Seattle Sounders at Chivas USA Recap: Chippiness at a Fever Pitch

At the end of a long road trip, and emotional at-the-death results, the Seattle Sounders faced a final opponent in Chivas USA. Again Seattle fell behind early, but the boys in Rave Green are making a habit of winning late. It wasn’t the best game of soccer, but it was heartening, again, to see the Sounders will a victory.

The game started shaky with Ozzie Alonso giving up a penalty kick in the third minute. I’m interested to see what Simon Borg has to say about that play in his weekly MLS “Instant Replay.” I don’t agree with the call. Leandro Barrera went out of his way to trip on Ozzie’s outstretched legs, but soccer is a game that embraces the postmodern truth of human perception. The ref saw a penalty and awarded it. Goals change games, and the Sounders were down and the first half would’ve been a massive disappointment if not for one brainless Dan Kennedy gaffe. The Chivas keeper totally misplayed a Gonzalo Pineda free kick and Lamar Neagle got a gift of an equalizer.

The Sounders came out flat again after halftime. Chivas outplayed Seattle for the first twenty minutes until the red card. Seattle still didn’t own the game even with the man advantage. It took one moment of soccer brilliance (and salary millions) of Clint Dempsey and Oba to make the difference between one and three points. Seattle can afford that edge; they have the quality and character in 2014.

A win is a win, but we must admit the red card changed the game. Marco Delgado came in hard on Pineda and saw instant red. Did Delagdo deserve red for that isolated play? No. Even as a Sounder homer it seemed overly harsh. But on the total balance of fouls, did Chivas (at 26 fouls) deserve to have a man sent off? Yes. Any team that draws up a game plan of thuggery should not be tolerated. As a result, the match against Chivas wasn’t exactly the beautiful game. I was disappointed in the way we played, but I can’t blame Seattle. Most weeks it seems our opponent wants to play kick and tackle, not soccer. Game 1, Sporting Kansas City sets a new record for fouls against Seattle with twenty-five. Game 2, Toronto FC ties that record. Saturday, Game 7, Chivas USA sets a new record with 26. I rationalized away the first two foul-heavy games. SKC fouling a lot was no surprise, as they play rough and both teams had first game jitters. TFC probably wanted to set a new tone, yadda yadda.  But Chivas?! The Goats are not a traditionally chippy team. Is every team going to just hack-a-Sounder? I fear a disturbing trend is afoot.

Obafemi Martins was especially victimized on Saturday, as he suffered seven fouls alone. In a postgame interview he said he wouldn’t criticize the refs, as they are also just doing their job. The refs’ job should be to steward the beautiful game, not mediate a brawl. You hear complaints about the physicality of MLS, but the problem is getting worse. In five years of league play, the Sounders faced 24 fouls, once. In seven games this season, they’ve been north of that figure three times. If MLS continues to be a league that allows this, how will it grow? What international star will want to play here? Do we want our best prospects developing in a league where injuries are rampant, and thuggish play is tolerated, rampant and rewarded?

Chippiness works in MLS. Think of recent successful teams: 2012 Shield winners San Jose Earthquakes and 2013 MLS Cup winners SKC both utilize and thrive with overly physical play. On the other hand, you have Real Salt Lake and the Los Angeles Galaxy who win and do so with quality. Two roads are diverging in the wood for MLS. The league needs to think long and hard on this, as the road they take will set a legacy.

Sound Bites:

It was great to see Mauro again. That man sure can do things on the ball. That free kick at goal had dangerous movement. The Sounders did a fine job taking his influence out of the game, but you cannot deny his sublime quality. That man is 100% Hustle and Flair.

I was nervous seeing 253 in the right midfield. The man is so Swiss Army (a la Brad Evans), but has always been on the left (and usually less effective at mid). I was nervous of his positioning, especially after his poor showing at Dallas, but he came through and was at the right place at the right time.

Gonzalo Pineda is a consummate professional. Pardon me while I nerd out, but he gave me some Twitter love:

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