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.


Seattle Sounders Signing Roman Torres is a CONCACAF Sea Change

The Seattle Sounders have officially acquired Panamanian captain and centerback, Roman Torres. With this signing, Seattle has added three new international-caliber players in a week. The Sounders like Kentucky, the Huskers and USC before them, don’t rebuild, they just reload.

There’s nothing better than getting a new fancy toy than taking it out for a spin. First off, I don’t really know what to expect from the new Sounders. I am solely an MLS man and have never played FIFA in my life (I guess I’ve been deprived?). I can’t really give you any extra insight into Nelson H. Valdez, Andreas Ivanschitz or Roman Torres. But I am excited. With Torres most of all.

Torres represents the best of the best in CONCACAF. MLS must sign these types of players to become a “league of destination.” If all the PR fluff out of the league office is to be realized one day, MLS has to be able to cherry-pick from its own backyard. This will allow MLS to become one of the premiere leagues in the Western Hemisphere.

Signing CONCACAF stars is a major first step. The league has always scouted for projects (Oneil Fisher and Mario Martinez come quickly to mind) in the Caribbean and Central America, and has even done well signing names like Gabriel Torres, Blas Perez, Alvaro Saborio and Giles Barnes. Most of these players were either young guns trying their hand in domestic leagues (Gabby Torres) or lower European clubs (Saborio and Barnes). Only Perez came over from a quality league, LigaMX, as a veteran. But the recent signings of Giovanni Dos Santos and Roman Torres really raises the stakes.

It is different scouting the hinterlands of the region versus just grabbing established stars. MLS needs to look harder at Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama and Jamaica. Excepting Mexico, these are the better teams in our region. Mexico, is the outlier. MLS can’t expect to poach any and every player from El Tri, and that’s why the Dos Santos signing is huge. The man has played for Barca and Tottenham, has been capped 90 times by Mexico and is only 26 (though he was a little desperate to sign with L.A.). But we should be able to entice any player, even the best, from the rest of the confederation. And that’s why Seattle’s getting Torres is equally huge.

Torres is the captain of a CONCACAF power. He is in his young prime (29) and was steadily climbing the world football ladder. Torres choosing Seattle is a power shift for MLS. It isn’t a “name” player sputtering in Europe settling for the States (*cough* Dos Santos *cough*), it is an ascending player choosing MLS as his career destination. Toress leaves a respectable CONMEBOL club, Colombia’s Millonarios (sound familiar?) to come to Seattle.

MLS needs to have these players: every captain of every CONCACAF power. MLS should be able to sign a Bryan Ruiz-type player. Ruiz is the attacking captain of the Costa Rican team. The Ticos rocked the 2014 World Cup and that helped Ruiz jump from Fulham to Sporting Portugal (say hi to Fredy for us), but left MLS in the dust.

Coincidentally, another dominant CONCACAF player is Honduras’s Noel Valladares. The keeper and captain is one of the most capped players in his country’s history. Sure. he’s 38 and not exactly an MLS target now, but he should’ve been playing his trade stateside for the last decade. And us Sounders fans will get to see him twice in the next 10 days when Seattle plays home-and-home with CD Olimpia. Hopefully Garth and Chris have their eyes peeled in identifying new CONCACAF talent.


Seattle Sounders Score a Goal!!

The Seattle Sounders scored a goal!! Big news! The Sounders didn’t lose!

Last night at BC Place, a double rainbow sprouted from the head of a yeti in Brigadoon. Your Seattle Sounders scored a goal in CCL play against the Vancouver Whitecaps. It was Seattle’s first goal in over 400 minutes dating back 33 days, just their second goal since June 14th!, and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

The Sounders, though dominating the ‘Caps for most of the game, found themselves behind with less than 20 minutes to play. Again. Vancouver had taken a 1-0 lead on their first shot on goal (another cheeky backheel from a CB). But the boys in famous green kept pressing and finally Neagle, on a re-started corner, knocked in a ball from Rose to equalize. A forward took a ball in a goal-dangerous position and converted. It was glorious. Then the defense held steady like it had for most of the terrible run, and the Sounders left the opponent’s pitch with a result.

And this goal really counts. If this had been an MLS game, a tie and a goal would’ve been swell. But this goal was especially sweet because this was the CONCACAF Champions League and every result matters. The Sounders only get 4 games to rack up points and punch their ticket to the knockout round. Seattle wants to win CCL and earning a point on the road is a great first step. If this club fancies themselves contenders for kings of CONCACAF, they need results like last night’s and sustained excellence in the CCL.

The Sounders played with grit and heart, but the game could’ve been prettier. Both teams fielded weaker lineups, and this may have benefited Seattle. Their JV has gotten lots of minutes together. Seattle trotted out only 3 members of their ideal eleven: Evans, Remick and Neagle (and who knows if all three are still regular starters given the team’s recent signings). Seattle even put little used Kovar and Fisher in the 11. Hell, even Andreas Correa was in the 18. Maybe, just maybe, there is a positive to take away form all the motely lineups over the last 2 months.

And maybe the curse is broken. This is silly, but I got to thinking: the last time Seattle started a game wearing their Pitch Black kits was the USOC debacle against Portland. Of course, they finished that game in a Frankenkit fashion catastrophe: gray practice tops and Rave Green shorts. In the second half, that game fell apart into a red-cardapalooza and the Oba injury. Maybe the Sounders just pissed off the sartorial soccer gods? I can only hope that starting and finishing a game in Pitch Black reversed the curse. I don’t want to push my luck, but a result in L.A. will make me a believer in some Pitch Black Magic.


Seattle Sounders Back on the International Stage

The Seattle Sounders will face both Honduran side CD Olimpia and the Vancouver Whitecaps in the CONCACAF Champions League Group F.

Yesterday’s draw took place in confusing fashion. All 24 teams were divided into three pots to ensure that A) the groups would be competitively balanced and B) Mexican teams and American teams wouldn’t face off until the group stage. At least the draw got B right: no Mexican team is grouped with an MLS side.

Though on the whole the draw was underwhelming. The groups are not well balanced, and some very good teams will not make the knockout round. As currently formulated, the 8 winners of the 8 groups move on. Saprissa and Santos are both in Group A, Metapan, Herediano and Tigres are all in Group B. And, of course, there is Group F. The Sounders are, arguably, in the CCL group of death.

We have a frightening draw. There will be no gimme games in this group (lucky RSL), no Nicaraguan or Jamaican teams to beat up on. However if Seattle can’t beat the best of Honduras and our neighbors to the north, we don’t deserve to take the pitch with a top-flight Mexican side.

The Vancouver draw is… interesting. Though it is good news that we don’t have to fly to Central America, and play in an extremely hostile setting, twice. The bad news is the ‘Caps are good, and good at beating us. Seattle and Vancouver are the only teams that play in the same league that are grouped together. Sure Canada is another country, but they are our Cascadian cousin. Couldn’t they at least play exotic, East Coast DC United? Of course not. Seattle is playing Portland early in the Open Cup and now we’re playing the ‘Caps in CCL. It seems like everyone and their mom is milking Cascadia.

The CCL is typically fun because it allows us MLS fans an insight into the clubs in our hemisphere. The typical American soccer fan, myself included, knows far more about European club soccer than CONCACAF club soccer. But this is our region and we should know the difference between Comunicaciones and W Connection.

Regardless of the outcome of the draw, I am glad the Sounders are back on the international stage. When it comes to club soccer, there is nothing bigger than Champions League. Sure, this isn’t UEFA. But you gotta be the king of your block before you can be king of the world.

Our exotic, foreign foes

Our exotic, foreign foes

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