MLS

Tissuegate: Pareja Shaping the Narrative

As everyone knows, #Tissuegate happened. As all you readers know, I love to hate Caleb Porter. So it’s especially delicious to me that he is involved in this little scandal.

We all saw what happened, Dallas coach Oscar Pareja tried to hand some sort of paper to Porter immediately following his team’s loss to Portland. Porter throws the “paper” in Pareja’s face and storms off. Porter presented his take on the incident postgame, claiming:

“I walked over to shake his hand and he had a tissue that he put over his nose and tried to hand me a tissue… So I thought it was very poor sportsmanship out of him [Pareja]. I never said one word to him the whole game and he obviously wasn’t happy with the loss. But I’ve never had a coach come up and disrespect me like that. So that’s what happened.”

Now we’ve finally heard the other side of the story, albeit a bit late, from Pareja. Per Alexi Lalas, Pareja was merely showing, with a cute little prop joke, his frustration with Porter’s constant whining. Thus the crybaby’s tissue.

So who are we supposed to believe? Unsurprisingly, I am siding with Pareja here. Trying to hand a dude a rag covered in your snot is serious magnitude level of gross. Such an act is also not a universal sign of macho disrespect. If that was the only message Pareja wanted to convey, an easy crotch grab or middle finger would’ve sufficed. As lame as it was, I do think Pareja just thought he was being cheeky. And lord knows Porter can whine (and gloat and wax delusional) with the best of them.

However, in explaining his motives for in l’affaire du tissue Pareja lied through his teeth. There is no way he was trying to communicate some greater good to his fellow coaches. He was just pissed. End of story. Trying to shape the narrative that MLS is full of crybaby coaches is very disingenuous of the Dallas head man. Pareja is a good coach, for sure, but he also inspires flopoonery (that is his teams somehow excel at both flopping and gooing out). He clearly embraces shady gamesmanship. Shaping a narrative that gets opposing coaches self-conscious of arguing calls, or of communicating with the refs in general, is a win for FC Dallas. Dallas thrives on pushing the rules to the breaking point. If Pareja gets any single coach hesitating to voice displeasure with refs, he won.

Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles Galaxy: 60-point Supertwins

Whether ballyhooed or much maligned, the home and home series between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders is set to kick off this weekend. No more distractions, no more excuses, just two teams ready to compete.

At the beginning of the season, the MLS schedule, especially Los Angeles’s, appeared to be made by a drunken bumpkin. In their first five league games, the Gals played Salt Lake and Vancouver twice (the odd game being against Chivas). And the back-to back with Seattle loomed at the end of the season as another odd scheduling anomaly. Well here we are and, well… it’s about to get real.

Seattle and Los Angeles will play for the first piece of MLS silverware, Supporter’s Shield, the top seed in the West, home field advantage throughout the playoffs, a CCL berth and historical vindication. But these teams have been competing all season. Since L.A. turned it on in late May, they’ve only lost three times (the most recent being last week in Frisco) and have been locked in a meta-fight with Seattle for league’s best. Every win brought L.A. closer to the table-topping Sounders. Fans of each team started scoreboard watching over a month ago, waiting and hoping for the other team to stumble. Neither disappointed.

Seattle and Los Angeles are both super teams. Both are on the verge of being historically great MLS teams, Seattle due to their potential win total and L.A. due to their goal differential. But as a pair, these two will also continue a historic trend.

This season is only the fourth time in the non-Shootout era that two teams will finish with greater than 60 points (coincidentally, and you already knew this, Seattle and Los Angeles were the pair that did so in 2011). And this season is the first time that the two 60-point super teams will settle the Shield directly on the pitch.

The shootout era ended in 1999. Beside 2011, 2012 and 2005 are the only other supertwin seasons. With three of these seasons coming in the last four years, we’re witnessing a changing era in MLS play. The consistent uptick in the number of dominant teams will continue as disparity increases. MLS is slowly starting to mirror soccer leagues around the world with more minnows and a few sharks. Expansion is one reason for this change. The talent pool gets thinner as the number of teams increases, thus a team’s scouting and coaching start to show much more. But the advent of the Designated Player rule is the chief cause of disparity in MLS and thus multiple 60-point teams.

Dominant seasons are directly correlated to the expanding DP rules. Though 2007 was the first year of the DP, 2010’s ruling allowed each team two DPs with a third available via a luxury tax (this limitation was cut in 2012). Now any team with the money can field international-caliber players as a third of their lineup. Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane have driven the Galaxy to their many victories, as have Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey for the Sounders. MLS is becoming a DP arms race. After Keane made short work of Seattle in the Western Conference finals, it was no secret Seattle wanted “their own Keane” and pursued Oba. These players all have a legitimate claim to “best player in MLS,” and Oba and Keane are battling it out for league MVP. None of these stars (except Landycakes, of course) would’ve given MLS a sniff if the money wasn’t right.

MLS still has a strict and stable salary cap. Complementing stars with quality non-DP players is still important, as Gyasi Zardes and Lamar Neagle are key cogs for both teams’ attacks. Both are potent scorers whose stats are padded because of the attention opponents need to pay to the stars. However, the CBA expires at the end of this season and rumor has it that the salary cap will increase greatly and a potential fourth DP will be allowed. If this occurs, we can expect more supertwin seasons, and maybe even a big four-esque status quo.

Whether MLS will be ballsy enough to schedule future supertwins in a home-and-home series to end the season remains to be seen. This season, we are lucky. Seattle and Los Angeles get to settle a season long debate. And the Sounders get a shot at revenge.

Jurgen Klinsmann Vs. Don Garber For America’s Soccer Future

Jurgen Klinsmann and Don Garber are fighting for the future of soccer in our country. On Monday, USMNT coach Klinsmann, one of the stewards of American soccer, again expressed his displeasure with Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey’s return to MLS:

“I made it clear with Clint’s move back and [Bradley’s] move back that it’s going to be very difficult for them to keep the same level that they experienced at the places where they were, Klinsmann said. “Reality is that both players making that step means that you are not in the same competitive environment that you were before.”

Yesterday, MLS commissioner Don Garber fired back, saying:

“I feel very strongly…that Jurgen’s comments are very, very detrimental to the league,” Garber said. “They’re detrimental to the sport of soccer in America … and not only are they detrimental, I think that they’re wrong.

“Sending a negative message to any player that signing with Major League Soccer is not going to be good for their career, or their form, is incredibly detrimental, incredibly damaging, to the league. … I am demanding that [Klinsmann] refrain from making comments critical of our players and damaging to our league.’’

My opinion of Klinsmann is public and not glowing. Frankly, I think he is an overrated dick. His comments about Bradley, Dempsey and MLS were boorish and inflammatory. While Garber’s response was rushed, overly defensive and, unfortunately, only served to legitimize Klinsmann narrative, in that, now we are all talking about it.

I am glad Garber said something. I’d rather he defend his league then shrug and go, “Yup, we have an inferior product. Our soccer ain’t no good and never will be.” Garber has made no secret about this desire to see MLS become an elite soccer league. And he is actively working toward this through expansion and television contracts. All it takes is enough money to start the ball rolling, and no one pimps marketing and chases profit like America. With our country’s population and wealth, MLS could soon become a destination league. If not the best, one of the best. As one of the stewards of the game, Garber needed to say something. To allow the head coach of the USMNT to bag on his league and two of it’s premier American players, would be unconscionable.

MLS is not a top shelf league. Maybe top ten, but not even close to the big boys. Everyone knows this, so hearing it from the premier soccer boss in the country is no big surprise. Many Americans, let alone Europeans and South Americans, still scoff at MLS and those that follow it. But MLS just had a great year with Deuce and Bradley’s return, expansion, and Klinsmann selecting almost half of his Brazil roster from the league (in fact, with the arrival of Damarcus Beasley and Jermaine Jones, 7 of the 11 starters from the USMNT’s final game against Belgium are rostered in MLS). MLS’s star is rising. During the World Cup, a broadcast watched by billions, the word “MLS” was said multiple times (as were team names Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles Galaxy, etc.). This is huge exposure for a league fighting for legitimacy.

Klinsmann has massive gravity. He just championed a great run at the World Cup, and soccer in this country has never been more popular. A whole generation of young soccer players wants to make his rosters: U20, U23 and the senior team. So when he speaks, people listen, especially aspiring American soccer players, listen. When Jurgen craps on the domestic league, he is doing a great disservice to American soccer. Sure, Klinsmann’s only job is to win games for the USMNT, but the metajob here is growing soccer in the States. His comments actively undermine that by comprising MLS’s pipeline of domestic talent. After all the positive publicity MLS received this summer, a Jordan Morris might’ve been inclined to say, “You know I can go to MLS and chase my dream. I can do this.” After Jurgen’s comments, the Morrises of the world may think, “Sheesh, I better go to Europe.” This is not good for our country’s growing soccer culture. If we want to win a World Cup, we need a strong MLS.

Humor me a moment. I am from Alaska, and my home state suffers a brain drain. I left. Most of my friends left. There just aren’t enough opportunities back home: education, career, etc., so people leave. This does not help Alaska progress. An exodus of ambitious young people does not help Alaska foster the vibrant society and economy that could retain these people. I’d give almost anything to make a life back home, it’s the most goddamned beautiful place on earth. But I just can’t make a go of it, and neither can many of my fellow statesmen. So Portland and Seattle and the Lower 48 benefit at Alaska’s expense. We do not want an American soccer drain. We can’t be content to always lose our most talented to cities overseas. Klinsmann’s comments were so 2004. We need to change this paradigm. MLS is pretty good now, but we need people who’ll work to make it better. Then, and only then, with a strong MLS and a crowded pipeline of young American talent, will we one day be kings of the world.

MLS Expansion: Love AND Money

I am grateful for the dedicated readers here at Raving Green. I owe this post to Friar Tuck’s thoughtful comment on the “Chivas and the Redefinition of the West” post.

MLS expansion has always been choppy. As a business seeking growth, MLS has tried to appeal to soccer moms, suburbanites, immigrants, ethnic groups and hipsters. Throwing money at soccer is still not a slamdunk investment in the States. So expansion teams have failed (Miami), thrived (Seattle, RSL) and suffered arrested development (see Toronto and Philadelphia) since the beginning of the league. With almost 20 years experience, MLS needs to focus on two things only when considering a city for an expansion team: love and money.

Love is a key ingredient to solid MLS expansion. Successful lower division clubs make for the most successful new MLS teams. They have culture, history and the undying adoration of their supporters. Your Seattle Sounders, in fact, the whole Cascadia phenomenon is a prime example of this. Three teams with history and heart made seamless (well almost seamless, Portland did suck for two years) jumps to the big leagues when given the chance. Cascadia had a thriving soccer community in the shallower end of the business pool (smaller markets, two having failed pro teams, shared stadiums, lots of plastic grass), but all they needed was an injection of capital and, viola!, they were major league (seewhatididthere). Montreal is another example of a recent strong expansion. The Impact had a long life as a member of the modern NASL since 1992. The city’s professional soccer roots go farther back, 1971, to the original NASL and the Montreal Olympique. The loves gotta be there from the get go.

This is America, where money talks. Previous MLS teams that folded, Miami and Tampa Bay, did so because they couldn’t figure a sustainable business model. Chivas USA had infamously stingy owners and nothing was spent on marketing or exposure. That said, just having money doesn’t guarantee anything. Becks can throw experience, connections and a fortune at his dream of pro soccer in Miami, but if no one in South Florida cares, it’ll just be an MLS money pit, like Chivas. A group of investors can have a fine business model in place, but that’ll only take them so far. MLS now has the blueprint that the two ingredients for strong expansion cities are: successful existing soccer culture and a sound business setting.

Both team entering the league next year, Orlando City and NYCFC, embody the two opposites of this spectrum. Orlando City is exciting because they follows the love model of expansion. That team has history and people care about that team (and the suits run a tight ship, see, Kaka). NYFC, however, may be the exception that proves the rule. New York is such a big city and the owners are bringing in a huge amount of industry know-how and cash, that they may be the one situation where all you need is money.

We are lucky here in Seattle. We have a major market, sound owners and are just punch drunk in love with a sport and a team.

MLS and Its Spotty Glory

The Pacific shroud had settled inland and upon Greater Los Angeles. Unseasonably cool in Carson, the few fans zipped their hoodies or downed their beer jackets watching the Seattle Sounders finish yeoman’s work in dispatching an apathetic opponent away on a Wednesday night in front of maybe 400. American soccer totem and Seattle forward Clint Dempsey was the last Sounder spared, coming off the pitch in the 87th minute of a nearly meaningless game. Dempsey has played for big clubs in Europe and around the globe in the World Cup, but tonight he was just sweat-soaked and tired. He raised his hands to applaud his few supporters and clocked out of work.

Last Wednesday’s game in Carson shows what it’s like to be a pro in MLS. The glory is, at best, spotty in American soccer. Dempsey moved from the soccer cradle of the EPL to empty stadiums in the suburbs. The Stubhub Center was abandoned, like other stadiums in retread MLS cities. It’s easy to think how glamorous being a pro athlete would be: money, travel, playing a child’s game for a living, but when you fly week after week to dead arenas and (pardon the sports cliché) “have to get up” for a game against a despondent team in a deserted park midweek… sheesh. They ain’t all Timbers-Sounders kids. Yet. I still believe that soccer has nowhere to go but up in this country. I know this is an easy position to take, but people thought the same thing in 1976 and where did the NASL go? American soccer will survive if MSL focuses on slow, steady growth.

MSL hasn’t guaranteed its long-term future yet. Recent moves, expansion and loosening salary constrictions, are proving strong signs of life, but the league can’t maintain draining clubs such as Chivas. It is like an infection. the more Dempseys and Bradleys we bring in, great press and stories, but we must focus on stable, measurable stats. Attendance numbers have dwindled for the L.A. Galaxy since Beckham left (he was that important) and TFC failed at throwing money around and dissolved into a useless puddle again. These are some big markets with flagship franchises and they are not yet thriving. So slow the roll on your bullish take, MLS needs to focus on cleaning house before inviting more people to the party. The opposite of what it is currently doing in the Southeast, handing out franchises like it’s Halloween.

It’s scary to think how successful an expansion Chivas USA was. Like the Sounders after them, Chivas came out like gangbusters only missing the playoffs in their first year. They qualified for the playoffs four seasons straight, 2006-2009, winning the West in 2007. This franchise used to have All-Stars and Coach of the Years. They used to compete in the CONCACAF Champions League and send players to big-time European clubs (Brad Guzan) and the USMNT (Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan). This was a proud, growing club once upon a time. So don’t ask for whom the bell tolls Orlando and Atlanta, entropy and apathy can happen anywhere. MLS must set their house in order and do the right thing by Chivas USA: find solid, committed owners who’ll keep the team in the West and produce a winning culture. If not, shades of the NASL may arise.

Seattle Sounders Linktacular: Calm After the Storm

I hope you all had a lovely Memorial Day Weekend.  While we barbecued and dozed, we were treated to a flurry of Seattle/soccer news: The Sounders drew the Vancouver Whitecaps in a Cascadia Cup derby, the NWSL’s Seattle Reign came back against Abby Wambach and the Western New York Flash to remain unbeaten, Captain Brad Evans and Landon “Don’t call me Landycakes” Donovan were snubbed by the cunning German coach Jurgen Klinsmann, Donovan had sweet vindication in setting the MLS goal record with 136 in a thrashing of the Philadelphia Union, and oh yeah, Real Madrid won the UEFA Champions League final.

Now it is the calm before the storm. The Sounders return to practice as they prepare for a monumental clash this weekend’s with unbeaten, and #2 in the West, Real Salt Lake. It’s still early, but after getting thrashed by New England, many fans will be hungry to see the Sounders prove their mettle against a top opponent. Today Jurgen and the Nats play Azerbaijan at some rickety stadium in San Mateo County as they tune up for the World Cup, which is barely two weeks away. Enjoy this breather, everything is about to start happening.

USMNT Roster: Seattle Implications and MLS Schedule Complications

Yesterday United States Men’s National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann released the official 30-man roster for his World Cup training camp and it includes three Seattle Sounders. The camp starts in Palo Alto, California tomorrow and already drama surrounds the selection. Sounders fans are both proud and anxious to see Clint Dempsey, Brad Evans, and DeAndre Yedlin rostered. Dempsey was always a lock, but Evans and Yedlin were on the bubble. Evans almost secured his spot during qualifying, but an injury suffered earlier in the MLS campaign put his position in doubt. Yedlin, though still young and improving, continues his meteoric rise in US soccer with this selection. The last note of interest to Seattle is that former Sounder Eddie Johnson was not selected. Johnson’s roller coaster career continues: selected for the World Cup and high flying back in 2006, he crashed and burned in European league play and missed the World Cup in 2010, then he enjoyed a career resurrection with Seattle in 2012 and 2013, but again will watch the Cup from his couch, just like the rest of us. Oh Eddie, pride goeth before a fall.

The selection of our Sounders means, though they will proudly represent our city at the international level, Seattle will not have them for at least three league games:

5/17: Home vs. Earthquakes

5/24: Whitecaps Away

5/31: Home vs. RSL

The official 23-man roster must be finalized on June 2nd. The players (definitely Dempsey, probably Evans) who make this final cut will also miss:

6/7: Chicago Away

6/28: DC United Away (this game takes place two days after the US’s final Group Stage game against Germany)

If the Stars and Stripes can somehow advance from the Group of Death, Dempsey and Evans could also miss:

7/5: Whitecaps Away

7/13: Home vs. Portland

I love the World Cup, I just love the Sounders more. This schedule sucks. The Sounders will be missing practically 30% of their starter during this stretch. And it seems likes poor scheduling by the league office, as three Cascadia Cup games happen during this window, and we know the league loves to pimp Cascadia. Additionally, the Sounders marketing team will open the full stadium for both the San Jose and Portland games. For a company that sells, first and foremost, entertainment, this is poor marketing. These games will be like an NFL preseason game where fans have to watch Tavaris Jackson hand off to Robert Turbin. Frankly, I am really tempted to cheer against the USMNT merely because of scheduling.

The MLS schedule is complicated, as it seems to punish ambitious MLS teams that roster world-class players. Unfortunately, the MLS schedule will always conflict with the World Cup as long as we play a summer schedule. But the recent talk of MLS converting to a schedule that mimics the rest of the world’s had me scared. I hate the idea of soccer played in the winter in northern cities like Montreal and Philadelphia (and they’d be none too pleasant at C-Link either), and MLS Commissioner Don Garber seems to agree. Just this past weekend there was snow warning in Colorado. In May. But the summer schedule contributes to the perception that MLS is a junior varsity league because we don’t do it like the big boys. Maybe we lack the tradition of the fall schedule here in the States, but soccer is a great summer sport. I love to go out under blue skies and support the boys in green (the current schedule is also conducive to very little fixture overlap with NFL games), but perennially losing top talent during the World Cup is less than ideal. The schedule inadvertently punishes teams, like the Sounders, that invest in international-caliber players.

But the Sounders should fine. We’ve built enough of a points bubble to weather the odd game off (see New England away). My faith in the front office is higher than at any previous time. I believe the roster Adrian, Chris and co. put together, Kenny Cooper, Marco Pappa, Obafemi Martins, is still above-average compared to most MLS teams. I am hoping for a modest ten points in the next six matches going into the Portland game. I have faith the boys left behind will see the Sounders through this tight stretch of matches.

Columbus Crew at Seattle Sounders Preview

Team Rave Green is back at home to host the Columbus Crew. I don’t know much about the Crew. We stole Sigi and Evans back in 2009, and we beat them in their house down a man last year. Columbus look hot this season. They dismantled the new-look D.C. United (though Ben Olson might be to blame for that), and they played great against an improved Philly side. The Crew are tied for the Shield lead, and have the second-best goal differential on the young season.

This might be a trap game (or Trapp game, get it?). If I played on the Crew, I’d want revenge for last year’s embarrassment. I’d love to come out and show the league I’m for real by beating the mighty Sounders in their house. And maybe Seattle is coasting after a comfortable win, or looking ahead to Portland. Maybe we’re distracted by the upcoming USMNT call-ups, and we still lack Dempsey and the Captain.  I’d love to win, but I’m not comfortable predicting a win.

I’m also uncomfortable predicting a line-up. Will Sigi continue to spin the carousel of shape? I’d love to see more of the 4-3-3. Our charts and graphs back up having our goal-creation come from the wide forwards, not the midfield, but I’m terrified we’ll see Pappa tomorrow. Will Leo reclaim his left back position, and is he 100% recovered enough to replace the pace of Remick? Leo is a HUGE improvement as a defender, possibly one of the most underrated Sounders, but Remick is a real asset charging forward to join the attack. I’d like to think Leo’s late shot on goal against Montreal shows he’s game to get offensive.

Will players be rested due to the USMNT call-ups and the upcoming Cascadia clash down at Jeld-Wen Providence Park (which cracks me up. Portland’s jersey sponsor is a Seattle-based company and now their field’s is as well)? Evans’s injury and Dempsey’s suspension don’t complicate the matter, but DeAndre Yedlin’s call-up is problematic. Does Sigi want to rest Yedlin? Will Anibaba play right on Saturday to spell Yedlin? Can Anibaba join the attack from the right back position? He is one of the last All-New All-Different Sounders still waiting for a debut.

Andy Rose played great in his maiden voyage of 2014. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but Rose was impressive on Sunday. He is one of those players for whom it clicked. Caskey and he used to be interchangeable in my mind: two young try-hard pluggers in the midfield. I had hoped Caskey would eventually turn the corner, Rose has. He is a solid MLS starter. He may not have boatloads of quality, but he produces. Both he and Pineda were solid playing box-to-box. An Ozzie/Gonzo/Rose midfield would be formidable for any opponent. Let’s just hope they’re too much for the Crew tomorrow.

The Seattle Sounders Dynamic Formations and the Plus/Minus

Happy Thursday Raving Readers and welcome to the newest feature of the site: the Plus/Minus page. See the button above this post next to “Contact”? On this page you’ll find the constantly update spreadsheet of the plus/minus statistical study I’ll be conducting this season.

I stumbled upon the idea of using this stat after the Toronto game and seeing how much of an impact Marco Pappa made on the game. This study is in the spirit of science. I am not claiming to have a revolutionary stat to unlock the true meaning of soccer. I just want to keep a record of this data. Hopefully, if we keep track of this, maybe, like science, we can extrapolate something by year’s end.

Here is how I am working it. Currently, I don’t keep track of minutes played. I just credit a player with what happened while they were on the pitch. If a player was completely unused in a game, I give them a simple n/a. For example, Evans gets a -2 from the TFC game because Defoe scored both of his goals while Evans was in the lineup. Pineda gets a +1 from the same game because when he subbed in for Brad, we scored our goal.

This is a problem. Statistically, it looks like Pineda outplayed Evans. A bad scientist could extrapolate that if Pineda had started in Evans’s stead, the Sounders would have beat TFC. I am not saying that. I am not even saying the numbers are saying that. Hopefully this the static will decrease as the sample size grows.

The limitations of this amateurish study are many. As I said before, this is originally a hockey stat. The frequent shift switching in hockey, and smaller lineup creates a more tangible correlation of players to goals for and against. In soccer, this stat may be too simple. I could do a better job factoring in minutes played per player.

Acknowledging the problems of the study aside, let’s dig into the data.

Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 TOTAL
Stefan Frei 1 -1 2 2
DeAndre Yedlin 1 -1 2 2
Chad Marshall 1 -1 2 2
Djimi Traore 1 -1 2 2
Dylan Remick 1 -1 2 2
Leo Gonzalez n/a n/a 0 0
Lamar Neagle 0 -1 2 1
Osvaldo Alonso 1 -1 2 2
Brad Evans 1 -2 n/a -1
Marco Pappa 0 -2 n/a -2
Sean Okoli 1 n/a n/a 1
Clint Dempsey 1 -1 n/a 0
Gonzo Pineda n/a 1 2 3
Michael Azira n/a n/a 0 0
Andy Rose n/a n/a 2 2
Cam Weaver n/a n/a 0 0
Chad Barrett 1 0 n/a 1
Kenny Cooper 0 1 2 3
Obafemi Martins 1 -1 2 2
TEAM GD 1 -1 2 2

The team goal differential is +2, so anyone deviating from that is worth noting. The first names that pop out are Kenny Cooper, Gonzalo Pineda and Marco Pappa. Cooper is killing it with a goal above the differential, and he has played in all three games. Is Cooper our MVP after 3 games? Potentially. Pineda is also at +3, having played just over a game and a half. Is he doing more than Cooper considering his limited time? Maybe. There is some survivor correlation static. If you play every minute of every game, Ozzie for example, you are at the team differential.

Marco Pappa’s play is the most jarring. His -2 is four significant figures off the team’s differential. Maybe Sigi took this into account when deciding to play the 4-3-3 last week, that is, get Cooper on the pitch and Pappa off. I am curious to see how much Pappa plays going forward. Is his defensive indifference too much of a liability? Does he contribute too much “goals against” versus his potential to create “goals for.”

Formations have been dynamic this season, as Sigi’s trotted out a new shape for each opponent. Say what you will about his coaching liabilities, but one of Sigi’s strengths is flexibility. The man is not hidebound. Cooper’s signing confused me when the 4-2-3-1 appeared to be our formation. But Cooper rocked on Sunday. Potentially Cooper and Pineda’s play, and Pappa’s, predicted the shift to the 4-3-3. Sigi must be having fun with our deep and disparate roster: Two midfielders unavailable (Evans and Dempsey) and one playing poorly? Ha! Let’s stack the middle with three CDMs and play multiple forwards. It must be refreshing for Sigi to be able to roll out a new formation and lineup every week.

One question comes to mind: if we use the 4-3-3 going forward, where does Deuce play?

Montreal Impact Preview and the Curious Case of Clint Dempsey

*Update: Dempsey has formally been suspended for two games for “violent conduct.” No other player from last Saturday’s TFC-Sounders game received retroactive discipline.*

Saturday the Sounders continue their Tour of the Eastern Conference (the lesser conference) against Montreal. Montreal is not a good team. Granted we’ve never beaten them (0-2-0), but that’s a short history. Montreal’s backline is decimated by injuries and 2013 leading scorer Marco Di Vaio is still serving a suspension for being downright nasty in the Impact-Dynamo playoff tie.

We have problems of our own though. With no Dempsey (he didn’t travel, but no formal suspension has yet been announced), and maybe no Evans and Marshall, our eleven might look… creative. Sigi said Pineda can’t go more than 60, so maybe we’ll see Andy Rose. Whoever makes the eighteen, I want it to be enough to earn more than a point. I want to win in snowy Arcadia.

My focus for this match is Obafemi Martins. Without Dempsey, I want Oba really involved. I love Obafemi Martins. I was stoked when we signed him. Robbie Keane flipped the script in 2011 when he joined Los Angeles. Every team wanted to go get a Keane. Joe and Adrian got Oba. The man is too good. Oba is the type of player who makes the difference between Open Cups and MLS Cups.

How long will Oba be a Sounder?  I don’t know what drives the man. He has a fascinating sense of interior design and a passion for guns, but he has jumped from team to team. He was certainly eying Turkey this offseason and that bothers me. I don’t want him to unplug or transfer. He works hard and seems to have fun playing in Seattle. I just want to see that translate to goals and stats because I want to keep him here and happy.

We need Oba more involved. In the final third, he’s resorted to waiting for service. But crosses from the flank aren’t going to find his noggin atop that 5’7’’ frame. When he isn’t getting service, too often he drops into the midfield and takes himself out of the play. We need him plugged in more to the run of play. Oba and Dempsey had some fine, fancy interchanges against Toronto. I was really excited he got the assist on Deuce’s goal. It was great to watch them celebrate together. Shockingly, they have now played more minutes together in two games this season than all of last season combined. Of course, that partnership will be on hold for the foreseeable future because…

Clint Dempsey is not-yet-announced-but-probably-because-he-didn’t-travel-with-the-team  suspended. The nut hit, the kick outs, his general brattiness. The Soundersphere is very worked up about this, with some folks rampantly defending Dempsey and others condemning his antics.

The logic being, we don’t pay Dempsey millions, as the face of the franchise, to be a brat. He needs to sell the wholesome and superlative image of “The American Soccer Player.” Thing is… Dempsey don’t play that. Yes, he has a lot of sizzle in his game, but he is a scrapper, a fighter and a chip-on-his-shoulder-holder par excellence. He has a lot of gristle in his game. Some great players play happy, others lazy or driven, Dempsey plays angry. The man is plain pissed out there. He wants to backhand the world.

Considering the blockbuster salary and media reception he received, does he need to be part athlete/part ambassador? Sounders FC Inc. expects that, I’m sure. But everyone who stands in the rain boomboom-clapping just wants goals scored, with a reasonable amount of tact and class. No one wants to cheer for douchebags (which is why I am surprised there are so many Timbers fans), but I don’t want to cheer for the church choir either.

I want to see grit and hustle and heart. I want to see give a shit. Dempsey clearly gives a shit. Which is a relief. One of the many concerns when he returned to MLS was whether he’d lose his famous edge. Dempsey’s edge is still razor sharp, and people are getting tetchy about it.

I am not going to defend his actions, but I do think the context shouldn’t be ignored. Dempsey takes a lot of punishment. The man was fouled six times Saturday (called fouls, there were others). Six fouls suffered by one player is the second most in the league since Dempsey joined last season. He is the most fouled player in MLS.

Jurgen Klinsmann, coach of the USMNT, wants his captain protected, and expressed concern over Dempsey’s treatment in MLS. On one hand Klinsmann is a soccer lifer, stud player and accomplished coach, he knows how the game should be played. He also has a cynical interest in protecting his players. There is a spectrum of truths here, from Deuce being a thug to Deuce getting thugged. MLS needs to do something. 

I am not advocating MLS go all NBA and put force fields around the stars. I hated watching Michael Jordan get away with everything (and, yes, Bryon Russell that was a push off). I do want a beautiful game of soccer however. To achieve that, MLS must better protect all their players equally, from Dempsey to Mark Bloom.

Yes nut hits are bad. But fifty fouls suffered by one team in two weeks?! Dempsey’s suspension reinforces the unpleasant truth that MLS’s style of play is part soccer/part football. It is one thing for the refs (replacement refs at that), to let an overly chippy game develop on the pitch. But with days to parse the action, the league bureaucracy chose to cement MLS’s goon ethos by not retroactively disciplining Jackson or Alvary Rey? Teams like Seattle which try to play soccer (Defoe was fouled exactly once), not kick and tackle, make life much harder on themselves. MLS encourages teams to play like San Jose or SKC.

Until Don Garber realizes that the goon image of the league stunts its international growth, the Sounders will continue to get fouled. Until Dempsey starts popping Paxil, he will continue to get pissed and react. Maybe Sigi needs to scrap his tactics and rebrand the team the Brougham Way Bullies, sign some enforcers to protect Deuce and Oba and let’er rip.

 

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