CCL

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 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.

****

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.

Seattle Sounders to Face Club America in CONCACAF Champions League

The Seattle Sounders will face Liga MX titan Club America in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

The Sounders have never faced stiffer competition in the CCL. Club America is arguably THE bully of North American soccer. They are the most decorated team in the most prestigious league in our region. America has won 16 league titles and 9 international titles (most of any CONCACAF side). They’ve competed in the Club World Cup and, as current CCL champs, will compete again this December in Japan. Seattle must literally beat the best to be the best.

For the Sounders to become an internationally renown soccer club, they need to start consistently beating the bullies. In the 2012/2013 CCL, we qualified for the knockout as the 3 seed, having earned all 12 points with a +7 goal differential in group play. We were “rewarded” with a matchup against the #6 seed Tigres, the 2011 Liga MX Aperatura champion and then table-toppers. Magic and history ensued and we advanced to the CCL semis. 2011/2012 wasn’t seeded, but rather drawn and we drew Santos Laguna who destroyed us in the quarterfinals. In 2010/2011, we got pounded in the group stage, going 1-5-0 with a -5 GD, and didn’t advance. The Sounders have consistently advanced one step closer to the final every time they compete in CCL.

Is the year we make the final? Honestly, probably not. But being able to go toe-to-toe with America at Estadio Azteca will be awesome. Ties like these are the small steps necessary to international soccer relevance. And we should be better next year. A more integrated and rested team will do wonders for our form. Ivanschitz, Valdez, Oba and Deuce all bring international experience to the club and will have a better understanding of each other as Sounders. Unfortunately, Torres won’t be back yet from his recovery. And of course, the offseason will bring turnover.

The Sounders have had an unfortunate break from CCL play, and will only MLC Cup can qualify us for next year. So let’s pound RSL this Sunday and rip through the playoff bracket. Stay greedy, Seattle

 

Roll On Seattle Sounders, Roll On!

The Seattle Sounders whupped the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-nil again last night. Again, something was at stake and Seattle rose to the challenge. Seattle has once again punched their ticket to tilt with the big boys of North American soccer.

The ‘Caps are Shield potentials and Western Conference leaders and Seattle just smacked them around to the tune of 6-0 aggregate over 4 days. Dayum. Remember that march to the sea we dreamed of? Maybe it’s already stared. Furthermore, in the food chain of Cascadian soccer clubs Seattle is the Whopper and Portland is the Whopper Jr. So does that make Vancouver chicken fingers?

A seismic shift is taking place in MLS. Seattle is dethroning pretenders, pillaging silverware and ascending to their rightful place in the soccer hierarchy.

Vancouver Whitecaps at Seattle Sounders: CONCACAF Champions League

It’s deja vu all over again! Today the Seattle Sounders play the Vancouver Whitecaps in another pivotal match. Just four days after capturing the Cascadia Cup, Seattle will try to beat Vancouver for a ticket to the CCL knockout round.

The big leagues are at stake in Sodo. Any MLS team that fancies itself above the rank-and-file wants to make CCL, advance to the knockout round, beat a Liga MX team and, eventually, capture the crown. Seattle can continue their journey tonight. We win and we’re in. It’s that easy for us. We’d finish with 7 points in the group and advance,

Yes, the ‘Caps could still finish with 7 points (if they beat CD Olimpia in October). However the first tiebreaker is head-to-head points between the  tied teams. Even if both clubs got to 7, we’d have 4 points from our two matchups against their 1. Sigi Schmid put it succinctly recently after practice, “A loss or a tie doesn’t get us anywhere.” If both teams draw tonight, things get weird. We’d be out, but CD Olimpia would be very much alive. A win or draw by Vancouver in Tegucigalpa and the ‘Caps are through; Olimpia is through with a home win. Group F is far from settled, unless of course Seattle wins at home. How the coaches select their respective lineups will be very telling.

Both teams have domestic distractions that will limit their lineups. Vancouver is in the middle of thick fixture congestion and ‘Caps coach Carl Robinson said recently he’ll start the same youthful lineup he has through the previous 2 CCL games. Robinson also didn’t avoid the opportunity to get a little salty with Seattle, saying, “They’ve got a good strong squad and they’ve got depth. You look at their bench at the weekend. They’re bringing Valdez on, international player, 68 caps. We’re bringing Kianz on who’s played eight games.” Maybe the Vancouver coach is just jealous. Sigi, for his part, has been coy about who he’d start, only hinting, “It might not be all young guys, but it might be.” Let’s hope Sigi fields a B+ lineup and we continue to take them all.

BOLD PREDICTION: We have less wiggle-room than the ‘Caps who can play for a tie. I see Sigi sprinkling in some serious studs, at least in the 18 (Oba, Valdez, Ivanschitz). This is a home game and those tired legs won’t have to travel. And the ‘Caps are just happy to be in the CCL: Seattle wins 3-2, and advances.

 

CCL Matchday: Seatle Sounders at CD Olimpia

Tonight in Tegucigalpa the Seattle Sounders and CD Olimpia play a rematch of last week’s instant classic.

Frankly ekeing out a draw would be a great result. Losing (by not too wide a margin) may be better. The schedule of Group F is balanced decidedly against Seattle. After tonight the Sounders will have played all but one of their Group F games, whereas Olimpia will be only 2 games in, and Vancouver just 1. We need those two teams to stay invested in their games. The Honduran side’s domestic season is in such jeopardy (sounds familiar), that winning tonight may cause them to tank in their games against Vancouver. If Olimpia feels they still have a puncher’s chance, they’ll do their best to take it to Vancouver. Granted Seattle’s chance of advancing is much better if both opponents play to draws, but I’d be cool with Vancouver getting whupped on later in the MLS season and slowing down their trajectory into the Western Conference playoffs.

BOLD PREDICTION: Sigi Schmid accompanied a mixed squad down to Honduras. Higher roster players such as Frei, Mears, Neagle, Pineda and Rose travelled along with Damion Lowe, Victor Mansaray, Jimmy Ockford, and Darwin Jones. Sigi is really giving us a wide spectrum of the roster and, arguably, a better 18 than he fielded last week.

I was one of the folks super bummed about the B-side that took the pitch last Wednesday against Olimpia. Then RSL happened. Now I’d much rather have Mears, Frei and Neagle not be in Honduras tonight. I am especially bummed Neagle travelled. He is a dynamic contributor to the first team and definitely needs rest. Neagle is eating minutes like nobody’s business. Saturday’s game saw him play less than 60 minutes for only the 5th time this season. He’s started 20 of 26 League games and all 3 non-league games. He’s given the full ninety 12 times, and 80+ 15 times. For an attacking player, that is a tremendous amount of work. And with Barrett and Clint still convalescing, Seattle needs as many quality striker options as possible.

So “tank in Teguce and keep your starters fit for Portland” isn’t going to happen. But hopefully the JV starts and the better players peppering the 18 are only called on if the game is getting out of hand (remember goal differential is the first tiebreaker, so we don’t want to fall apart). I think Sigi is fine with losing tonight, but hopes for a draw. This is a CONCACAF game, in Central America, so it is hard to legitimately predict the match… So let’s “go out on a limb here,” and say things get wacky. Final 2-1 Olimpia.

 

Seattle Sounders vs CD Olimpia: Poetic Justice

The Seattle Sounders won a wild one last night against CD Olimpia, 2-1, in last-minute stoppage-time drama and controversy. Last night’s victory was a narrative as crafted by a master storyteller.

Poetically, it was mostly the boys of summer, the dirty eleven who limped through June and July losing 8 of 9, who took the pitch and the victory last night. A key victory in a CCL campaign that could’ve died a very premature death. For most of the night, Like June and July, the Sounders couldn’t buy a goal. Kovar hit the post (TWICE!), Pineda just skied a dangerous free kick, Neagle was a hair off sides and other juicy chances were left wanting.

And on top of that unfortunately familiar frustration was all the elements of farce. The game was so CONCACAF. Mercurial ref? Check. Wild flopping? Check? Dirty fouls? Check. Bench clearing melee? Check. And despite all of that, the Sounders showed their character and gritted out a victory. Sure “grit” and “character” are neo-Platonic bullcrap that can’t be quantified (and in 21st century tech-addicted America if it isn’t objective, it doesn’t exist), but they were clearly on display in Sodo.

Soccer is postmodern. The game leaves a lot of the big decisions up to a single referee: the amount of stoppage time, the severity of a foul, offsides, etc. With no instant replay, one official stands on the pitch and calls it how he, inevitably subjectively, sees it.

That is one thing I love about soccer. The human animal craves patterns and context and causality. But, like a Kurt Vonnegut novel, those things rarely exist in real life. Life is chaos and random and mostly meaningless. But sometimes life clicks like tumblers in a lock. And when it does, everything feels sooo right.

Standing in the cheap seats last night, I witnessed the most perfectly woven narrative I have ever seen contained in a sporting event. Sounders vs. Olimpia was storytelling at its best. The game had it all: good versus evil, rising action, redemption and catharsis all at once. The game was a Shakespearian comedy, having all the elements of tragedy, but with a happy ending.

Now it’s tempting to say “team of destiny,” but that really doesn’t mean anything. Unless you think Captain Brad Evans icing a cold-blooded penalty to take all 3 points mere days after again being demoted from a preferred position is poetry.

I sure as hell do.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

-Walt Whitman

 

CCL Gameday: Seattle Sounders vs CD Olimpia

Tonight the Seattle Sounders play their second game of the CONCACAF Champions League Group F against CD Olimpia.

Olimpia is the Yankees of Honduras. Last season, they won the Honduran LigaNacional Clasura title and the Copa Presidente (the recently reintroduced Honduran equivalent of the Open Cup). Olimpia is over 100 years old and the most decorated team in Honduras. They are a proud franchise (lion joke!).

Group F is the CCL’s “Group of Death”. Most CCL groups feature at least one lightweight, if not two. Look at the other MLS teams’ groups: L.A plays two against Trinidad and Tobago’s Central (a 3 year-old side making their first CCL); D.C. plays against Jamaica’s Montego Bay (another debutante side that only qualified by taking 3rd place in the Caribbean Club Championship.) Not Group F.

Seattle and Olimpia are CCL elite. They both regularly make the Group Stage and have both advanced to the knockout stage multiple times in the current format. The ‘Caps are the debutante to the ball, but they are on such a tear in MLS that they must be reckoned with. Seattle will not have an easy time advancing from this group. In fact, Lamar Neagle’s equalizer at BC Place may be the most important, but forgotten, goal during Seattle’s recent slide. Earning that result on the road was huge.

So what should we expect tonight? Oddly despite their pedigree, Olimpia is currently stinking up the Honduran table. The LigaNacional has just started up and Olimpia’s lost their first 3 games with a -5 goal differential. The Sounders, of course, are also a proud franchise who’s hit the skids as of late, but maybe Seattle can catch a squad still shaking off the early-season rust.

BOLD PREDICTION: It will be an interesting game, as both teams will probably field B lineups featuring backups and subs. The Sounders, of course, are fixture-swamped in August and probably look forward to resting guys. This may mean that recent regulars like Pineda and Roldan see significant time.

However Sigi may want to ice these 3 points at home. Starting a killer lineup tonight and waxing Olimpia give us leeway in the rematch down in Tegucigalpa. Seattle, as you remember, has to fly down to Honduras four days before a big Western 6-pointer, Cascadian blood derby against Portland.

Goal differential is the first tiebreaker in the Group Stage (look at L.A.’s result from last night). The Sounders are incentivized to pound CCL opponents at home. I am thinking Olimpia is rough from travel and still rusty, and Sigi, smelling blood and a plus goal-differential, fields a strongish lineup dotted with stars: 3-1 Sounders.

 

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