Seattle Sounders

West is Best: The Seattle Sounders and the Major League of MLS

The Seattle Sounders will face Toronto FC in their first crack at MLS Cup (granted, every season since their ascendance to the top flight has, arguably, been a crack at the Cup, but you can dig it).

If you’ve watched the Eastern Conference at all (and god knows why you’d waste your time with that brand of soccer) you *could* come away impressed by Toronto. Reviewing the regular season table reveals that the Reds posted an impressive 51 goals for and only 39 against. That +12 GD was good for the 3rd best in the league behind only NYRB and L.A. Galaxy.

Sure, the only two teams finishing with a better GD flamed out in the playoffs (because if there’s any consistency to MLS, it’s that the regular season means squat to the Cup), but Toronto stayed on a tear in the second season. They’ve scored 17 goal and only allowed 7, for a +11 GD in just 5 games. For a quick comparison, the Sounders are only 8-3 (GF/GA) in the postseason. Toronto is that team that seems to buzzsaw through everyone.

Just like New England in 2014. Remember that team? Jermaine Jones signed after the World Cup and had the Revs roaring. They whipped through the second half of the season, finishing second in their conference, before destroying the Eastern field while scoring 11 goals in 4 matches. These juggernaut Revs were then shut down in MLS Cup, losing 2-1 to the Galaxy.

You can contextualize and analyze this in many ways, but the long story short is: The Eastern Conference stinks. Or, if you want nuance, the East is worse than the West.

The last team from the East in win MLS Cup was SKC in 2013, and they were a once-and-future Western Conference team. Other than that asterisk, you have to go back to the Sigi-led Columbus Crew of 2008 and the 2004 DC United side for the previous Eastern reps to win the Cup. In fact, starting from 2000, the ‘08 Crew, and ‘04 United teams are the only purely Eastern sides to win the Cup in the last 18 years. Only 2 in the last 18 years!*

The true major league of North American soccer plays West of the Mississippi. The Sounders lack the gaudy stats and will be the visiting team in MLS Cup. But they’ve been through the Western Conference crucible, just like 16 of the past MLS Cup Champs.

*in 2000 the KC Wizards, representing the Western Conference, won the Cup. In ‘06 and ‘07, the Dynamo (then representing the West, though they went to the East before returning West) won the Cup. And again, yes the Sporks were in the East when they won in 2013… but they were a once and future Western team. So I am sticking to the 2 teams in 18 years stat.

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.

Leg 2: Seattle Sounders at Colorado Rapids

The Seattle Sounders lead going into the second leg of the MLS Western Conference Finals against the Colorado Rapids.

Though we have the lead, last Sunday was a little bit of a let down for the Sounders. I certainly didn’t predict that we’d allow a road goal to an impotent attacking team:

Now the boys in Rave Green have to score on the road against the kings of the 1-nil result. BOLD PREDICTION: I’ll admit, I’m nervous. A road goal has made a difference in every Sounders playoff series the last 3 years, and now Colorado has that edge. Plus we’re at altitude and B-Rad and Friberg are late scratches, so.. yeah. Out depth is paper thin, with only Flacco capable of making a difference off the bench against a Rapids 18 with Pappa, Hairston and Badji. That said, the Sounders are nothing if not resilient. Forgot Zlatan, it is Nico Lodeiro who has conquered America. The Sounders have been exceeding expectations for months now, and they won’t stop now.

Seattle Sounders Looking To Make History

The Seattle Sounders are in the Western Conference Finals for the 3rd time in 5 years. We seem to enjoy some Rave Green magic in the even years, as 2012 and 2014 join 2016. Even 2010 saw some hoodoo as we fought back from an atrocious start (4-8-3, 15 pts in 15 games) to make the playoffs. If the Sounders are plotted on an upward curve, this is the year we make MLS Cup.

Honestly? First I was just stoked we made the playoffs. With 8th straight playoff appearances, the Sounders are something special. In North American professional sports, where parity always wins, establishing a streak like the Sounders have is terribly, terribly difficult.

The longest active playoffs streak in professional sports is held by the Detroit Red Wings at an insane 25 seasons. Insane. Next is the San Antonito Spurs at 19, the Pittsburgh Penguins at 10, the Atlanta Hawks at 9 (really?!), and the Chicago Blackhawks, L.A. Galaxy and Seattle Sounders at 8. Those 7 teams have 17 championships, combined, during these streaks.

The major takeaways from that list are A) the NHL seems to be less competitive than the other major leagues, B) the Spurs are incredible, C) MLB and the NFL are really parity riddled (the New England Patriots seem to be the most dominant franchise in all of sports, but their current streak is only at 7 years) and D) streaks don’t mean squat if you don’t win. Who would’ve ever guessed the Atlanta Hawks were on that list? Just showing up to the dance doesn’t carve your name in history. You gotta win.

So we’re #hellagreedy. I thought I’d be happy with an early exit as long as we kept our streak going. But then we clinch (on the last day of the season), and I think, “we’ve never not played in the semis, so we’d best beat SKC (thank you Nelson Valdez and the lazy flag of the AR).” Then you want revenge on a vulnerable FC Dallas side that sent us packing last season.

And now, this. We’re playing an underwhelming Colorado side and we are THISCLOSE to our first MLS Cup. Now here’s where the #hellagreedy becomes #hellagrateful. I would be stoked with a mere MLS Cup appearance.

2016 has been a wild and wacky season with another magical turnaround and the unprecedented firing of Sigi. But the postseason has, so far, been pretty par. Everything we’ve done in the playoffs, we’ve done before. Making the Western Conference Finals isn’t new to this club, though facing a team that isn’t the Gals is.

Up until now, 2014 was the best Sounders season ever. We won an Open Cup-Supporters’ Shield Double and still only got as far as we are right now. In fact, the acme of that year was the 32nd to 53rd minute of the second leg of the Conference Finals. With goals by Brad Evans and Dempsey, we’d taken the aggregate lead on the Galaxy 2-1, and we’re less than 40 minutes from MLS Cup. Of course Juninho scores the away goal and we floundered in the twilight of the match.

Now a new hope has been ignited. We are 180 minutes away from making this year the best Sounders year ever. All we have to do is keep playing the brand of soccer coach Schmetzer has established: possess and attack. We do that, we make history.

Seattle Sounders Mean Mugging FC Dallas!!

Damn it feels good to be a Seattle Sounder. Western Conference Finals, here we come!!

Exactly 363 days ago, the same teams played the same game in the same stadium to the same score line. Seattle and Dallas played the second leg of the Western Conference semis in Frisco with Dallas winning 2-1 back on November 8th, 2015. Of course, with a 2-1 Seattle win in the first leg, the series went to extra time and then PKs and Dallas advanced. What a difference a year (and a 3-nil home result) makes.

Even with pulling my best Nostradamus, I was nervous during this match. I was worried we’d be the first team to blow the 3-0 lead. And it got shaky at times in the first half. Whether by design or Dallas, Ozzie and Roldan were collapsing onto our backline repeatedly for the first 45. The Hoops were running amok around the center circle and pushing the pace.

At halftime, as he has so many times under the interim tag, fresh-minted “official” head coach Brian Schmetzer made key adjustments. Ozzie and Roldan pushed their line well into midfield and held that ground. Ozzie was an absolute DESTROYER in the second half, and as our old buddy Mauro’s legs slowly remembered they’re 35 years old, the game was over. Nico had room to play taffy with a Dallas side desperate and ill-shaped, and all we needed was that one moment of brilliance. #thismoment (#thisblognotoffciallyendorsedbysounderfc)

Or rather, less brilliance than grit. Tyrone Mears just outhustled Walker Zimmerman (oh him of the hated mean mug) to Friberg’s overweighted pass. Though Zimmerman should’ve easily collected that ball, Nico, Joevin and Valdez still crashed the box. That’s hustle. That’s follow through. That’s give a damn.

Your Seattle Sounders are in the Western Conference Finals for the third time in 5 years. For the first time they won’t have to face their bugbear, the L.A. Galaxy. And, Ohhhh!, Walker Zimmerman. I’m sure your surname’s forebears will appreciate this: Danke schon für die köstlichen Schadenfreude.

I love how he impotently chases after Mears, and watches the goal before settling on a hands on head resignation. #thatmoment!!

BOLD PREDICTION: Seattle Sounders at FC Dallas

The Seattle Sounders have one eye on the Conference Finals as they play FC Dallas tonight in Frisco. After getting slobberknocked in Seattle, the Hoops are a mere speed bump to the resurgent Sounders. It would almost be easy to pity Dallas, as they lost their star creator in Mauro Diaz in Week 33 and now face near certain elimination as the #1 seed in the playoffs. But Dallas sucks. Remember how brokenhearted you were last year when they equalized, mean-mugged and won on penalty kicks? That sucked. Dallas sucks.

BOLD PREDICTION: Barring an absolute collapse, Seattle’s got this. As a Sounders fan, however, you remember what it feels like to think you have a chance to come back.

L.A. plastered us in Carson, to the familiar tune of 3-nil in the first leg of The 2012 Western Conference Finals. But I still bought tickets and sang in the rain for 2 hours on a dark and stormy night in Sodo. I saw Eddie score early, Then the man, the myth, the legend, Zach Scott, got the second right after halftime. We had almost 40 minutes to get just one more goal and force extra time and … it didn’t happen. Robbie Keane and his “cunning Irish mind” (h/t to Alan Hinton) forced a handball on Johansson and got a PK, which iced it. But up until that moment, I believed.

Dallas will very much believe they can do this. And, they technically can. They are still a very, very good team. The first 20 minutes of this game will be bananas. Dallas will come at us hard and fast, looking, like the 2012 Sounders, for that first goal early. Forced to bunker early, Seattle will hope to just weather that storm. But Schmetzer won’t park the bus, it’s not in his blood, and we all know that a single away goal punches our ticket to the Conference Finals.

Dallas may have scored 3+ goals seven times this season, but they only won with a 3+ GD twice. And Seattle’s only shipped 3+ goals three times, and haven’t since Schmetz took over. Schemtzer still can’t select his best 11 as Ivanschitz and Fernandez didn’t fly to Texas and Torres is a game-time decision, but that won’t matter. Seattle endures and J-Mo Smooth plunges the dagger: 2-1 Dallas. Mean-mug that.

Seattle Sounders Play Best Game Ever

The Seattle Sounders whupped a Treble-seeking FC Dallas side 3-0 Sunday night in Sodo. In doing so, the Sounders played the best game of their existence. Seriously. It’s gotten too late in the week for a traditional game recap, so instead I am going to recap the competition for that superlative, best game in Seattle’s MLS history.

2009: The Sounders inaugural MLS game against the New York Red Bulls. Recently promoted Seattle put a 3-0 whupping on a veteran MLS side. The game wasn’t all that memorable from a tactics standpoint, but the context was incredible. All the excitement for the club finally paid off big, with a big win in front of a big crowd. That day was absolutely magical and we were all so young and innocent.

2010: The US Open Cup Final against Columbus. I know this isn’t the first game that might jump into your head, but the Crew, back-to-back Supporters’ Shield winners and 2008 MLS Cup Champions, were a powerhouse back then. And they were all red-assed about losing Sigi, and looking to make us pay. The Crew went up 1-nil in this match before Sanna Nyassi and the boys in Rave Green came through, 2-1, to clinch back-to-back Open Cups.

2011: No single game sticks out from 2011. Man, we were good that year. 63 points and a +19 goal differential, but… yeah. No Shield and an early and embarrassing playoff exit to RSL, only set up 2012.

2012: The 1-0 nailbiter against RSL in the second leg of the Western Semis. Rimando had been unreal for 170+ minutes until Mario Martinez whipped a ball past him in the 81st minute. That goal was sooo cathartic as Seattle won it’s first playoff series and a berth in the Conference Finals. Loved the celebration too, Mario.

2013: The 2012/2013 CCL quarterfinals against Tigres saw Djimi’s and Yedlin’s wonder blasts, as Seattle became the first MLS side to eliminate a Liga MX team in modern CCL play. And those kits: Hot (love me some Cascadia Shale). And Yedlin’s hair… now that’s historic.

2014: That glorious 4-4 draw at Portland early in the year. We came back from a terrible performance to “win” this draw. The context for this game was heavy. Portland, and a recently hired Caleb Porter, had embarrassed us on our own field in the 2013 playoffs. The two rivals kicked off the game trading body blows. It was 2-2 early before Diego Chara, and the Timbers, laid the wood and took a convincing 4-2 lead, which Portland held until the 86th minute. That’s when Seattle went all medieval and Deuce finished off his hatter and notice was served: Don’t ever get comfortable Portland, you are always little brother.

2015: The Knockout Round victory over the Gals finally got the L.A. monkey off our backs. After a heartbreaking loss to Bruce Arena and Co. in our destined 2014, Seattle made short work of an underwhelming L.A. side. Only a late Keane PK kept the box score respectable for posterity, but all of the Rave Green faithful who watched the game know it was never close.

2016: Putting us in position to avenge 2015’s PK shootout loss (and Walker Zimmerman’s mean mug) to FC Dallas, and finally, FINALLY, being on the other side of a 3-0 first leg, was great. Sunday was sweet and historic and taking the cake right now. But I am soooo hoping for a bigger win on December 10th in the MLS Cup Finals.

Brian Schmetzer: The Once and Future King of Seattle

The Seattle Sounders announced Brian Schmetzer as Head Coach last night at the annual Alliance Council meeting. I was busy working on my game review post, but, wow, I mean, wow! I am both shocked and totally saw it coming at the same time.

First off, a tip of the cap to Schmetzer. He so totally deserves this. Serving under the dreaded interim tag since July, Schmetz has done nothing but win. In 14 regular season games, he posted a 8-2-4 line. That’s 28 points in 14 games, exactly 2 ppg. The campaign was surely helped by the arrival of Nico Lodeiro, but the team suffered adversity as well. Despite unexpectedly losing Clint Dempsey and seeing many of the veteran Sounders succumb to late season wear and tear, Schmetz keep pushing the right buttons and grounding out results.

Numbers aside, Schmetz is a mensch. Underneath the bravado, hustle and competitive drive, athletes are people too. People compelled by that deep, human sticky stuff always churning at our core. And this team was emotionally spent when Schemtz took over. This team was broken and done following that 3-0 loss to SKC in Sigi’s final game. Schmetz came in and fixed everyone. He connected with the club, he coached the boys up and got them to believe in themselves again.

And yet… I never thought, back in July when he was promoted, that Schmetz would keep the job. First off, Seattle is a very ambitious club and hiring Schmetzer won’t sell tickets or move the Sounders’ Q rating. Face it: Schmetz is not a sexy hire. He is not Barros Schelotto. Hell, he isn’t even Jason Kreiss.

Seattle has always sought to splash. When Sigi was hired back in 2009, it was because he was a stud, a proven winner, a champion in all his previous stops (UCLA, the Galaxy, the Crew). The fact that we poached him away from Columbus added to the PR sensation of it all. But do we really need to move the needle with big names anymore? Hell, if Leslie Jones is live tweeting our games and preaching the gospel of soccer sexiness, do the Sounders really need to “make a splash” PR-wise anymore? No. They need to win MLS Cup(s).

I’ve always talked about how Seattle has the chance to establish itself as one of THE Big Clubs of MLS. Not a good club, or a great club, but a dominant club. As soccer rises in popularity here in the States, and MLS gains traction as a league, Seattle can become one of the world’s great soccer clubs. But we need to be winners first.

Garth Lagerwey, Seattle’s President of Soccer, is hungry to modernize the Sounders’ operation. In a Q & A with fans back in September, Garth hinted at a power struggle with Sigi. Garth talked about his core tenets, how he was organizing the Sounders from the ground up, and one of those tenets was creating a “Sounders” brand of soccer. That is, creating a team system first and then finding the players to fill it. This outside-in-approach is opposite from Sigi’s, as Sigi always built his team around the players he had. Garth is a “I am cooking fajitas tonight. So I need to go get peppers, onions, skirt steak etc.” wile Sigi was a “So… what do I have in the fridge… tuna, turkey, lentils… viola! Here’s some crazy delicious concoction.” As Garth was going to have final say on who coached the Sounders in 2017, Schmetz would only seriously be a candidate if he were willing to run with the President.

I never knew where Schmetz stood on the aforementioned spectrum of team building philosophies. I too often saw him as Sigi Jr. because he was his assistant coach for seven and a half years. But of course Schmetz had been head coach himself for seven years before Sigi had even heard of Ivar’s. And after Sunday’s demolishing of FC Dallas, Schmetz did some solid meta-applying for the job when, in a postmatch interview, he said, “When Fish comes in for Jones, he knows his role … when Herc comes in, he knows his role.” That was Lagerwey’s kind of thinking. Schmetz was willing to shop for fajitas.

*

A quick addendum: As a diehard Eagles fan (ugh.. Sunday was difficult. That deep, human sticky stuff I referenced earlier… well I was sticky with the whole spectrum of human emotions after the Sounders trounced FC Dallas but then the Birds coughed up a 10-point 4th quarter lead to the Cowboys), Schmetz’s hiring reminds me a lot like Doug Pederson’s in Philly.

After 14 years of steady excellence under Andy Reid finally got stale, the Eagles went with the splashy hire and brought in Chip Kelly. That quickly went nowhere, and the Birds went to their roots. Much like with Schmwtz, the team hired someone who had played in the city and had coached there as an assistant. Pederson, like Schmetzer a thoroughly unscintillating hire, has his team winning again.

All of Seattle’s ambition, history and support is great. But the Sounders need more silverware, we’re #hellagreedy. Schmetz is a winner, our winner. Schmetz is a Sounder.

Seattle Sounders Whup FC Dallas 3-0!!!

Your Seattle Sounders played the best playoff game in their history!!! Beating RSL 1-0 in 2012 was great. Beating L.A. last year too. But tonight we destroyed treble-chasing FC Dallas 3-0. Destroyed. De. Stroyed!!

5 games in 18 days: injuries, replacements, fatigue, irregular lineups, none of it mattered. The Seattle Sounders are thisclose! to the Western Conference Finals!!!

BOLD PREDICTION: Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas

Tonight in Sodo, the Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas continue their MLS Western Conference Playoff Rivalry. The two teams are meeting on the pitch in the semis for the third straight season (make it 4, considering Dallas coach Oscar Pareja coached the Rapids in Seattle’s 2013 Knockout Round victory), so the teams know each other well.

Dallas felt hard done when they were eliminated on away goals in 2014, and we reciprocated, when away goals, and a PK shootout, nipped us last year. Though with Mauro Diaz injured, Nico Lodeiro in Rave Green, and Sigi in a brief retirement, I’m predicting this year’s matchup to be something completely different.

BOLD PREDICTION:

Seattle is playing their 5th game in 19 days. Our boys are tuckered out, with Roman Torres a game-time decision tonight with a tight hammy. Brad Evans would be the next best option at CB, but he may not be 90 minutes fit. Big Chad Marshall, Thursday’s hero Valdez, Oalex and Remick are also listed as questionable.

Our fixture congestion has been bananas. Though being the higher seed in the Knockout Round while the lower seed in the semis helps, as it gave us 3 straight games in Sodo, our team is knackered. I am flabbergasted that the two teams that advanced from Thursday (Montreal and us) only got 2 days off before the semis, while Wednesday’s winners (L.A. and TFC) got 3… I guess the higher seeds deserve that bonus?

I keep waiting for Ivanschitz to be available for selection. He was doing yeoman’s work while we were enjoying our best run of the season (5 straight results, 13 pts., starting September 10th, including the 4-2 romp in Carson). We’ve employed a much spottier attack without him.

Dallas’s attack may also be sputtering. In the lone game post-Mauro Diaz, the Hoops only mustered 2 shots on target and completed just 60% of their passes in the attacking half. Pareja (who is hard guy to like), abandoned his favored 4-2-3-1 formation for a 4-4-2 in that game. He may be considering flip-flopping back to the old formation with former Sounder Mauro Rosales as a like-for-like swap for Diaz.

Okay… prediction time. I was way too optimistic on Thursday night. But a rough-and-tumble performance against the thuggery of SKC saw us through. I’m all for grit, but the Sounders need to get it together tonight if they want a positive result.

Ozzie’s frayed nerves may be another casualty of the Sounders packed dance card. Honey Badger needs to simmer. down. now. He was thisclose! to ending the Sounders season. As lame-o and whiney as both Benny Feilhaber and Peter Vermes were during and after the game, nine times out of ten, Ozzie probably sees red on that tackle.

Seattle can put themselves in a great spot with a clean sheet tonight. Both of the Seattle-Dallas semifinal matchups over the last 2 years were settled on away goals. I am thinking the Sounders “win” a nil-nil draw, but screw it. Don’t stop believing: Sounders 2-0.

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