Jordan Morris

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.

SEATTLE SOUNDERS: MLS WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPS!

Your Seattle Sounders are Champions of the MLS Western Conference!

Last Sunday we beat Colorado 1-nil away, with a gutsy performance by Jordan Morris and the whole Sounders squad, to clinch the team’s first berth in the MLS Cup Final*.

You can heap much laud at the feet of Brian Schmetzer, but a key underrated achievement of his is his steady hand. Schmeltzer’s hiring initially brought stability to a club in flux. Sigi, facing the unexpected departure of Oba, and other roster complications, was forced to tinker with formations and lineups through much of his 20-game tenure in 2016. Schmetzer, aided by the additions of Lodeiro and Torres, had a deeper team to work with, and, once he found his preferred 4-2-3-1, stuck to it. Until, that is, he couldn’t.

Dempsey’s condition, plus the poor health of Evans, Ivanschitz and Friberg (and at times Flacco), have rocked the boat. Schmetzer is a dependable mariner as he’s always fielded the best 11 despite a limited selection. Last Sunday was no different. I’m loathe to h/t to the odious San Jose Ultras, but Goonies do indeed never say die. Right before kickoff we learned that Evans and Friberg were late scratches, and that J-Mo Smooth had been vomiting for 48 hours. Once again, Schmetzer was forced to roll the dice with his selection.

Getting J-Mo to play through his illness was a tough ask. Not ‘cause the hometown hero doesn’t want to rep his city, but because he looked greener than his kit in Colorado. You could see the man heaving and sweating it out. But his perseverance epitomized an axiom of the 2016 Sounders: play hurt. This squad has been hurt by major departures from Oba, Sigi, and Clint and minor aches and knocks by almost the entire roster. This team has been at less than its best all year, and they continue to play, continue to win.

The 11 that took the field Sunday was probably the weakest, in terms of pure talent, than any other that Seattle has rolled out in a Western Conference Final (even in the 2012 we had Fredy, Eddie, Mauro and Zakuani). But they are, arguably, the best team Seattle’s ever had (sorry 2014), and we, largely, have Schmetzer to thank for that. Banged up, bruised and heaving, this is the squad that has a chance to deliver what the Emerald City has always wanted: MLS Cup.

*I totally watched and had my mind blown by the Toronto-Montreal game last night, and am eagerly working on my MLS Cup Preview now. But I had started this post and was interrupted by… well, life. Sometimes, as Johnny Rzeznik of the incomparable Goo Goo dolls sings, …the world gets in your way. Hence the lack of currency with this post, as, before diving into the Cup preview, I wanted to smooth out and post this bad boy.

Seattle Sounders Brave New World

In direct inverse to the 2016 Seattle Sounders, Raving Green, the little blog that could, winds down not with a bang but a whimper.

This blog has been shuffling off to obsolescence these past months. Outside of the Copa America tournament, I’ve written little since April. Aforementioned reasons for putting the blog on the back burner: a basement remodel and new job, both of which were necessitated by my wife and I welcoming our own little Sounders fan into the family, August Bryan Knudson Schaeffer (and believe me, she is a cutie in her Rave Green onesie).

But sadly, I only have few weeks left to write about the 2016 season. In my last Sounders-specific post, waaay back on April 19th, Seattle had just beat the Philadelphia Union 2-1. That got their record up to 2-3-1, a modest 7 points in 6 games but, more importantly, Jordan Morris scored his first MLS goal in that game.

J-Mo. He’s so hot right now.

Though Seattle was enjoying a mini run of 3 straight results with that win against Philly, things would fall apart. Seattle would lose 9 of its next 14 games, culminating in Sigi’s Waterloo at SKC. But what a world the Sounders were in back then. Look at their lineup:

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-12-31-08-amWe were still playing a 4-3-3. Oalex Anderson started. Sheesh.

Though some things stayed the same. Here’s the lineup that beat L.A. in L.A.

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-12-31-42-amIn my April post, I noticed that J-Mo up top opened our offense, especially with Ivanschitz playing wide. That combo is now interim coach Brian Schmetzer’s default (of course with a certain Uruguayan pulling the strings in the center of the pitch).

Back in that post I wondered how the 2016 Sounders would fare and wrote: The key to surviving the marathon MLS season is: health, depth, and focus. Depth and focus, I’ll write about later.

Seattle’s health hasn’t been great. We don’t have too many names on the injury list (KNOCK ON WOOD!), with only Evans nursing a nagging knock (and he should play against Vancouver) and Aaron Kovar out since July (Kovar, sadly, still hasn’t seen the pitch yet. For a long time he was my favorite whipping boy. Whenever I saw him in the lineup I puked a little in my mouth. But in this, the season of our discontent, when he was called upon, Kovar produced. I was really starting to enjoy his development when he broke his clavicle in the Open Cup loss to L.A. Pouring one out), one big name is injured.

Clint Dempsey was the king of Seattle soccer. While scoring a brace in downing the hated Timbers, he capped three straight wins for the reborn Sounders and all looked good in the world. Then, completely unexpectedly, the man’s health took a frightening turn and his 2016 season is over. Missing Deuce hurts. Though aging and curmudgeonly, Deuce is simply the best field player the U.S. has ever produced. The man just scores goals. You don’t replace him. Period. We dropped our first points (and suffered our first loss) of the Schmetzer era without Deuce in the lineup.

If you had told me back on April 19th that we’d be above the redline for the very first time this season, but wouldn’t have Dempsey to close the year, I’d be anxious. Recent run of form aside, I still am anxious. Sure we won our last 3 games. But outside of the miracle in Carson, we only have two gritty 1-0 wins over underwhelming Vancouver and Chicago. Even with J-Mo and Lodeiro, how potent can our attack be?

Whether or not we make the playoffs, whether or not we survive the MLS marathon, we must earn results without Deuce. Hell, we may never see him in Rave Green again. Welcome to the brave new world of Seattle Sounders soccer.

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