were. The Sounders have been off for some time now, but we waved it away with excuses of injuries, travel, fixture congestion. There are no more excuses.

L.A.’s loss at Dallas is no cause for concern for the Galaxy. Sure L.A. expects better of themselves but, playing away at a quality playoff contender, a loss was the mathematically expected outcome. Seattle’s loss, however, is a major red flag. The Sounders were at home playing a good-but-not-great team. We were expected, both in the hearts and calculators of MLS prognosticators, to win big.

I’ve said it before: a scheme exists to beat Seattle. If an opponent has talent they can execute it and this isn’t a secret anymore. Our opponents know it, and we know they know. But we still couldn’t break Vancouver down. We tried lots of crosses from the wings, ’cause width is the supposed antidote to Sounders-Repellant, but to no avail. Sigi better figure this out, and fast. The Sounders need to think differently or these last two games are going to be very, very painful.

I wanted this time to be an all-time great. That ship has sailed. We need to lower our expectations and hope, at least, for a true contender. I’m nervous. My faith is shaken, but I want to believe in this team.

Quick Shot: Vancouver Breaks Our Hearts

Just flew back from a wedding, the fifth and final of the summer/fall, and haven’t got a post up yet. Though when I do it will just be vomit about the disgusting job the Sounders did on Friday, at home, in front of 50,000+… still pissed. BUT Los Angeles pooped the bed in Frisco and we are still in the driver’s seat. Let’s push that peddle to the metal and take first place from that balding short timer.

For the Glory of Casacdia: Vancouver Whitecaps at Seattle Sounders Gameday

Tonight the Seattle Sounders face their old Cascadian foe, the Vancouver Whitecaps. Seattle has been the class of Cascadia in MLS play and even Portland had their moment in the sun, briefly, last season. Only Vancouver has been the lone Northwest underachiever. The ‘Caps snuck into the playoffs in 2012 and were soundly thrashed by L.A., and that’s about the biggest accomplishment in their recent history. They did win the Cascadia Cup last year (while finishing 7th in the West with only 48 points), and looked to repeat this year.

Earlier in the season, Vancouver had the Cup seemingly sewn up. Back on August 24th, Seattle had 8 points in 5 games played, while the ‘Caps had 7 in 3. We owe the Portland Timbers and their recent thrashings of the ‘Caps for the chance to play for more silverware. Maybe we repay the stinky timbers by helping them a little in their playoff push? Strange bedfellows indeed.

You can say what you want about Vancouver not being too scary, but I’m worried about this game. Many things about Vancouver scare me. They’re hungry for points and are fighting to stay above the thin, red playoff line. Their recent form has been stellar, beating two quality western sides in RSL and Dallas by an aggregate of 4-1. Also Seattle does not match up with Vancouver well. Over their last six matches, going back to 2012, Seattle only has a 1-2-3 record against Vancouver.

Vancouver is a stellar counter-attacking team. They have speed in droves: Kekutah Manneh and Darren Mattocks are arguably the fastest players in MLS, and they’re not even starters. The ‘Caps employ a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Erik Hurtado ain’t the fastest, but he has quality and a nice touch. Lone talented strikers don’t affect Seattle too much, as Chad Marshall is a stud, but Vancouver’s attack starts in the midfield.

Coach Carl Robinson likes to clog the midfield with talented players with Russell Teibert, Matias Laba, Sebastian Fernandez, Pedro Morales and our old stalwart, Mauro Rosales. It is Morales who pulls the strings, as he has ten goals and ten assists on the year. Vancouver is a Seattle slayer: a counterattacking team that clogs the midfield. They excel at what MLS has figured out to be the perfect hydra repellent: boss the midfield, clog the top of the box and patiently wait to spring a deadly counter. Seattle will need to stay in shape and not force the game.

Bold Prediction: Both teams have a lot to play for. Vancouver is fighting for their playoff lives and Seattle for the glory and honor of Cascadia, a 20th win, and Supporters’ Shield. In a knock-down-drag-out Cascadia classic, both teams trade goals. We see brilliant play from Obafemi Martins and Mauro Rosales. Sounders win 3-2.

Seattle, New York, Portland, Vancouver, Los Angeles and Dallas: Matchday Prediction Madness

Alrighty Seattle Sounders fans, today is a huge day of soccer. The schedule makers at MLA gifted us with a glorious slate of games, as three have direct playoff (and Cascadia) relevance to the Sounders. And all three start sequentially with no schedule overlap, so in twenty minutes you can plant your butt on the couch and watch soccer for the next seven hours! And every game means something to Seattle’s magical season.

2:00PM: Vancouver Whitecaps at Portland Timbers. I hate the Timbers. Maybe it is the Philly fan deep in my sports DNA, but I enjoy schadenfreude at my rivals’ expense as much as I revel in the joy of my team’s success. I do not want Portland to make the playoffs, or have any joy in Mudville. I want more cryingtimbersfan and cranky hipsters eating tater tots. Let’s hope the RSL tifo artists were right and that last year was a fluke. BUT I don’t want Vancouver to win this matchup. If they did, they’d be in the catbird seat for the Cascadia Cup. Oh the drahmer!

Seattle and Vancouver are tightly locked in the Cascadia Cup standings. But we control our destiny, even if Vancouver wins today. The final Cascadia clash of the season, here on October 10th, is between us and the Caps. I’d like less pressure on that game (seeing as how, oh, we’re pushing for the Shield and MLS Cup, no pressure). If Vancouver draws Portland today, we can draw the game on the 10th and still take the Cup (with the goal differential tiebreaker). So cheer a draw in Stumptown (great part of soccer, you can cheer for draws).

Bold Prediction (aka desperate wish): 2-2 Draw.

4:30PM:Seattle Sounders at New York Redbulls. Read all about it.

&:30PM: FC Dallas travels to Carson to take on the Los Angeles Galaxy. I think it’s easy for any Sounders fan to see we want L.A. to keep dropping points. Sure, I want the Hoops to take it to them, but I can settle for a home draw for the Gals. And added bonus would be that a key Dallas player (Perez, Castillo?) sees red and sits out Wednesday’s game with us.

Bold Prediction: (let’s be real, I am not predicting anything): 1-1 Draw. Perez gets sent off for a flop in the box. Keane misses the PK. Bruce Arena gets pissed and mouths off and loses another 20 grand. L.A.’s management gets pissed at Arena and fires him. L.A. doesn’t win another game for the season! In the offseason, L.A. hires the recently unemployed Caleb Porter to further drive the franchise into the mud. HAHA! I am a mad Nostradamus genius!

The Final Countdown: Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers Round 4

The Seattle Sounders face their old and hated foes the Portland Timbers on Sunday.

It’s Portland. The last Portland match of the year. I’ll be honest, I could give a rip about the Cascadia Cup right now. Vancouver’s pretty much got that wrapped up and do you actually hold much ire in your heart for our neighbors to the north? Nope, me neither. But Portland? I hate Portland. We drew one, we won one, let’s end this thing and end them.

The Timbers have had a nice little run, getting four results out of their last five games to claw out of the cellar and into the playoff picture. Currently Portland sits just out of contention with 31 points behind Vancouver (33 pts) and L.A. (37). So a win by the boys in the wrong color green puts Portland back in the dance. For now. The ‘Caps and Gals both have games in hand on PDX, but don’t tell that to any Timbers fans. Folks in Stumptown are taking Sunday’s game very, very seriously. I guess you have to when you’re barely clinging to the playoffs and your coach has been revealed to be less than a visionary.

Time and space are conspiring against the Cascadia Rivalry. Seattle and Portland will both be less than 100% as both played midweek games. The Sounders played more recently, Wednesday’s draw against San Jose, but didn’t travel. The Timbers, however, flew all the way to the Caribbean to beat Alpha United, a Guyanese team, in their first ever CONCACAF Champions league match 4-1 on Tuesday. Portland travelled many of their bets players, so there will be tired legs on both teams. Regardless of whether the twenty-two men who take the pitch in Portland are all marquee names or not, the game should live up to the billing.

****

 

On Twitter following Wednesday’s draw, I got into a small conversation regarding the Sounders’ form and forwarded the idea that this team still needs to jell. Let me explain.

The Sounders are more than just their best players. Yes we are two-thirds through the season, so the idea that we are still jelling may seem silly. But you rarely, if ever, get to start your ideal eleven for a sustained playoff run (Shalrie Joseph anyone?). You field who’s available at kickoff and hope it works. Though sometimes it doesn’t, like on Wednesday when too often players were occupying the same space on the field. When Kenny Cooper is playing as a midfielder and Andy Rose is making his third start of the season, you can expect some miscommunication. Sigi even addressed this at the half when he flipped Marco Pappa to the right so his pinching in could be overlapped by DeAndre Yedlin and still provide width in the attack. There is still time to be in experiment mode.

I am grateful the Sounders are working the kinks out with two months to play and sitting in first place. If we were still figuring out lineup combinations with a week to play and on the other side of the playoffs (hello Portland), I’d be pissing myself. But that isn’t the case. What if Rose needs to go in the playoffs because Pineda got hot-headed and saw red? What if Cooper needs to start in the middle or Barrett up top? Do I want to see Oba and Dempsey up top for the full ninety being fed by Pineda and Pappa and Evans from the midfield? Hell yeah! But that may not be a guarantee come autumn. This team has depth but it needs to fine-tune all its different roster permutations.

Seattle has never played a “system” like Porter in Portland or RSL. Sigi lets his players dictate form. So when the personnel changes, so does the attack. With all the games, injuries and suspensions lately, we are just seeing the many faces of the Sounders.

****

If you asked the average Sounders fan how the season was going right now, they’d respond with doom and gloom. But somehow we’re still in first place. Somehow we still have the best points-per-game. Somehow we’re still one game from making US Open Cup history. And we’re 48 hours from owning the Seattle-Portland rivalry in 2014. Last year sucked, Portland was our daddy. Let’s make that an aberration, a blip in history. Keep it simple Seattle, beat Portland.

Sounders vs. Timbers: Cascadia is American Soccer

IMG_0651The American soccer world turned its eyes from Maracana to Cascadia Sunday. The MLS fixture setters hit a masterstroke scheduling their flagship rivalry on the coattails of the World Cup final. The league and sport are growing exponentially and MLS has finally found an identity. Since its inception in 1996, MLS has struggled to find its bedrock support. The league originally courted the Latin population and soccer moms but recently has been seeing the bearded thirty-something on the side.

MLS makes strange bedfellows. Ever since the emergence of urban stadia and the embrace of supporter culture, the original desired demographic, suburban soccer moms and their broods, has grown more and more marginalized. Maybe this is hard to fathom in Sandy, Utah or Bridgeview, Illinois, but Cascadia is at the vanguard of this transition. All three cities, Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland, have downtown temples of soccer where hordes of tattoo’ed, pint-swilling fans throng to their club. It makes for an almost comical juxtaposition: rowdies stumbling from pubs to join pig-tailed suburban cherubs at the game. Sunday amongst the dives and greasy spoons of Sodo, with all the cameras of ESPN fixated on the returned American heroes Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin, the league finished waffling and finally embraced the hooligan.

Soccer lives in the Northwest. Supporter culture, for lack of a better term, grows strong amongst craft beers, coffee and artisanal cheeses. The organic growth of the Seattle-Portland rivalry is just another example of the region’s fecundity. Seattle-Portland has become the taproot of the league. The supporters truly hate each other’s clubs. It is more than the Cascadia Cup, more than Western Conference supremacy; it is about hurting the other team.

I don’t ever want to just beat the Timbers.

The rivalry was recently at a shaky equilibrium. Portland got Seattle good last year knocking us out of the playoffs. They can savor that for a looong time. But vengeance is a dish best served cold and the Sounders are slowly and methodically avenging that loss.

Things looked grime back on April 5th. Portland was on the verge of their first win of the season, holding a 4-2 advantage over Seattle into the 85th minute. The Timbers were about to settle into their winning ways and do so with another, their third straight, win over Seattle. Then Clint Dempsey happened. Us Sounders fans enjoyed some schadenfreude as we used that dramatic draw to ignite a hellacious run, winning 10 of our next 13 games. We looked down the standings to see our rivals wallowing amongst the cellar dwellers. The Timbers didn’t win for another month and only have four victories on the season. As the Sounders continued cementing their place atop the league table, Portland continued to unravel.

Then Cascadia week happened. We knocked Portland out of the US Open Cup, almost guaranteeing they won’t win any silverware this season. Then we followed that up with Sunday night’s 2-nil drubbing. Now some Oregonians are rumbling about firing Caleb Porter. He isn’t even 12 months removed from being a visionary and a savior. I know I talked up how good it is to have a quality opponent with strong personalities in this rivalry, but hell! If Portland fires Porter specifically for his failures against Seattle… that would almost be too sweet.

I don’t ever want to just beat the Timbers. I want to grind them into the earth like a spent cigarette butt, I want them to miss the playoffs and I want Seattle to deliver the killing blow. I want Portland to finish at the bottom of the table for a generation. I want anyone who wears the wrong color green to rue the day they fell in love with Portland.

Seattle-Portland is passion. You can’t market research that or replicate it (sorry New York-D.C.), and that is why MLS has embraced us. Soccer is played with the heart and Cascadia is American soccer.

Seattle 2, Portland 0: All is Right in the World

My newest post is up at Sounders Nation. It is a match recap of last night’s dominant performance over the hated Portland Timbers. Plus I covered the game as a member of the media. Wow. I was on sensory overload with the rivalry and nerding out up in the press box and the bowels of Century Link Field.

P.S. I asked Clint Dempsey a question!!

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