Jordan Morris

Bold Prediction: Seattle Sounders vs. New York Red Bulls

Your MLS Cup Champion Seattle Sounders finally open at home, hosting the New York Red Bulls today in Sodo.

The Sounders want to celebrate last year’s Cup win in style: a large crowd, glorious tifo and finally bagging three big points. Being at 4 after 3 is way different than 2 or, god forbid, 1 after 3. Though we learned last year that early results don’t indicate late success, it still feels weird that the Sounders have yet to “click” this season. And today’s game won’t be cake.

New York are good. Jesse Marsch coaches a smart, aggressive team that always finds goals. He has averaged 1.7 ppg in his two years at the helm in New York, and also has a Supporter’s Shield, and 2 #1 finishes in the East on his resume. Unfortunately, he also has two playoff flameouts. Though Marsch is a solid coach, he hasn’t helped the Red Bulls shed their paper tiger reputation.

The Red Bulls are, arguably, fighting the same label Seattle did for years after their elevation to the top flight: as an ambitious, big money team that wins, but never when it matters. Seattle finally shed their label with last year’s championship; New York still only has bitter memories. Unlike Seattle, who moved from Sigi to Schmetzer to get off the schneid, the Red Bulls seem cursed.

Even before Marsch, Mike Petke coached NYRB to a Supporter’s Shield and an Eastern Conference Final, but after his seasons also ended with playoff whimpers, he was unceremoniously fired. We may want to see Seattle humming at full throttle again, but we know regular season success doesn’t mean squat. At least we’ve been to the mountain top.

Bold Prediction: New York’s decorated strikers exploit raw CB Tony Alfaro for some goals, but, with Bruin starting up top, the creative interchange between Nico, Deuce and J-Mo is on. Hydra is reborn, as Seattle smashes New York 3-2 in a thriller.

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.

Seattle Sounders: Back to the Future

2015 is a wrap and the Seattle Sounders look only to the future now.

A flurry of events immediately after the shocking loss to Dallas kept the Sounders news cycle afloat temporarily (racist Joe Roth, the ascension of Adrian Hanauer and the retention of Sigi Schmid). But honestly us Sounders fans don’t have much to look forward to news-wise until the roster starts shaking.

The roster churn here in Soundersland may be seismic. Allegedly Ozzie is being shopped, Lamar Neagle, who couldn’t find his way onto a depleted roster in the key playoff series, is probably gone-zo too, as is Gonzo. Well, both Gonzos: Leo and Pineda. Some big names and familiar faces will join the departed, but hopefully Seattle makes one huge addition. Jordan Morris might-just-maybe-actually-this-time sign with the Sounders. That will be a newsday to look forward too.

Other key offseason events: the 2016 Superdraft is January 14. The Desert Diamond Cup (if the Sounders participate again) will be in mid-February and then the season starts the first weekend in March. Then the quest for that white whale, MLS Cup, can begin. Again.

The posts at Ravinggreen will slow down. Though, like the Spanish Inquisition, you won’t be able to predict when I post. I’ll take to the keyboard whenever fancy catches a whim.

Eternal Blue. Forever Green. Go Sounders,

-Brent

Seattle Sounders: Logistics of a Youth Movement

The third and final installment in my Seattle Sounders ch-ch-changes series will focus on the logistics of Seattle’s roster reshaping.

Yedlin is gone, to begin with. Seattle’s first Home Grown Player and the first HGP to ever play in a World Cup has unofficially officially played his last game in Rave Green.

GM Adrian Hanauer and co. are already buys preparing for the future. Sounders FC extended coach Sigi Schmid yesterday keeping the club under the direction of a solid steward. The front office will now busy itself with the inevitable roster churn: filling out the USL Pro’s S2 roster, weathering the expansion draft and adapting to the new CBA.

The second order of business was to announce a roster shakeup with 8 players passively released from contract: Marcus Hahnemann, Djimi Traore, Cam Weaver, Jalil Anibaba, Tristan Bowen, Eriq Zavaleta, Onyekachi Apam and Sean Okoli. Some of those players were long in the tooth and their release was no surprise. Hahnemann, after more than two decades, retired from professional soccer where he started. Traore, after a long and illustrious career, is also retiring and rumor has him transitioning to a front office or coaching position with Sounders FC. Weaver and Anibaba are journeymen veterans who couldn’t find many minutes with the first team here. Apam was a speculative signing late in the season that didn’t pan out. The surprising names are Bowen, Okoli and Zavaleta. All of these players are now no longer members of the Sounders senior team.

S2 would appear to be the next destination for these players. Hopefully Djimi and Hahnemann slide over to S2 as coaches. Okoli, Zavaleta, and Bowen are all 23 or younger and, having earned some first-team MLS minutes, would be the senior members of the junior team. If Seattle had S2 last year, Zavaleta would’ve never been a Goat. Bowen, though seasoned, is still very young and very talented. He’s a Merlin-esque player, his career is almost moving backwards, as the league’s first HGP who could finally find himself on a developmental team six years into his career.

Okoli has the most curious situation. Okoli left Wake Forest and signed an off-the-books HGP contract with Seattle. Let me explain. According to the current CBA, teams are allowed to sign as many HGPs as they like. Regular HGPs are paid close to the league minimum but the perks of signing a player to an HGP contract is to prevent the player from being eligible in the MLS Super Draft. Currently there are about 80 current MLS players signed as HGPs. However two of those HGPs, per year, can be signed to more lucrative contracts that don’t count against the salary cap. These off-the-books HGP contracts are powerful bargaining tools when signing a player. Yedlin and Okoli previously occupied Seattle’s two such contracts.

Okoli has just been released from his contract making room, ostensibly, for Darwin Jones and Jordan Morris to sign as the off-the-books HGPs. Smart clubs want to reserve their precious few off-the-books contracts for potential starters. Signing Yedlin to a free contract was a coup for the Sounders. As a two-time All-Star not eating into precious cap space, Yedlin gave Seattle a real competitive advantage. Seattle’s hoping Morris proves the same. Okoli ceding his contract gives the club the bargaining power of the limited contracts, and, presumably, in return he will now sign a more lucrative contract with the USL Pro-affiliated S2. How the new CBA treats transfers and contract reciprocity between the two leagues remains to be seen.

What about Aaron Kovar you ask? He was signed to a regular HGP contract last year and has been retained as such. Victor Mansaray recently signed a HGP contract as well and we can assume it’s the regular type. Mansaray, at only 17, should immediately be shuffled over to S2 to develop.

Seattle is brewing a veritable youth movement as Jimmy Ockford, Aaron Long, Damien Lowe and Kevin Parsemain are still under contract. It’s hard to think of the 2014 Sounders in the past tense. But looking ahead to Morris, Okoli, Kovar and Jones repping the crest for the next decade is some solace.

Jordan Morris vs. DeAndre Yedlin

Yesterday I wrote about Jordan Morris and his looming decision to sign with MLS. I want to be clear, Morris forgoing MLS for Europe is very different than DeAndre Yedlin quickly bolting to sign with Tottenham Hotspur.

Both players’ actions are similar in that they say, “MLS is not the best league in the world. I want to test myself against better competition.” Thing is, no one is saying otherwise. MLS is not the best league in the world. Better players play elsewhere. Morris skipping out on the domestic league boldly insults MLS’s, and the American soccer infrastructure’s, ability to develop soccer talent. Whereas Yedlin’s decision was nothing but good publicity for MLS.

Yedlin and Morris had very different career paths. Morris practically has Lebron-esque hype. USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann raves about him and the Sounders are salivating at the chance to sign him. And Morris was capped by the senior team yesterday (and had some dangerous touches) in the USMNT’s 4-1 drubbing to Ireland. This is a far cry from Yedlin’s experience.

DeAndre Yedlin was a nobody when he became a Sounder. Like Morris now, Yedlin was a collegiate sophomore when he signed his first professional contract. But Yedlin wasn’t getting a sniff from US Soccer during his Akron days. Before a random injury to Adam Johansson opened the door for Yedlin to play, he was just another talented youngster. No one expected much from him but now he’s the owner of shiny new contract with an EPL club. Here lies the rub, the chief difference between Morris and Yedlin’s situations.

MLS did right by DeAndre Yedlin. MLS commissioner Don Garber and Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer despise Klinsmann’s notion that MLS cannot develop young players or challenge developed players. This narrative, they contend, stunts the sport’s growth in our country. Yedlin is a huge piece of evidence that Garber and Hanauer are right. Sigi Schmid and the Sounders coaches are responsible for Yedlin’s rapid development. Klinsmann rostered Yedlin in Brazil mostly because he liked what he saw from the Sounders rightback. It is hypocritical for Klinsmann to denigrate MLS at the same time he lauds Yedlin. Seattle gave Yedlin serious minutes and serious coaching. And he’s a better player for it.

Yedlin can only jump straight to Spurs because he developed in MLS. Spurs are, usually, a top five club in the EPL. It isn’t like Yedlin’s signing with an Eredivisie also-ran. Too many Americans go overseas and fail to see significant minutes or end up in leagues no better than our domestic one. How is this better for a young player’s development than the Yedlin experience? No one knows where Morris will end up or if he will ever deliver on the promise of his talent. But he would be wise to consider Yedlin’s past eighteen months and make his decision accordingly. I feel it is the best possible decision for the young man, as an American soccer fan and a devotee of the Eternal Blue Forever Green.

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